Niccolo Machiavelli once said, “whoever wishes to foresee the future must consult the past”, seems to sum the influence of past artistic styles on works of art across varying time periods. Neoclassicism, a popular art style in the 18th and early 19th century drew inspiration from Roman and Greek culture, it rose in response to a desire to revive the classical art period, whilst Romanticism, an art style that became popular at the end of the neoclassical period, embraced medievalism and revolted against the Age of Enlightenment and the classics that was the heart of the Neoclassical movement.
Whether artists chose to embrace past styles or deviate from them, either way they are influenced by them. Despite contrasting views and techniques between the two periods, Romanticism grew out of Neoclassicism. Neoclassicism can be defined as the revival of the classical style in art, literature, architecture and music. It was an influential style in art during the 18th and 19th century that lasted from the 1760’s until the 1850’s. Neoclassicism rose in reaction to the Rocco and Baroque styles that were popular during the middle of the 18th century in the United States and Western Europe especially France.
Neoclassicism was the result of a renewed interest in ancient Greek and Roman culture as a result of archeological discoveries of buried Roman cities of Pompeii and Herculaneum, which brought about new inspiration. The Neoclassical era was also called the Age of Enlightenment as the Industrial Revolution was taking place. There were many new inventions and this lead to the growth of many factories. With new inventions, there was new knowledge, hence the reference to enlightenment and “neo” which means new.
During the Neoclassical period, artists also focused on moral revivalism due to admiration for philosophers like Aristotle and Plato and also reflected on the Renaissance era. Neoclassical artists looked to the past as a guide to the present because of the assumption that human nature was constant. They did not strive to be original but to express “old truths in a newly effective way”. Neoclassical artists emphasized distinct characteristic styles in their work. These included the themes of patriotism, justice and honor.
French artists of the Neoclassical movement drew parallels between ancient Rome and France. During the Neoclassical period, France was fighting the French Revolution and citizens reshaped France by uprooting the absolute monarchy. Neoclassicism appealed to artists who were in support of the French Revolution . French artist, Jacques-Louis David, The Oath of the Horatii 1784 is one of the most renowned paintings of the Neoclassical era. It depicts a scene of two warring cities in Rome, in which three brothers are preparing to fight for their country, which demonstrated patriotism.
Other characteristic styles of this period included clean lines, symmetry and restraint in emotion. Paintings featured vivid contrast between light and dark colors. These features can be seen in The Oath of Horatii in which clean lines and symmetry can be seen in the depiction of Roman columns and the standing position of the brothers, the only emotion depicted is that of the women portrayed in the painting. The background color is dark compared to the foreground, which is bright and vivid, emphasizing the soldiers, which was a main technique used by the artists .
Another feature characteristic of Neoclassicism was the attempt to depict in great detail, the setting and costumes of the era with as much historical accuracy. Joseph-Marie Vien, Young Greek Maidens Decking the Sleeping Cupid with Flowers 1773 demonstrates this attention to detail, as the center point of this painting is the three Greek maidens whose dress is executed with great detail and vivid colors. Romanticism began during the 18th century and lasted until the 19th century just as Neoclassicism, with Romanticism peaking after the neoclassical period.
Romanticism grew out of a need to express the emotions and the adoration of nature that Romanticists felt had become lost during the Age of Enlightenment. They sought to search the subconscious and spirituality for answers rather than pure logic of the Neoclassical period. Other themes distinctive to this period were supernatural elements and historical nostalgia. Romanticism was especially popular in Britain and Germany. It was a reaction to the dehumanization that occurred during Neoclassicism due to industrialization.
Romanticism bore many characteristics such as appreciation for nature, it saw nature as an escape from the dehumanization caused by industrialization. It examined the power of nature as evident in Philip James de Loutherbourg, An Avalanche in the Alps 1803 that depicted an avalanche so awesome that it terrified the people in the foreground of the painting. Another characteristic style of the Romantic period was the revival of past styles such as medievalism. Medieval ruins were an inspiration to these artists, and can be seen in paintings such as Gaspar David Friedrich, Eldena Ruin 1825.
The supernatural was another theme explored by the Romantics. Ghosts, fairies and demons were symbolic of the rejection of materialism for spiritualism; this was depicted in William Blake, The Great Red Dragon and the Women Clothed with the Sun 1805 that portrays a dragon from the Book of Revelation. Artists during this period sought to express as much emotion they could in their artwork. There were expressions on every face including animals and humans; an example of this is Theodore Gericault, Mad Woman With A Mania of Envy 1822-1823 in which he depicts an old woman with a worrisome expression and uncanny stare.
Neoclassicism and Romanticism were two art styles that were popular during the 18th and 19th Century. Neoclassicism celebrated the classics such as the Greek and Roman culture. It was a rebirth of the new classical period and artists sought to emphasize on patriotism, honor and justice. Many paintings depicted Roman soldiers and Greek temples and philosophers and were in support of the French Revolution whilst Romanticism drew emphasis on emotions and nature; it celebrated the modern and the medieval time.
Romanticism embraced the individuality of the painter, who drew on creativity to paint rather than adherence to rules and tradition like their Neoclassic counterparts. Neoclassicism celebrated the French Revolution and Industrialization, which Neoclassicists saw as enlightenment as there were new ancient findings and industrialization, which brought new knowledge. Artists inspired by the Romantic period saw enlightenment as dehumanizing. They rebelled against conformity to societal norms to which Neoclassicists saw as being of great importance.
Romanticism was more creative than Neoclassicism; it sought to draw on spirituality and emotion, as Romanticists believed that not all questions could be answered by rationality but rather by irrationality. Neoclassical painters stressed drawing with lines and symmetry which is symbolic of living within the lines of conformity, they also used vivid color contrast with light and dark with no visible brushstrokes to draw interest to the main focus of the art piece. However, Romanticism used rich color, and a painterly technique with no distinct lines and visible brushstrokes in their works.
Subjects depicted in Neoclassical art were from Roman and Greek history whilst Romantic artists subjects were legends, ghosts, witches, violence and nature. The role of Neoclassicism was to morally uplift as depicted in The Oath of Horatii in which men were strong and loyal to France, whilst Romanticism sought to create a dramatic effect that would take the viewer away as seen in An Avalanche in the Alps in which the avalanche is so magnificent and terrifying at the same time.
When examining renowned paintings from both artistic periods: Neoclassicism and Romanticism, Neoclassicist Jacques-Louis David, The Oath of the Horatii and Romanticist Joseph Mallord William Turner, The Slave Ship are some of the most renowned paintings of their respective eras. The Oath of Horatii depicts a scene in which three brothers take swords from their father. The men are dressed in red, white and blue that represented the colors of France. This was thought to inspire patriotism, as it was symbolic of the brothers fighting for the good of country.
In contrast to the theme of patriotism and the fight for the greater good of all, the Slave Ship sought to inspire anti-slavery efforts and the fight for human kind versus country as in the Neoclassical period. The Oath of Horatii can be viewed as celebrating the Industrial Revolution as it inspired the French to fight for economic progress whilst The Slave Ship revolted against Industrialization, which it viewed as the exploitation of slaves and human labor for economic growth.
Another feature was the use of color; in The Oath of Horatii, the background is dark compared to the vivid colors of the foreground, allowing the focus to be on the brothers hence reinforcing the theme of loyalty and patriotism. The brushstrokes are controlled and there are distinct lines, which is seen in the position in which the men stand, point their swords. Lines are symbolic of conformity, which can be viewed as staying between the lines. In The Slave Ship, brushstrokes are soft, colors are bright as seen in the deep red sunset and are blended in so there in no distinct lines.
The symbolism of the lack of lines represents man’s freedom to choose and his individuality. The use of color draws attention to the background rather than the foreground, which makes the sky the main focus point. Human nature is also explored in The Oath of Horatii; the human need to stand strong in the face of adversity is depicted by the men in the painting, all of who raise their hands to their father in support of the fight unlike the women who seemed fearful and crouched over in distress. In The Slave Ship, nature depicted does not refer to human nature but simply, nature.
Neoclassicism used humans as their subjects and Romanticism used nature as their subjects. The rough sea and the majestic sky are the main focus in this artwork, which celebrates nature and shows how powerful nature is as the dead slaves are visible in the water along with nature’s creatures that are feeding on human carcass. The Oath of Horatii is symbolic of Neoclassicism as it depicts patriotism, linear painting technique, use of light and dark colors and human nature, which are characteristic of this era.
The Slave Ship is representative of the style of Romanticism; it depicts revolt against industrialization, nature, use of painter techniques and bright colors. Romanticism influenced the future art world by leaving its legacy behind and for others to follow and lead to new artistic styles. It stimulated the birth of many art schools such as the Norwich School of Landscape Painting, which was the first provincial arts body to hold exhibitions in Britain during the 19th century. Famous artists from this school included John Crome who was famous for his paintings depicting sceneries of Norfolk.
Another school influenced by the Romantic art style was the St Ives School of Art in England which flourished in the 20th century with its paintings being displayed today at the best art museums in the world such as the British Art Museum. St Ives School of Art later became renowned for its abstract sculptures and paintings that led to the development of modern art including Avant-Garde art that pushed the boundaries of cultural norms. Romanticism can be see as influential to the development of Avant-Garde as it began as a deviation from norms of society.
Famous artists from this school included Barbara Hepworth and Ben Nicholson who were renowned their abstract art and cement sculptures. Romanticism calls for the artist to be creative and not follow the classics. Marcel Duchamp, Fountain 1917 in which he exhibits a ready made urinal as a piece of art can be seen as being influenced by Romanticism as it asks for the artist to be creative. Hence we can see Avant-Garde and Dadaism being influence by Romanticism . Whether artists chose to embrace past styles or deviate from them, either way they are 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 drew inspiration from Roman and Greek culture and embraced the classics while Romanticism drew inspiration from emotions, nature and the historical period of medievalism. Romanticism grew out of contempt for the basic foundation of the Neoclassical era as Romantics felt that the Age of Enlightenment suppressed our creativity and dehumanized us, despite their contrasting views, we can see the influence of Neoclassicism on Romanticism.