Neoclassicism 1750 – 1860

Term coined in the 1880s to denote the last stage of the classical tradition in architecture, sculpture, painting and the decorative arts Neo-classicism was the successor to Rococo in the second half of the 18th century and was itself superseded by various historicist styles in the first half of the 19th century It formed an integral part of the enlightenment in its radical questioning of received notions of human endeavour It was also deeply involved with the emergence of new historical attitudes towards the past—non-Classical as well as Classical—that were stimulated by an unprecedented range of archaeological discoveries, extending from southern Italy and the eastern Mediterranean to Egypt and the Near East, during the second half of the 18th century The new awareness of the plurality of historical styles prompted the search for consciously new and contemporary forms of expression This concept of modernity set Neo-classicism apart from past revivals of antiquity, to which it was, nevertheless, closely related Almost paradoxically, the quest for a timeless mode of expression (the ‘true style’, as it was then called) involved strongly divergent approaches towards design that were strikingly focused on the Greco-Roman debate

Neoclassicism is the name given to Western movements in the decorative and visual arts, literature, theatre, music, and architecture that draw inspiration from the “classical” art and culture of Ancient Greece or Ancient Rome Neoclassicism was born in Rome in the mid-18th century, 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

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European Neoclassicism in the visual arts began c 1760 in opposition to the then-dominant Baroque and Rococo styles 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 is a revival of the 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

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