Discipline: Art

Term used later to describe a movement beginning in the 1750s as a revival of Antique and Renaissance forms and ideals (and 17th-century classicism) throughout European art.

In architecture, the classical orders and geometric forms were favored by exponents such as Sir JOHN SOANE (1753-1837). In painting, classical subject matter (especially Roman and Greek history) was preferred. French painter Jacques Louis David and Italian sculptor Antonio Canova depicted high moral standards and virtue, turning for inspiration to Antique sculpture and the work of RAPHAEL (1483-1520). In so doing they repudiated the frivolity of Rococo art. These processes were aided by archaeological discoveries of the time. Contemporary theorists (for example, Winkelmann) recommended 'imitating the Ancients', but not literally copying them (except for learning), whilst also advocating the artistic purification and ennoblement of Nature.

By the 19th century the ideal of a universal eternal art had been politicized by French emperor Napoleon Bonaparte (1769-1821), and literal imitation and revivalism had distorted the high ideals of the earlier generation. However, elements of neo-classicism continued to exert influence throughout the era of romanticism.

Arts Council of Great Britain, The Age of Neo-classicism, exh. cat. (London, 1972)


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