Art & Design
Throughout the eighteenth century French designers, architects and artists employed visual emblems in their work which bore symbolic meanings appropriate to the contexts in which they appeared. For example, the decoration of a music room in a Parisian Hôtel might incorporate a lyre – a musical instrument associated with Apollo, god of the arts – in the design of the furniture or wall decoration. This practice continued in the post-revolutionary period and reached its apogee in the Empire style. Percier and Fontaine, the favoured architects of Napoleon, were committed advocates of this principle. They argued that the decoration of an object should only ever employ motifs whose symbolic meanings were appropriate to the object’s function. The decoration of a grand Empire interior could, thus, be ‘read’. The symbols employed on furniture, objects and decorative treatments for walls, floors and ceilings provided a clear indication of the intended function of a room.
Phrygian/liberty cap – signifying freedom and pursuit of liberty
Laurel wreath – honour and victory
Fasces – bound bundle of birch sticks representing strength through unity
Legion of Honour – order of merit for illustrious service to the Empire instituted by Napoleon in 1802
Cockade - rosette or ribbon worn as a badge, typically on a hat. Red and blue were the colours of Paris and white, the colour of the monarchy
Eagle – symbol of imperial Rome and associated with military victory
Bee – chosen by Napoleon as a symbol of his Empire, bees were a symbol of the ancient sovereigns of France
Hand of Justice – symbol of a ruler's power to dispense justice
Lyre – symbol of wisdom, moderation and the god Apollo - god of arts.
Swan – purity, love, fidelity, the god Apollo, the god Zeus. Adopted as a symbol by Josephine