What Is Neoclassical Art?

Neoclassical art refers to a period of artistic expression that is thought to have dominated between 1770 and 1830 AD. It replaced the earlier art movements of Rococo and Baroque styles, which were viewed as overly elaborate and shallow, and emotionally grandiose, respectively. In comparison to earlier periods, neoclassicism was expressed primarily through paintings, literature, architecture, and performance art such as theater and music, and was thought to be bland and unemotional. In architecture, culture, and thought, the neoclassical movement attempted to recapture the spirit of classical Greek and Roman lifestyles.

The end of the Renaissance period in Europe, which lasted from the 14th to the 17th centuries, saw the emergence of neoclassicism. Neoclassicism was eventually absorbed a new art movement known as Romanticism as a result of this period of innovation and widespread creativity in the arts. Romanticism did not replace neoclassical art; rather, it enhanced it in areas where it lacked. In the same way that Greek and Roman civilizations were built on both practical affairs of state and appreciation for the beauty of the natural world, the ideas of order presented in the invention of many of the first mechanical machines of the Renaissance period, as well as the simplicity approach to artistic beauty in neoclassicism, complimented Romanticism.

The neoclassical art period was no exception. Art movements are always influenced the times in which they emerge. While it was dominant in Europe, the Age of Enlightenment, a stage of civilization development, was also taking place. The Age of Enlightenment, which centered on reason and scientific discovery, is thought to have lasted from 1648 to the French Revolution in 1789. This type of logic and reasoning was seen as extending to all aspects of human life, including artistic expression. Anything related to human emotional states or mystical experiences, such as attempts to express beauty through paintings, theater, or song, was seen as subject to authoritarian reason based on new scientific and physics discoveries about how the natural world worked.

All human activity that could not be traced back to rationally defended arguments was no longer considered sacred during the Enlightenment, which included indefinable forms of artistic work and even religion. It’s unclear whether the neoclassical art movement was a reaction to societal pressures or a willing participant in the rise of secular humanism and atheism in prominent cultural circles. However, the changes that such artistic expression prompted conferred legitimacy on intellectual thought over the church’s decrees, which had previously dominated western culture.

Historians believe that the rise of neoclassical art paved the way for new political ideas like democracy. Both the American and French revolutions were fueled this at the time. It also gave birth to more extreme political movements like fascism and nationalism, which would tragically come to dominate human affairs through widespread European colonization and two world wars a century later.