The Mansard Style:
Politics, Tax evasion and Beauty

Today everywhere you look in Paris, the Mansard roofline predominates, heavily contributing to the character of Paris.

Paris c 1900. The Mansard roofed building in the foreground is only one of many that followed the royal style of the 1850’s to 1870

The style became popular world-wide, due to the elegance of the French Court.  Empress Eugenie was  beautiful, and a stylish woman who set the standards for fashion in the major cities of the world. French food and French interior design were widely considered to be the highest standard that could be achieved by society.

French style architecture was no different, and was used for both public buildings and residences alike, in places as far apart as New York, Canada, and the United States.  Even the Hawaiian monarchy used the Mansard style for their Iolani Palace in Honolulu.

The towers of Iolani Palace (1882) in Honolulu features concave Mansard roofs

The Eremitage Hunting Lodge north of Copenhagen features a Mansard Roof sheathed in copper. Built for Christian VI of Denmark in 1734-36, the use of the Mansard Roof on this building predates Napoleon III and his Second Empire by over 100 years.

The French and English political world had ranged from acrimonious to cool over the centuries, regardless of shared monarchs at certain times of history.  Queen Victoria and Emperor Napoleon reached out to one another in the 1850’s with lavish reciprocal State Visits in the 1850’s, with Napoleon III and Eugenie being welcomed to Windsor Castle by the Queen in 1855, and Napoleon III welcoming the Queen and Prince Albert to Paris in a spectacular visit to Versailles, also in 1855.  The warm relations between the two countries, supported by the two premier monarchs in the world, caught the imagination of people around the globe, and was celebrated in many ways, including the publishing of sheet music like “The Alliance Polka” in 1855.


Left: The Emperor with Queen Victoria and the Empress with Prince Albert being welcomed at Windsor Castle in 1855. Right: “The Alliance Polka” sheet music, 1855.

Emperor Napoleon III and Queen Victoria in the "Salle de Spectacles" at Versailles 1855

French style in all things was emulated across the globe in fashionable cities. Through the 1850’s and 1860’s the Mansard style was copied, enlarged, and duplicated nearly everywhere. Even after the disastrous Franco-Prussian war in 1870 after which the Emperor and Empress were bounced into exile in England, the fashion for Mansard architecture continued, with public buildings and residences being built in the style, associated as it was with elegance and grace.

The Mansard style of architecture, while dominated by the shape and function of the roofline, was also recognizable by other features that were commonly used in buildings that were built in the style: paired windows, the use of columns, and decorative architraves around windows and doors which, even when built in wood, simulated the ornate stone detailing of the original masonry buildings.

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