Having ascended from a republican representative to Imperial Highness and a comfortable financial dotation, the Prince Napoleon is suddenly able to build whatever he desires.
He goes to architecht Hittorff to oversee two colossal projects : the three-dimensional rendition of a miniature temple inspired by that of Selinonte (greek city in Sicily) and the edification of a true ancient polychrome architecture, a « living fragment of antiquity » To him it’s all about cementing himself as a builder prince as well as the heir to the Emperor who had made Antiquity his point of reference.
Hittorff conceived the small Temple of Muses as a high-end luxury art piece, decorated with sculptures by Jean-Auguste Barre and one Ingres drawing, The Birth of the last muse. First showcased at the 1859 Salon, this masterpiece was destroyed by fire in 1871. For the project, set to be erected on the avenue Montaigne, architects Hittorff, Rougevin and Normand imagined a private mansion in the « pompeian » style, not a recreation of a past building but rather a new and comfortable one, fitting the lifestyle of a 19th century sovreign.
Young architect and Rome Prize winner Nicolas Normand used his knowledge of Pompeii and Herculanum and gave his all to this project overseen by the prince himself.
He made a daring choice in favor of bright colors outside and inside, demonstrating a wide knowledge of greek-roman decorum and aesthetics. He covered the facade and each main surrounding the atrium with refined ornaments, invented designs and borrowed others from the most beautiful houses exhumed under the Vesuvio. The colors painted on the walls match those of the fabrics, bronzes or sculpted wood from the lamps, vases, seats or anachronistic libraries.
The Pompeian House is a witness to this celebration of arts and intelligence that was – among as other things – the Second Empire.