In the 1860s and 70s, there was an architectural style that took the world by storm.
It was called “Second Empire”, named after the French Second Empire of Napoleon III’s reign as Emperor of France (1852-70).
Period paintings give us an idea of what Paris was like during the French Second Empire.
And the opulent interiors hark back to an age of extravagance.
The Second Empire style was characterized by a multifarious mix of earlier European styles—particularly Baroque—often having mansard roofs and square based domes.
Second Empire could be easily scaled, making it good for a variety of municipal and corporate buildings.
The style spread throughout Europe and across to the United States, where the tower and mansard roof were often the most notable Second Empire elements.
Cresting around the roof and tower became a popular decoration in the US and sometimes acted as a lightning conductor.
Made of wood, brick or stone, elaborate examples often had paired columns as well as sculpted details around the doors, windows, and dormers.
For the nouveau riche, the opulent Second Empire style was the perfect choice to express their new found wealth.
But by the 1880’s, it started to fall out of favor. In came the Queen Anne style, with its wraparound porches, round towers, overhanging eaves and painted balustrades. Contains affiliate links
By the mid-20th century, thousands of Second Empire homes were demolished in sweeping urban renewal programs.
Instead of harking back to a glorious age, the style became associated with horror thanks to TV shows like the Addams Family and the 1960 movie Psycho.
Today, Second Empire is comparatively rare, but some outstanding examples live on as reminders of a glorious bygone era.
Jacques Offenbach became known for his operettas satirising the French court of Napoleon III during the Second Empire. But it was good-natured and Napoleon so enjoyed it that he personally granted Offenbach French citizenship and the Légion d’Honneur.
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