Influence of Neoclassicism on Romanticism Compare and Contrast

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According to Niccolo Machiavelli, the analysis of the past is crucial for predicting the future. This principle can be observed in how past artistic styles have influenced art across different time periods. One example of this is Neoclassicism, an art style that was popular during the 18th and early 19th century and drew inspiration from Roman and Greek culture. It emerged as a response to the desire to revive classical art. In contrast, Romanticism gained widespread appreciation after Neoclassicism and embraced medievalism while rebelling against the Age of Enlightenment and the classics that were central to Neoclassicism.

Artists are influenced by past styles, whether they choose to embrace or deviate from them. Romanticism emerged as a response to Neoclassicism, despite the differences in views and techniques between the two periods. Neoclassicism signifies the revival of the classical style in different art forms, literature, architecture, and music. This influential art style lasted from the 1760s to the 1850s as a reaction to the prevalent Rococo and Baroque styles during the mid-18th century in Western Europe and France specifically.

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The Neoclassical era, also called the Enlightenment period, arose from a renewed interest in ancient Greek and Roman civilization due to archaeological discoveries in Pompeii and Herculaneum. These findings served as new inspiration sources. At the same time, the Industrial Revolution was happening, resulting in various technological advancements and the creation of factories. These inventions not only brought about tangible progress but also expanded knowledge, hinting at enlightenment and the prefix “neo” indicating novelty.

During the Neoclassical period, artists emphasized moral revivalism, inspired by philosophers such as Aristotle and Plato, and influenced by the Renaissance. They sought guidance from the past, believing in the constancy of human nature. Rather than pursuing originality, Neoclassical artists aimed to present “old truths in a newly effective way.” Their works featured distinct characteristic styles and focused on themes of patriotism, justice, and honor.

French artists of the Neoclassical movement sought to draw connections between ancient Rome and France as their own country was undergoing significant transformations during the French Revolution. This period saw the dismantling of the absolute monarchy and the reshaping of France by its citizens. Neoclassicism resonated particularly with artists who were supportive of the revolution. One notable French artist associated with this movement was Jacques-Louis David, whose painting The Oath of the Horatii (1784) remains a celebrated work from the Neoclassical era. This masterpiece portrays a scene set in ancient Rome, featuring two warring cities, and three brothers readying themselves to defend their homeland, serving as a manifestation of patriotism.

During this period, other common styles included clean lines, symmetry, and restrained emotion. Paintings showcased a vibrant contrast between light and dark colors. These characteristics are evident in The Oath of Horatii. The artwork portrays Roman columns and the brothers’ stance with clean lines and symmetry. The only emotions depicted are those of the women. The foreground, bright and vivid, emphasizes the soldiers, while the background is dark, using a technique commonly employed by artists.

Neoclassicism emphasized historical accuracy, such as accurately depicting the setting and clothing of a particular era. Joseph-Marie Vien’s 1773 artwork “Young Greek Maidens Decking the Sleeping Cupid with Flowers” exemplifies this attention to detail, using vibrant colors and intricate precision to portray the clothing of three Greek maidens in the center of the painting. Romanticism emerged in the 18th century, overlapped with Neoclassicism, and reached its peak in the following century.

Romanticism emerged as a response to the Age of Enlightenment, aiming to bring back lost emotions and reverence for nature. The movement focused on delving into the subconscious and spirituality, moving away from the purely logical approach of the Neoclassical era. It also included supernatural elements and a longing for the past. Romanticism gained substantial popularity in Britain and Germany as a reaction to industrialization’s dehumanizing effects during the Neoclassical period.

One characteristic of Romanticism was its appreciation for nature, viewing it as a means of escaping the dehumanizing effects of industrialization. The power of nature was explored in artwork like Philip James de Loutherbourg’s An Avalanche in the Alps 1803, which depicted a frightening avalanche that terrified the figures in the foreground. Another style prevalent during the Romantic period was the revival of past artistic styles, particularly medievalism. Artists drew inspiration from medieval ruins, as shown in Gaspar David Friedrich’s painting Eldena Ruin 1825. Additionally, the supernatural was a common theme explored by Romantic artists.

Another theme explored by the Romantics was the rejection of materialism for spiritualism, which was symbolized by ghosts, fairies, and demons. This concept was portrayed in William Blake’s 1805 artwork, “The Great Red Dragon and the Women Clothed with the Sun,” which is based on a dragon from the Book of Revelation. Artists during this period aimed to convey intense emotion in their artwork, evident in the expressions found on the faces of both animals and humans. Theodore Gericault’s 1822-1823 painting, “Mad Woman With A Mania of Envy,” is an example of this, depicting an old woman with a troubling expression and unsettling gaze.

During the 18th and 19th century, Neoclassicism and Romanticism emerged as popular art styles. Neoclassicism focused on celebrating classical influences from Greek and Roman cultures, representing a revival of the classical period. Artists of this movement aimed to emphasize patriotism, honor, and justice. Through depictions of Roman soldiers, Greek temples, and philosophers, they expressed support for the French Revolution. In contrast, Romanticism celebrated emotions and nature, highlighting both contemporary and medieval times.

Romanticism and Neoclassicism were two contrasting movements in art. Romanticism valued artists’ uniqueness, emphasizing their own creativity instead of conforming to established rules like Neoclassicists. Despite this, Neoclassicism celebrated the French Revolution and the rise of Industrialization as a period of enlightenment. This was due to discoveries of ancient artifacts and progress brought about by industrialization. However, artists influenced by Romanticism saw this enlightenment as dehumanizing and rebelled against societal norms that Neoclassicists deemed important.

Romanticism was a more imaginative movement compared to Neoclassicism. It aimed to tap into spirituality and emotions, as Romanticists believed that rationality alone could not answer all questions. In contrast, Neoclassical painters emphasized the use of lines and symmetry, which symbolized conformity. They also employed vivid color contrasts and a lack of visible brushstrokes to highlight the main subject of the artwork. Conversely, Romanticism embraced vibrant colors and a painterly technique, devoid of distinct lines or concealed brushstrokes.

Neoclassical art focused on subjects from Roman and Greek history, while Romantic artists preferred legends, ghosts, witches, violence, and nature. The purpose of Neoclassicism was to provide moral inspiration, as portrayed in The Oath of Horatii, showcasing strong and loyal men in service of France. In contrast, Romanticism aimed to captivate viewers with a dramatic effect. An example is An Avalanche in the Alps, where the avalanche’s magnificence and terror transport the viewer.

When analyzing famous paintings from the artistic periods of Neoclassicism and Romanticism, two prominent artworks stand out: Jacques-Louis David’s The Oath of the Horatii from the Neoclassical era, and Joseph Mallord William Turner’s The Slave Ship from the Romantic era. The Oath of the Horatii portrays a scene where three brothers seize swords from their father, donning garments in red, white, and blue which symbolize the colors of France. This choice of attire was intended to evoke feelings of patriotism, signifying the brothers’ fight for the betterment of their country.

The theme of patriotism and the fight for the greater good is contrasted with the Slave Ship, which aims to inspire anti-slavery efforts and the fight for humanity rather than just one’s country, as seen in the Neoclassical period. On the other hand, The Oath of Horatii celebrates the Industrial Revolution and motivates the French to fight for economic progress. In contrast, The Slave Ship protests against Industrialization, perceiving it as the exploitation of slaves and human labor for economic growth.

The author discusses the use of color and brushstrokes in two paintings, The Oath of Horatii and The Slave Ship. In The Oath of Horatii, the background is dark while the foreground features vivid colors, drawing attention to the brothers and emphasizing the theme of loyalty and patriotism. The painting also includes distinct lines, particularly in the positioning of the men and their swords, symbolizing conformity. On the other hand, The Slave Ship incorporates soft brushstrokes and bright colors, such as a deep red sunset, with no distinct lines.

The lack of lines in the symbolism represents man’s freedom to choose and his individuality. The use of color shifts attention to the background, making the sky the main focus point. The painting also explores human nature, portraying the men as standing strong in the face of adversity, raising their hands to their father in support of the fight, unlike the fearful and distressed women. In contrast, The Slave Ship depicts nature itself rather than human nature.

Both Neoclassicism and Romanticism focused on different subjects. Neoclassicism featured humans as their main subjects, while Romanticism celebrated nature. This particular artwork emphasizes the rough sea and majestic sky, highlighting the power of nature. Additionally, it portrays the presence of deceased slaves in the water, being fed upon by creatures of nature. As a representation of Neoclassicism, The Oath of Horatii symbolizes patriotism, the use of linear painting technique, contrasting light and dark colors, and the portrayal of human nature that were characteristic of this artistic era.

The Slave Ship exemplifies the characteristics of Romanticism, portraying rebellion against industrialization, the power of nature, experimental painting techniques, and vibrant hues. This artistic movement left a lasting influence on the art world, inspiring future generations of artists to explore new artistic styles. Romanticism also gave rise to various art schools, including the Norwich School of Landscape Painting. This provincial arts body was a pioneer in holding exhibitions in 19th century Britain. Notable artists from this school include John Crome, known for his picturesque landscapes of Norfolk.

The St Ives School of Art in England, influenced by the Romantic art style, thrived in the 20th century. Its paintings are now showcased in top art museums worldwide, such as the British Art Museum. Over time, the St Ives School became famous for its abstract sculptures and paintings, contributing to the evolution of modern and Avant-Garde art. This movement challenged cultural norms and began as a rebellion against societal conventions, with Romanticism playing a vital role in its development.

Barbara Hepworth and Ben Nicholson, notable artists from the school, were acknowledged for their abstract art and cement sculptures. In accordance with Romanticism, artists are encouraged to be imaginative and break away from traditional styles. Marcel Duchamp’s Fountain 1917 can be seen as being inspired by Romanticism as it presents a pre-made urinal as an artwork, promoting artistic creativity. Therefore, we can observe elements of Romanticism in Avant-Garde and Dadaism movements. Regardless of whether artists choose to adopt or deviate from past styles, they are still influenced by them.

Both Neoclassicism and Romanticism were popular art styles in the 18th and early 19th century, with Romanticism occurring during the later years. Neoclassicism was influenced by Roman and Greek culture and embraced classical ideals, while Romanticism drew inspiration from emotions, nature, and the historical period of medievalism. However, despite their differences, we can see how Neoclassicism impacted Romanticism.

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Influence of Neoclassicism on Romanticism Compare and Contrast. (2016, Jul 10). Retrieved from

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