Named for the Napoleonic Empire at the beginning of the nineteenth century, the Empire style is one of the grandest and most opulent in the history of decorative arts. Designs inspired by Greco-Roman antiquity were enlivened with bold colors, costly and elaborately worked materials, a massive scale, and ornate decoration that included animal and fantastical figures, such as lions and griffons, and symbolic references to Napoleon’s reign. Throughout his political career, Napoleon championed the Empire style, which became the embodiment of the new political order and an integral part of his program to legitimize his reign and promote the arts and economy of France. This exhibition examines how Napoleon appropriated emblems of power from antiquity, especially Egypt and Rome, and linked his reign with those of the great civilizations of the past.
With a selection of approximately 190 objects—including furniture, silver, porcelain, bronzes, jewelry, textiles, wallpapers, metalwork, and painting—“Symbols of Power” is the first comprehensive survey of the decorative arts of the Empire style, presenting its iconography in virtually every visual medium. “Symbols of Power” features many significant works, including many extraordinary objects that have never been exhibited outside France.
The exhibition is organized by the American Federation of Arts, New York, and Les Arts Décoratifs, Paris.
The national tour is made possible, in part, by the Joseph and Sylvia Slifka Foundation, Inc., and the Samuel H. Kress Foundation. The exhibition is also supported by an indemnity from the Federal Council on the Arts and the Humanities.
Support for the Boston presentation was provided, in part, by the National Endowment for the Arts.
Television media sponsor for the Boston presentation is WCVB-TV 5.