Monday, January 28, 2013

Artifacts and trade

In an attempt to wage economic war with England, Napoleon banned trade between England and French territories and allies. The elimination of British competition under what became known as the Continental System created an internal market within France.

To provide employment for the citizens and to build a strong economy in the face of trade blockades and embargoes, French manufacturing and industry was supported and encouraged by a system of government prizes, incentives and formal institutions, such as the Society for the Encouragement of National Industry. Industrial innovation, production and economic progress were seen as having equal importance to military success. French cotton, chemical and mechanical industries benefited as did manufacturers of luxury goods.

The Consulate and Empire era was a time of renewal for the furniture, porcelain, textile and metalwork industries, which had suffered greatly under the Revolution. Luxury once again became acceptable. To support the local textile market, Napoleon banned the wearing of muslin (imported from India via England), which had been popular in Revolutionary times. He made formal dress mandatory for court receptions to stimulate a demand for expensive textiles such as silks, velvets and satins.

Napoleon commissioned entirely new interiors to stamp his character on the many Imperial palaces and to create work for the luxury furniture industry. He created a government department called the Garde-meuble Impérial specifically to order and maintain Imperial furnishings.

The furniture company Jacob Frères (later Jacob-Desmalter) received most of the Imperial furniture commissions, providing hundreds of pieces of furniture for the imperial palaces and residences during Napoleon’s rule.

The end of the Empire period marked the end of a golden age of French craftsmanship. The abolition of the guilds during the time of the Revolution and the introduction of the factory system led to the increase of mass production and a gradual lowering of standards of craftsmanship into the nineteenth century.

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