Mantels of marble, stone or wood, were low and severe in line (Plate 50); there was a straight lintel, and the shelf was supported on simple round columns, on elongated scroll brackets or upon caryatid figures (Plate 51). There was no set overmantel decoration, but a large mirror or painting usually occupied the space.

Ceilings were flat, separated from the wall by a restrained cornice, and they usually carried some moulded geometrical or severely classical plaster decoration around the edges and, perhaps, in the centre; or else the ceilings were concaved to a flattened arc or formed into a barrel vault. These latter ceilings might be frescoed, or, when the arc was flat enough to make the treatment effective, they might be embellished with plasterwork squares, octagons, circles and hexagons enclosing classic figures, the whole scheme being wrought in very flat relief. Floors were of marble tiling or of wood, in the latter case frequently parquetted in geometrical devices.

The key to the genius of the fully developed Empire style is found in two factors, one political, the other social. The first was the emphasis intentionally Laid upon every element that savoured of militaristic pomp and imperial display; the second was the ascendancy of a ruling class composed in the main of parvenus, who, "after their kind, liked pretentious display, and were not restrained, as the old aristocracy had been, by hereditary culture and a mode of life which amounted to a continual training in elegance and good taste," a condition that resulted in a "coarsening in tone of the work carried out for them."

The better examples of the Empire style were of two sorts, the elaborate kind that was executed with punctilious regard for a certain type of classic precedent and was both inspired by ideals of the utmost magnificence and supplied with means to realise the ideals with thorough elegance; and, on the other hand, the simpler sort of Empire work that exhibited a decorous reticence in the use of the current motif and materials. The less desirable examples, which unfortunately predominated numerically, were characterised by thorough-going ostentation and bombast.

Symmetry was one of the prime requirements and all openings were regularly disposed. Window and door openings were usually square-headed or round-arched. Trims were broad and of flat profile. Door-heads had straight, flat lintels, sometimes in the form of a very much simplified cornice supported on modillion brackets. Door and shutter panels were large, rectangular and flat, with flat moulding profiles.

Walls were almost invariably plain. The more elegant walls were covered with strained fabrics or frescoed; the simpler walls were painted or papered. The dado dropped out of fashion and the frieze became general.

Fireplaces were low and without fixed chimney-piece decoration, and the space between mantel shelf and ceiling was usually occupied by a mirror of corresponding breadth. A straight lintel, often without any decoration, topped the fireplace opening and the mantel shelf was supported by plain round columns or by caryatid figures.

The high ceilings were flat, the cornices were modest, and the moulded plaster ornament around the edges and in the centre was in geometrical or heavy classic motifs. Floors were of wood, plain or par-quetted, and, in halls and some of the more sumptuous rooms, of marble tiles.

Furniture And Decorations

Both wall and seating furniture, at the beginning of the reign of Louis XV, was more abundant and varied than had been the case during the preceding reign. It was a period of polished manners and luxurious habits, and once the restraint of Louis XIV formality was removed and the door opened to greater freedom of social habits, mobiliary art was quick to reflect the change in the increased number of intimate, domestic and luxurious forms introduced.

Louis Quinze furniture faithfully mirrored the dominant traits of contemporary fixed decoration as noted earlier in this chapter. The curving line was supreme. Nearly all furniture dimensions were smaller and lighter in line, a change indicative of the abandonment of pompous, stately forms in favour of greater convenience and bodily comfort.

While all the usual types of bedsteads, cupboards, or armoires, tables and seating furniture were fully in use, there was an appreciable increase in the number of forms and refinements introduced in writing furniture and in console cabinets or commodes. These latter 11 were used upon every conceivable occasion and in every conceivable place. Besides these, there were contrived numerous small stands, tables and cupboards to meet specialised demands.

While walnut was the staple wood, all sorts of rare and highly coloured woods were freely employed for veneer, inlay and marqueterie. Much of the furniture, also, was painted, painted and parcel gilt, or lacquered. The colours used were generally light. When it was possible to introduce panels painted with arabesques, pastorals, singeries or Chinoiseries, it was done. To add to the mobiliary grace and elaboration, ormulu mounts were lavishly employed on cabinet-work.

With the neo-Classic period, returned the dominance of rectilinear emphasis in furniture. The cabriole leg made place for the straight fluted and tapered leg; the bombé-fronted console cabinet with its swelling, undulating contours, yielded to a successor whose right-angled restraint of line was in sharp contrast. The kinds of articles and the amount of furniture used did not appreciably change; the difference was wholly in contours and motifs of decoration. Light colours in painted, painted and parcel gilt, or lacquered furniture continued in favour, as did also the great variety of multicoloured woods for veneer, inlay and marqueterie. Likewise continued the fashion of numerous metal mounts for cabinet-work, the design, however, being altered to suit the revived classical spirit.

Directoire movable furniture, like Directoire fixed decoration, was virtually a reduction of the corresponding Louis Seize elements to their lowest terms. The Empire style, while retaining a good deal of rectilinear severity, nevertheless, occasionally flourished out into flamboyant and grandiose contours, especially where seating furniture, bedsteads and, to some extent, tables, were concerned. During the Empire phase of the neo-dassic style, while painting and parcel-gilding of furniture continued to a limited degree, the favourite material was mahogany, which made an admirable foil for the elaborate filigree and embossed ornamental applique which enjoyed such vogue. Empire contours were almost invariably substantial and robust, and, at times, became even gross and clumsy.