Western cultural movement inspired by ancient Greece and Rome
Top 10 Neoclassicism related articles
- 1 History
- 2 Painting and printmaking
- 3 Sculpture
- 4 Architecture and the decorative arts
- 5 Gardens
- 6 Neoclassicism and fashion
- 7 Later Neoclassicism
- 8 See also
- 9 Notes
- 10 References
- 11 Further reading
- 12 External links
Neoclassicism (also spelled Neo-classicism; from Greek νέος nèos, "new" and Greek κλασικός klasikόs, "of the highest rank") was a Western cultural movement in the decorative and visual arts, literature, theatre, music, and architecture that drew inspiration from the art and culture of classical antiquity. Neoclassicism was born in Rome largely thanks to the writings of Johann Joachim Winckelmann, at the time of the rediscovery of Pompeii and Herculaneum, but its popularity spread all over Europe as a generation of European art students finished their Grand Tour and returned from Italy to their home countries with newly rediscovered Greco-Roman ideals. The main Neoclassical movement coincided with the 18th-century Age of Enlightenment, and continued into the early 19th century, laterally competing with Romanticism. In architecture, the style continued throughout the 19th, 20th and up to the 21st century.
European Neoclassicism in the visual arts began c. 1760 in opposition to the then-dominant Rococo style. Rococo architecture emphasizes grace, ornamentation and asymmetry; Neoclassical architecture is based on the principles of simplicity and symmetry, which were seen as virtues of the arts of Rome and Ancient Greece, and were more immediately drawn from 16th-century Renaissance Classicism. Each "neo"-classicism selects some models among the range of possible classics that are available to it, and ignores others. The Neoclassical writers and talkers, patrons and collectors, artists and sculptors of 1765–1830 paid homage to an idea of the generation of Phidias, but the sculpture examples they actually embraced were more likely to be Roman copies of Hellenistic sculptures. They ignored both Archaic Greek art and the works of Late Antiquity. The "Rococo" art of ancient Palmyra came as a revelation, through engravings in Wood's The Ruins of Palmyra. Even Greece was all-but-unvisited, a rough backwater of the Ottoman Empire, dangerous to explore, so Neoclassicists' appreciation of Greek architecture was mediated through drawings and engravings, which subtly smoothed and regularized, "corrected" and "restored" the monuments of Greece, not always consciously.
Neoclassicism Intro articles: 16
Neoclassicism is a revival of the many styles and spirit of classic antiquity inspired directly from the classical period, which coincided and reflected the developments in philosophy and other areas of the Age of Enlightenment, and was initially a reaction against the excesses of the preceding Rococo style. While the movement is often described as the opposed counterpart of Romanticism, this is a great over-simplification that tends not to be sustainable when specific artists or works are considered. The case of the supposed main champion of late Neoclassicism, Ingres, demonstrates this especially well. The revival can be traced to the establishment of formal archaeology.
The writings of Johann Joachim Winckelmann were important in shaping this movement in both architecture and the visual arts. His books Thoughts on the Imitation of Greek Works in Painting and Sculpture (1750) and Geschichte der Kunst des Alterthums ("History of Ancient Art", 1764) were the first to distinguish sharply between Ancient Greek and Roman art, and define periods within Greek art, tracing a trajectory from growth to maturity and then imitation or decadence that continues to have influence to the present day. Winckelmann believed that art should aim at "noble simplicity and calm grandeur", and praised the idealism of Greek art, in which he said we find "not only nature at its most beautiful but also something beyond nature, namely certain ideal forms of its beauty, which, as an ancient interpreter of Plato teaches us, come from images created by the mind alone". The theory was very far from new in Western art, but his emphasis on close copying of Greek models was: "The only way for us to become great or if this be possible, inimitable, is to imitate the ancients".
With the advent of the Grand Tour, a fad of collecting antiquities began that laid the foundations of many great collections spreading a Neoclassical revival throughout Europe. "Neoclassicism" in each art implies a particular canon of a "classical" model.
In English, the term "Neoclassicism" is used primarily of the visual arts; the similar movement in English literature, which began considerably earlier, is called Augustan literature. This, which had been dominant for several decades, was beginning to decline by the time Neoclassicism in the visual arts became fashionable. Though terms differ, the situation in French literature was similar. In music, the period saw the rise of classical music, and "Neoclassicism" is used of 20th-century developments. However, the operas of Christoph Willibald Gluck represented a specifically Neoclassical approach, spelt out in his preface to the published score of Alceste (1769), which aimed to reform opera by removing ornamentation, increasing the role of the chorus in line with Greek tragedy, and using simpler unadorned melodic lines.
The term "Neoclassical" was not invented until the mid-19th century, and at the time the style was described by such terms as "the true style", "reformed" and "revival"; what was regarded as being revived varying considerably. Ancient models were certainly very much involved, but the style could also be regarded as a revival of the Renaissance, and especially in France as a return to the more austere and noble Baroque of the age of Louis XIV, for which a considerable nostalgia had developed as France's dominant military and political position started a serious decline. Ingres's coronation portrait of Napoleon even borrowed from Late Antique consular diptychs and their Carolingian revival, to the disapproval of critics.
Neoclassicism was strongest in architecture, sculpture and the decorative arts, where classical models in the same medium were relatively numerous and accessible; examples from ancient painting that demonstrated the qualities that Winckelmann's writing found in sculpture were and are lacking. Winckelmann was involved in the dissemination of knowledge of the first large Roman paintings to be discovered, at Pompeii and Herculaneum and, like most contemporaries except for Gavin Hamilton, was unimpressed by them, citing Pliny the Younger's comments on the decline of painting in his period.
As for painting, Greek painting was utterly lost: Neoclassicist painters imaginatively revived it, partly through bas-relief friezes, mosaics and pottery painting, and partly through the examples of painting and decoration of the High Renaissance of Raphael's generation, frescos in Nero's Domus Aurea, Pompeii and Herculaneum, and through renewed admiration of Nicholas Poussin. Much "Neoclassical" painting is more classicizing in subject matter than in anything else. A fierce, but often very badly informed, dispute raged for decades over the relative merits of Greek and Roman art, with Winckelmann and his fellow Hellenists generally being on the winning side.
Neoclassicism History articles: 34
Painting and printmaking
It is hard to recapture the radical and exciting nature of early Neoclassical painting for contemporary audiences; it now strikes even those writers favourably inclined to it as "insipid" and "almost entirely uninteresting to us"—some of Kenneth Clark's comments on Anton Raphael Mengs' ambitious Parnassus at the Villa Albani, by the artist who his friend Winckelmann described as "the greatest artist of his own, and perhaps of later times". The drawings, subsequently turned into prints, of John Flaxman used very simple line drawing (thought to be the purest classical medium) and figures mostly in profile to depict The Odyssey and other subjects, and once "fired the artistic youth of Europe" but are now "neglected", while the history paintings of Angelica Kauffman, mainly a portraitist, are described as having "an unctuous softness and tediousness" by Fritz Novotny. Rococo frivolity and Baroque movement had been stripped away but many artists struggled to put anything in their place, and in the absence of ancient examples for history painting, other than the Greek vases used by Flaxman, Raphael tended to be used as a substitute model, as Winckelmann recommended.
The work of other artists, who could not easily be described as insipid, combined aspects of Romanticism with a generally Neoclassical style, and form part of the history of both movements. The German-Danish painter Asmus Jacob Carstens finished very few of the large mythological works that he planned, leaving mostly drawings and colour studies which often succeed in approaching Winckelmann's prescription of "noble simplicity and calm grandeur". Unlike Carstens' unrealized schemes, the etchings of Giovanni Battista Piranesi were numerous and profitable, and taken back by those making the Grand Tour to all parts of Europe. His main subject matter was the buildings and ruins of Rome, and he was more stimulated by the ancient than the modern. The somewhat disquieting atmosphere of many of his Vedute (views) becomes dominant in his series of 16 prints of Carceri d'Invenzione ("Imaginary Prisons") whose "oppressive cyclopean architecture" conveys "dreams of fear and frustration". The Swiss-born Johann Heinrich Füssli spent most of his career in England, and while his fundamental style was based on Neoclassical principles, his subjects and treatment more often reflected the "Gothic" strain of Romanticism, and sought to evoke drama and excitement.
Neoclassicism in painting gained a new sense of direction with the sensational success of Jacques-Louis David's Oath of the Horatii at the Paris Salon of 1785. Despite its evocation of republican virtues, this was a commission by the royal government, which David insisted on painting in Rome. David managed to combine an idealist style with drama and forcefulness. The central perspective is perpendicular to the picture plane, made more emphatic by the dim arcade behind, against which the heroic figures are disposed as in a frieze, with a hint of the artificial lighting and staging of opera, and the classical colouring of Nicholas Poussin. David rapidly became the leader of French art, and after the French Revolution became a politician with control of much government patronage in art. He managed to retain his influence in the Napoleonic period, turning to frankly propagandistic works, but had to leave France for exile in Brussels at the Bourbon Restoration.
David's many students included Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres, who saw himself as a classicist throughout his long career, despite a mature style that has an equivocal relationship with the main current of Neoclassicism, and many later diversions into Orientalism and the Troubadour style that are hard to distinguish from those of his unabashedly Romantic contemporaries, except by the primacy his works always give to drawing. He exhibited at the Salon for over 60 years, from 1802 into the beginnings of Impressionism, but his style, once formed, changed little.
The ancient Capitol ascended by approximately one hundred steps . . .; by Giovanni Battista Piranesi; circa 1750; etching; size of the entire sheet: 33.5 × 49.4 cm; Metropolitan Museum of Art
Ancient Rome; by Giovanni Pauolo Panini; 1757; oil on canvas; 172.1 x 229.9 cm; Metropolitan Museum of Art
Aqueduct in Ruins; by Hubert Robert; 18th century; oil on canvas; 81.6 x 137.5 cm; Metropolitan Museum of Art
Study for The Lictors Bringing Brutus the Bodies of his Sons; by Jacques-Louis David; 1787; chalk, ink, brush and gray and brown wash, heightened with white gouache; sheet: 33.2 x 42.1 cm; Metropolitan Museum of Art
Portrait of Antoine-Laurent Lavoisier and his Wife; by Jacques-Louis David; 1788; oil on canvas; 259.7 × 194.6 cm; Metropolitan Museum of Art
The Triumph of Aemilius Paulus; by Carle Vernet; 1789; oil on canvas; height; 129.9 x 438.2 cm; Metropolitan Museum of Art
The Coronation of Napoleon; by Jacques-Louis David; 1805–1807; oil on canvas; 6.21 × 9.79 m; Louvre
Leonidas at Thermopylae; by Jacques-Louis David; 1814; oil on canvas; 395 × 531 cm; Louvre
11 Februarie 1866 - Modern Romania; by Gheorghe Tattarescu; 1866; oil on cardboard; 31.4 x 24 cm; private collection
Neoclassicism Painting and printmaking articles: 50
If Neoclassical painting suffered from a lack of ancient models, Neoclassical sculpture tended to suffer from an excess of them, although examples of actual Greek sculpture of the "classical period" beginning in about 500 BC were then very few; the most highly regarded works were mostly Roman copies. The leading Neoclassical sculptors enjoyed huge reputations in their own day, but are now less regarded, with the exception of Jean-Antoine Houdon, whose work was mainly portraits, very often as busts, which do not sacrifice a strong impression of the sitter's personality to idealism. His style became more classical as his long career continued, and represents a rather smooth progression from Rococo charm to classical dignity. Unlike some Neoclassical sculptors he did not insist on his sitters wearing Roman dress, or being unclothed. He portrayed most of the notable figures of the Enlightenment, and travelled to America to produce a statue of George Washington, as well as busts of Thomas Jefferson, Ben Franklin and other founders of the new republic.
Antonio Canova and the Dane Bertel Thorvaldsen were both based in Rome, and as well as portraits produced many ambitious life-size figures and groups; both represented the strongly idealizing tendency in Neoclassical sculpture. Canova has a lightness and grace, where Thorvaldsen is more severe; the difference is exemplified in their respective groups of the Three Graces. All these, and Flaxman, were still active in the 1820s, and Romanticism was slow to impact sculpture, where versions of Neoclassicism remained the dominant style for most of the 19th century.
An early Neoclassicist in sculpture was the Swede Johan Tobias Sergel. John Flaxman was also, or mainly, a sculptor, mostly producing severely classical reliefs that are comparable in style to his prints; he also designed and modelled Neoclassical ceramics for Josiah Wedgwood for several years. Johann Gottfried Schadow and his son Rudolph, one of the few Neoclassical sculptors to die young, were the leading German artists, with Franz Anton von Zauner in Austria. The late Baroque Austrian sculptor Franz Xaver Messerschmidt turned to Neoclassicism in mid-career, shortly before he appears to have suffered some kind of mental crisis, after which he retired to the country and devoted himself to the highly distinctive "character heads" of bald figures pulling extreme facial expressions. Like Piranesi's Carceri, these enjoyed a great revival of interest during the age of psychoanalysis in the early 20th century. The Dutch Neoclassical sculptor Mathieu Kessels studied with Thorvaldsen and worked almost exclusively in Rome.
Since prior to the 1830s the United States did not have a sculpture tradition of its own, save in the areas of tombstones, weathervanes and ship figureheads, the European Neoclassical manner was adopted there, and it was to hold sway for decades and is exemplified in the sculptures of Horatio Greenough, Harriet Hosmer, Hiram Powers, Randolph Rogers and William Henry Rinehart.
Artemisia in mourning; by Philipp Jakob Scheffauer; 1794; marble; height: 50.2 cm, width: 30 cm, depth: 5 cm; Metropolitan Museum of Art
Filatrice; by Henry Kirke Brown; 1850; bronze; 50.8 x 30.5 x 20.3 cm; Metropolitan Museum of Art
One of the "character heads" of Franz Xaver Messerschmidt
Neoclassicism Sculpture articles: 28
Architecture and the decorative arts
Neoclassical art was traditional and new, historical and modern, conservative and progressive all at the same time.
Neoclassicism first gained influence in England and France, through a generation of French art students trained in Rome and influenced by the writings of Winckelmann, and it was quickly adopted by progressive circles in other countries such as Sweden, Poland and Russia. At first, classicizing decor was grafted onto familiar European forms, as in the interiors for Catherine II's lover, Count Orlov, designed by an Italian architect with a team of Italian stuccadori: only the isolated oval medallions like cameos and the bas-relief overdoors hint of Neoclassicism; the furnishings are fully Italian Rococo.
A second Neoclassic wave, more severe, more studied (through the medium of engravings) and more consciously archaeological, is associated with the height of the Napoleonic Empire. In France, the first phase of Neoclassicism was expressed in the "Louis XVI style", and the second in the styles called "Directoire" or Empire. The Rococo style remained popular in Italy until the Napoleonic regimes brought the new archaeological classicism, which was embraced as a political statement by young, progressive, urban Italians with republican leanings.
In the decorative arts, Neoclassicism is exemplified in Empire furniture made in Paris, London, New York, Berlin; in Biedermeier furniture made in Austria; in Karl Friedrich Schinkel's museums in Berlin, Sir John Soane's Bank of England in London and the newly built "capitol" in Washington, D.C.; and in Wedgwood's bas reliefs and "black basaltes" vases. The style was international; Scots architect Charles Cameron created palatial Italianate interiors for the German-born Catherine II the Great, in Russian St. Petersburg.
Indoors, Neoclassicism made a discovery of the genuine classic interior, inspired by the rediscoveries at Pompeii and Herculaneum. These had begun in the late 1740s, but only achieved a wide audience in the 1760s, with the first luxurious volumes of tightly controlled distribution of Le Antichità di Ercolano (The Antiquities of Herculaneum). The antiquities of Herculaneum showed that even the most classicizing interiors of the Baroque, or the most "Roman" rooms of William Kent were based on basilica and temple exterior architecture turned outside in, hence their often bombastic appearance to modern eyes: pedimented window frames turned into gilded mirrors, fireplaces topped with temple fronts. The new interiors sought to recreate an authentically Roman and genuinely interior vocabulary.
Techniques employed in the style included flatter, lighter motifs, sculpted in low frieze-like relief or painted in monotones en camaïeu ("like cameos"), isolated medallions or vases or busts or bucrania or other motifs, suspended on swags of laurel or ribbon, with slender arabesques against backgrounds, perhaps, of "Pompeiian red" or pale tints, or stone colors. The style in France was initially a Parisian style, the Goût grec ("Greek style"), not a court style; when Louis XVI acceded to the throne in 1774, Marie Antoinette, his fashion-loving Queen, brought the "Louis XVI" style to court. However, there was no real attempt to employ the basic forms of Roman furniture until around the turn of the century, and furniture-makers were more likely to borrow from ancient architecture, just as silversmiths were more likely to take from ancient pottery and stone-carving than metalwork: "Designers and craftsmen ... seem to have taken an almost perverse pleasure in transferring motifs from one medium to another".
From about 1800 a fresh influx of Greek architectural examples, seen through the medium of etchings and engravings, gave a new impetus to Neoclassicism, the Greek Revival. At the same time the Empire style was a more grandiose wave of Neoclassicism in architecture and the decorative arts. Mainly based on Imperial Roman styles, it originated in, and took its name from, the rule of Napoleon in the First French Empire, where it was intended to idealize Napoleon's leadership and the French state. The style corresponds to the more bourgeois Biedermeier style in the German-speaking lands, Federal style in the United States, the Regency style in Britain, and the Napoleon style in Sweden. According to the art historian Hugh Honour "so far from being, as is sometimes supposed, the culmination of the Neoclassical movement, the Empire marks its rapid decline and transformation back once more into a mere antique revival, drained of all the high-minded ideas and force of conviction that had inspired its masterpieces". An earlier phase of the style was called the Adam style in Great Britain and "Louis Seize", or Louis XVI, in France.
Neoclassicism continued to be a major force in academic art through the 19th century and beyond—a constant antithesis to Romanticism or Gothic revivals —, although from the late 19th century on it had often been considered anti-modern, or even reactionary, in influential critical circles. The centres of several European cities, notably St. Petersburg and Munich, came to look much like museums of Neoclassical architecture.
Gothic revival architecture (often linked with the Romantic cultural movement), a style originating in the 18th century which grew in popularity throughout the 19th century, contrasted Neoclassicism. Whilst Neoclassicism was characterized by Greek and Roman-influenced styles, geometric lines and order, Gothic revival architecture placed an emphasis on medieval-looking buildings, often made to have a rustic, "romantic" appearance.
Louis XVI style (1760-1789)
It marks the transition from Rococo to Classicism. Unlike the Classicism of Louis XIV, which transformed ornaments into symbols, Louis XVI style represents them as realistic and natural as possible, ie laurel branches really are laurel branches, roses the same, and so on. One of the main decorative principles is symmetry. In interiors, the colours used are very bright, including white, light grey, bright bleu, pink, yellow, very light lila, and gold. Excesses of ornamentation are avoided. The return to antiquity is synonymous with above all with a return to the straight lines: strict verticals and horizontals were the order of the day. Serpentine ones were no longer tolerated, save for the occasional half circle or oval. Interior decor also honored this taste for rigor, with the result that flat surfaces and right angles returned to fashion. Ornament was used to mediate this severity, but it never interfered with basic lines and always was disposed symmetrically around a central axis. Even so, ébénistes often canted fore-angles to avoid excessive rigidity.
The decorative motifs of Louis XVI style were inspired by antiquity, the Louis XIV style, and nature. Characteristic elements of the style: imbricated disks, guilloché, double bow-knots, smoking braziers, linear repetitions of small motifs (rosettes, beads, oves), trophy or floral medallions hanging from a knotted ribbon, acanthus leaves, gadrooning, interlace, meanders, cornucopias, mascarons, Ancient urns, tripods, perfume burners, dolphins, ram and lion heads, chimeras, and gryphons. Greco-Roman architectural motifs are also very used: flutings, pilasters (fluted and unfluted), fluted balusters (twisted and straight), columns (engaged and unengaged, sometimes replaced by caryathids), volute corbels, triglyphs with guttae (in relief and trompe-l'œil).
Large vase; 1783; hard porcelain and gilt bronze; height: 2 m, diameter: 0.90 m; Louvre
Pictorial print; 1784–1785; linen; 162.6 x 144.8 cm; Metropolitan Museum of Art (New York City)
Ewer; 1784–1785; silver; height: 32.9 cm; Metropolitan Museum of Art
Fire screen (écran); circa 1786; carved, gilded and silvered beech; 18th-century silk brocade (not original to frame); 106.7 x 67.9 x 41.3 cm; Metropolitan Museum of Art
Folding stool (pliant); 1786; carved and painted beechwood, covered in pink silk; 46.4 × 68.6 × 51.4 cm; Metropolitan Museum of Art
Pair of vases; 1789; hard-paste porcelain, gilt bronze, marble; height (each): 23 cm; Metropolitan Museum of Art
Armchair (fauteuil) from Louis XVI's Salon des Jeux at Saint Cloud; 1788; carved and gilded walnut, gold brocaded silk (not original); overall: 100 × 74.9 × 65.1 cm; Metropolitan Museum of Art
Empire style (1804-1815)
It representative for the new French society that has exited from the revolution which set the tone in all life fields, including art. The Jacquard machine is invented during this period (which revolutionises the entire sewing system, manual until then). One of the dominant colours is red, decorated with gilt bronze. Bright colours are also used, including white, cream, violet, brown, bleu, dark red, with little ornaments of gilt bronze. Interior architecture includes wood panels decorated with gilt reliefs (on a white background or a coloured one). Motifs are placed geometrically. The walls are covered in stuccos, wallpaper pr fabrics. Fireplace mantels are made of white marble, having caryatids at their corners, or other elements: obelisks, sphinxes, winged lions, and so on. Bronze objects were placed on their tops, including mantel clocks. The doors consist of simple rectangular panels, decorated with a Pompeian-inspired central figure. Empire fabrics are damasks with a bleu or brown background, satins with a green, pink or purple background, velvets of the same colors, brooches broached with gold or silver, and cotton fabrics. All of these were used in interiors for curtains, for covering certain furniture, for cushions or upholstery (lather is also used for upholstery).
All Empire ornament is governed by a rigorous spirit of symmetry reminiscent of the Louis XIV style. Generally, the motifs on a piece's right and left sides correspond to one another in every detail; when they don't, the individual motifs themselves are entirely symmetrical in composition: antique heads with identical tresses falling onto each shoulder, frontal figures of Victory with symmetrically arrayed tunics, identical rosettes or swans flanking a lock plate, etc. Like Louis XIV, Napoleon had a set of emblems unmistakably associated with his rule, most notably the eagle, the bee, stars, and the initials I (for Imperator) and N (for Napoleon), which were usually inscribed within an imperial laurel crown. Motifs used include: figures of Victory bearing palm branches, Greek dancers, nude and draped women, figures of antique chariots, winged putti, mascarons of Apollo, Hermes and the Gorgon, swans, lions, the heads of oxen, horses and wild beasts, butterflies, claws, winged chimeras, sphinxes, bucrania, sea horses, oak wreaths knotted by thin trailing ribbons, climbing grape vines, poppy rinceaux, rosettes, palm branches, and laurel. There's a lot of Greco-Roman ones: stiff and flat acanthus leaves, palmettes, cornucopias, beads, amphoras, tripods, imbricated disks, caduceuses of Mercury, vases, helmets, burning torches, winged trumpet players, and ancient musical instruments (tubas, rattles and especially lyres). Despite their antique derivation, the fluting and triglyphs so prevalent under Louis XVI are abandoned. Egyptian Revival motifs are especially common at the beginning of the period: scarabs, lotus capitals, winged disks, obelisks, pyramids, figures wearing nemeses, caryatids en gaine supported by bare feet and with women Egyptian headdresses.
Fireplace mantel from the Salon des dames d'honneur, in Château de Compiègne
Coffeepot; 1797–1809; silver gilt; height: 33.3 cm; Metropolitan Museum of Art (New York City)
Washstand (athénienne or lavabo); 1800–1814; legs, base and shelf of yew wood, gilt-bronze mounts, iron plate beneath shelf; height: 92.4 cm, width: 49.5 cm; Metropolitan Museum of Art
Dress, based on Greco-Roman fashion; circa 1804; cotton; Metropolitan Museum of Art
Desk chair (fauteuil de bureau); 1805–1808; mahogany, gilt bronze and satin-velvet upholstery; 87.6 × 59.7 × 64.8 cm; Metropolitan Museum of Art
1809 illustration which shows how male Empire fashion looks like, from Journal des dames et des modes
Pair of candelabra with Winged Victories; 1810–1815; gilt bronze; height (each): 127.6 cm; Metropolitan Museum of Art
Carpet; 1814–1830; 309.9 × 246.4 cm; Metropolitan Museum of Art