Art Movements in History - Neoclassical Art

The Capitole de Toulouse showing Neoclassical art works by Jean-Paul Laurens. Editorial credit: Semmick Photo /

The Neoclassical Art Movement involved decorative and visual art, music, theater, and architectural designs that drew influence and inspiration from the ancient classical artists and cultures of ancient Greece and Rome. Neoclassicism began in Rome in the 18th Century and gained popularity, spreading over Europe due to the Grand Tours made be the students from other parts of the world to Italy. The Neoclassical Art Movement rapidly spread because it coincided with the Age of Enlightenment in the 18th Century. The art movement continues to be one of the most embraced cultures in the world, especially in Italy and Europe as a whole. 

5. Overview of the Style and Elements of Neoclassicism

Neoclassical art is inspired by the art of the classical period. It was developed as a result of a reaction against the Rococo style. Neoclassicism in art implies a simple but unique style of a classical model. In English, the term Neoclassicism is generally used to exclusively refer to visual art. However, the term has since been expanded to include other elements which it has greatly dominated such as classical music, architecture, sculpture, and decorative arts.

4. Origins and Development

Jacques Louis David, "The Death of Socrates".

The movement began in Rome in the mid-18th Century. From there, it spread across much of Europe at a time when European art students returned to their countries at the ends of their "Grand Tours" which introduced them to new artistic ideas. With their newly acquired Greco-Roman ideals, they were able to practice classical art leading to a rapid spread of the Neoclassical movement. The main movement that coincided with the Age of Enlightenment continued into the early 19th Century with the architectural styles continuing up to the 21st Century. The visual art began in 1760 to counter the dominance of the Baroque and Rococo styles which emphasized grace and ornamentation. The architecture is based on the principle of simplicity which is visible in the Rome and Greece arts.

3. Notable Artists and their Works

The Neoclassical Art movement witnessed some of the greatest and the most talented artists in the history of painting, sculptural works, classical music, architecture, and other forms of art alike. John Flaxman was able to turn the drawings of Raphael Mengs into prints by using simple line drawing or purest classical mediums to depict the Odyssey in 1795. The painting works of Angelica Kauffman, which were mainly portraits, are renowned for their tender and soft qualities. Jean-Antoine Houdon’s sculpture work represents a smooth transition from Rococo to classical dignity. He focused on producing portraits of the great figures of Enlightenment. Other sculptors included Johan Tobias and Antonio Canova. Scottish architecture Charles Cameron is credited with creating a palatial Italianate in Russian Saint Petersburg for Catherine II the Great.

2. Decline and Subsequent Movements

The decline of the movement began in the late 19th Century, and this decline was see with stylistic shifts in music, painting, and sculptural works simultaneously. However, the architecture continued throughout the 19th Century up until the 20th Century. The decline of the Neoclassicism movement coincided with the rise of Romanticism. The Rococo movement, which rivaled Neoclassicism, also contributed to its decline since most of the artist would include the Rococo ideas in most of their classical work.

1. Legacy

Neoclassicism influenced much of the greater simplicity of modern society in almost every aspect, such as in fashion and architecture. Classical costumes are associated with royalty and high status in society. The ancient buildings constructed during the neoclassical art period are among the strongest and most appealing buildings in the world, especially in Europe and Rome in particular. The movement is also credited for replacing the Rococo art movement which was complex and time-consuming because of its attention to detail.

More in Society