What is Revival Furniture? Examples from the 19th Century

We are now arriving at the 19th century in our history series. Undoubtedly, the 19th century was the most prolific so far with what is called “revival” furniture.

Revival furniture simply refers to a furniture designer’s recovery of styles of the Past. The furniture and interior business of the 19th century saw an unprecedented series of revivals which brought back to vogue the styles characteristic of different historical periods.

General Bonaparte in Egypt by Jean-Leon Gerome 

People’s fascination with what is “vintage”, “retro” and “antique” has been around for a long time, especially among artist types. Cabinet makers are no different.

Since the time of the French Revolution in 1789 a new style called the Empire style began. This was basically a continuation of Neoclassicism which we have discussed before, but with a strong archaeological bias which led to the direct copy of Classical types of furniture.

Empire style table with Egyptian ornaments

The most distinguishing characteristic of the Empire style is perhaps the introduction of Egyptian ornaments and imagery such as barges, sphinxes, pharaohs, and palm leaves.

Neoclassical Egyptian revival chair

The Empire style was stimulated by Napoleon’s conquest of Egypt and fascination with it’s ancient civilization. Antiquity was a popular influence for furniture makers around this time.

More revivals were to follow the Empire style in the 19th century among them the Greek revival, the Gothic, the Rococo and the Renaissance Revival.

Rococo revival chair

Quick notes on these revival styles:

  • Greek revival furniture (1800-1850): Another motif of Empire furniture style was Ancient Greece. Monopodium tables, klismos chairs, lyres and caryatids marked this style also known as Classicism.
  • Rococo revival style (1845-1865): A throwback to the mid 18th century, Rococo revival reintroduced the curvaceous lines (Cabriole legs, etc), naturalistic motifs (fruits, flowers, leaves, etc) and serpentine shapes that were in vogue in France during the reign of Louis XV.
  • Renaissance revival style (1860-1885): Recovery of motifs and shapes of the 1500’s Renaissance with a heavy influence of 17th century Baroque and early Gothic style.Turned fluted legs, inset marble tops, marquetry inlay and bronze or brass mounts are some of the features.
  • Gothic revival style (1845-1890): Inspired in Medieval cathedrals, Gothic revival style used pointed tops, spiky pilasters, arches and rosette motifs to distinguish itself.

Renaissance revival table


Sources of information:

Encyclopedia Britanicca