In 1804, Napoleon Bonaparte had himself anointed and crowned Emperor of France. The furniture style known as Empire is a style of majestic grandeur that Napoleon felt fitting to honor his glory. He considered himself the greatest world ruler since Julius Caesar. The Empire style is the last of the great French styles that widely influenced furniture design throughout the world. During his rule, Napoleon conquered Italy and Egypt. He was overwhelmed by his conquest of these countries. He brought back to France archaeological wonders of Egypt, the long-forgotten ancient empire. He was proud of his conquest of Italy and Egypt and proudly considered himself as the first worthy successor to Alexander the Great and Julius Caesar. Furniture designed in this period was meant to imitate the designs of these great empires. Napoleon commissioned the greatest artist of Europe to create architecture and decoration that would equate the grandeur of Greece, the glory of Rome and the massiveness of Egypt.
The Empire style furniture is massive, in grand scale and very masculine. It has a severe, heavy, masculine look with no carving. The wood carving which is very common in the previous styles of Louis XIV, Louis XV and Louis XVI is generally replaced with wood veneers polished to a high sheen. To equalize the bareness of wood veneer, metal gilts are used to adorn the furniture. A good clue to identifying the Empire style is the vulgar use of ormolu mounts. Ormolus are gilt-metal decorations usually in different decorative motifs. These are usually drawn from antique sources or patriotic inspiration. There are motifs derived from Egyptian archeology. Falcon, sphinxes, cobras, obelisks, winged lions are just some of these Egyptian inspired decorations. Napoleonís fascination with his conquest of Egypt and later on the excavation of ruins by the French Egyptologists created so much interest in everything related to Egypt.
There are also motifs derived from ancient Greek and Roman design. Vases, lamps, torches, heads of Greek gods, ramís head and cornucopias are among the many Greek and Roman inspired decorations incorporated into the Empire style of furniture. French Patriotism grew stronger during Napoleonís rule and it was evident in the many patriotically inspired decorations which included laurel wreaths, eagles, swords, lances, rifles, drum and bugles. The use of legs that are shaped like animals or sphinxes is very typical to the Empire style. The graceful cabriole legs of the previous styles have been replaced with the massive, more often overstated and vulgar use of legs that are shaped like animals.