Even before the death of Louis XV in 1775, the furniture style associated with his reign was abandoned in favor of a simpler neoclassical style that was identified with his successor, Louis XVI.
Through the efforts of Madame Pompadour, a woman of refinement, culture, education and wealth, the City of Pompeii, which was buried during the eruption of Mt. Vesuvius, was excavated. It revealed a city very much in the same state, as it was when the eruption of the volcano buried it in 79 A.D. The excavation of Pompeii, a once glorious Roman resort, brought the Parisians new awareness and a surge of interest in classical ancient Rome. They were quickly captivated by the constant flow of ideas and drawings of Roman scrolls, monuments and motifs.
The rococo style slowly faded as people started to take interest in the new discoveries. Louis XVI reigned during a period of 14 years from 1775 to 1789. The Louis XVI style advocates simpler, less ornate furniture design. Straight lines and simplicity are the guiding principles of this period. In Louis XVI architecture and furniture designs, the curves are eliminated and replaced by straight lines which is a total opposite to the Louis XV style. If ever there is curvature in the design, it is usually compass drawn and not free form. The chair backs are usually oval, rectangular or shield form. The cabriole legs have been replaced with straight legs and are fluted imitating the columns of ancient Rome. Most case pieces are usually in rectangular form and there are no more curves as in the Bombe of Louis XV. This period doesn’t have so much ornamentation in its design and often is not carved or painted either. It is usually finished in natural wood with mahogany the most commonly used. Since this period is so much influenced by the ideals of ancient Rome and Greece, the Louis XVI style is alternatively referred to as the Neo Classical style.
The typical motifs of this period includes:
1. The lyre which is a classic Roman musical instrument.
2. Fluted legs imitating Roman columns with square blocks carved with rosettes at the top of legs.
3. Urns and columns.
Despite its difference from the Louis XV style, the Neo Classical style of Louis XVI maintains the delicacy of its predecessor. It adheres to the size and grace of Louis XV rather than the massive size of the baroque Louis XIV style. To better identify the Louis XVI style; here are its basic characteristics.
1. It has fluted, slim, straight legs usually topped with a square box with rosette carving.
2. It has compass drawn mechanical arc and curves; it is never free form.
3. Most furniture pieces contain classical motifs like columns, urns and lyres.
4. It adheres to the delicate construction of the previous style maintaining grace and delicacy in all its design.
The Louis XVI furniture style is very much used and applied in today’s home decorating. Its simplicity yet delicacy and elegance appeals to today’s decorating requirements.