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Neoclassicism is an art movement that is strongly influenced by the styles of ancient Greece and Rome, dominant from the mid to late 18th century until the 1830s. Inspired by the excavations of the ancient Roman cities of Pompeii and Herculaneum from 1748, a renewed interest in the arts of antiquity occurred. Embracing order and restraint, it developed in reaction to the perceived frivolity, hedonism and decadence of Rococo and exemplifying the rational thinking of the 'Age of Enlightenment' (aka the 'Age of Reason'). Initially, the movement was developed not by artists, but by Enlightenment philosophers. They requested replacing Rococo with a style of rational art, moral and dedicated to the soul. This fitted well with a perception of Classical art as the embodiment of realism, restraint and order. Inspired by ancient Greek and Roman art, the classical history paintings of the French artist Nicolas Poussin (1594–1665) and the ideas of the German writer Anton Raphael Mengs (1728–1779) and the archaeologist and art historian Johann Joachim Winckelmann (1717–1768), Neoclassicism began in Rome, but soon spread throughout Europe. Rome had become the main focus of the Grand Tour by the mid-18th century, and aristocratic travellers went there in search of Classical visions to recreate on their country estates, thus spreading the style across Europe, particularly in England and France. The tour was also an opportunity for collecting Classical antiquities. Neoclassical paintings tended to be populated with figures posed like Classical statues or reliefs, set in a locations filled with archaeological details. The style favoured Greek art over Roman, considering it purer and more authentically classical in its aesthetic goal.

In 1789, France was on the brink of its first revolution and Neoclassicism sought to express their patriotic feelings. Politics and art were closely entwined during this period. They believed that art should be serious, and valued drawings above painting; smooth contours and paint with no discernible brushstrokes were the ultimate aim. Both painting and sculpture exerted calmness and restraint and focused on heroic themes, expressing such noble notions as self-sacrifice and nationalism.

This movement paved the way for Romanticism, that appeared when the idealism of the revolution faded away and after the Napoleonic period came to an end in the early 19th century. Neoclassicism should not be seen as the opposite of Romanticism, however, but in some ways an early manifestation of it.


Hôtel de la Marine, Paris, by Ange-Jacques Gabriel, 1761-1770

Hôtel de la Marine, Paris, by Ange-Jacques Gabriel, 1761-1770

Neoclassical architecture focused on Ancient Greek and Roman details, plain, white walls and grandeur of scale. Compared to the previous styles, Baroque and Rococo, Neoclassical exteriors tended to be more minimalist, featuring straight and angular lines, but being still ornamented. The style's clean lines and sense of balance and proportion worked well for grand buildings (such as the Panthéon in Paris) and for smaller structures alike (such as the Petit Trianon).

Excavations during the 18th century at Pompeii and Herculaneum, which had both been buried under volcanic ash during the 79 AD eruption of Mount Vesuvius, inspired a return to order and rationality.[179] In the mid-18th century, antiquity was upheld as a standard for architecture as never before. Neoclassicism was a fundamental investigation of the very bases of architectural form and meaning. In the 1750s, an alliance between archaeological exploration and architectural theory started, which will continue in the 19th century. Marc-Antoine Laugier wrote in 1753 that 'Architecture owes all that is perfect to the Greeks'.

The style was adopted by progressive circles in other countries such as Sweden and Russia. Federal-style architecture is the name for the classicizing architecture built in North America between c. 1780 and 1830, and particularly from 1785 to 1815. This style shares its name with its era, the Federal Period. The term is also used in association with furniture design in the United States of the same time period. The style broadly corresponds to the middle-class classicism of Biedermeier style in the German-speaking lands, Regency style in Britain and to the French Empire style. In Central and Eastern Europe, the style is usually referred to as Classicism (German: Klassizismus, Russian: Классицизм), while the newer Revival styles of the 19th century until today are called neoclassical.

Étienne-Louis Boullée (1728–1799) was a visionary architect of the period. His utopian projects, never built, included a monument to Isaac Newton (1784) in the form of an immense dome, with an oculus allowing the light to enter, giving the impression of a sky full of stars. His project for an enlargement of the Royal Library (1785) was even more dramatic, with a gigantic arch sheltering the collection of books. While none of his projects were ever built, the images were widely published and inspired architects of the period to look outside the traditional forms.

Similarly with the Renaissance and Baroque periods, during the Neoclassical one urban theories of how a good city should be appeared too. Enlightenment writers of the 18th century decried the problems of Paris at that time, the biggest one being the big number of narrow medieval streets crowded with modest houses. Voltaire openly criticized the failure of the French Royal administration to initiate public works, improve the quality of life in towns, and stimulate the economy. 'It is time for those who rule the most opulent capital in Europe to make it the most comfortable and the most magnificent of cities. There must be public markets, fountains which actually provide water and regular pavements. The narrow and infected streets must be widened, monuments that cannot be seen must be revealed and new ones built for all to see', Voltaire insisted in a polemical essay on 'The Embellishments of Paris' in 1749. In the same year, La Font de Saint-Yenne, criticized how Louis XIV's great east façade of the Louvre, was all but hidden from views by a dense quarter of modest houses. Voltaire also said that in order to transform Paris into a city that could rival ancient Rome, it was necessary to demolish more than it was to built. 'Our towns are still what they were, a mass of houses crowded together haphazardly without system, planning or design', Marc-Antoine Laugier complained in 1753. Writing a decade later, Pierre Patte promoted an urban reform in quest of health, social order, and security, launching at the same time a medical and organic metaphor which compared the operations of urban design to those of the surgeons. With bad air and lack of fresh water its current state was pathological, Patte asserted, calling for fountains to be placed at principal intersections and markets. Squares are recommended promote the circulation of air, and for the same reason houses on the city's bridges should be demolished. He also criticized the location of hospitals next to markets and protested continued burials in overcrowded city churchyards. Bsides cities, new ideas of how a garden should be appeared in 18th century England, making place for the English landscape garden (aka jardin à l'anglaise), characterized by an idealized view of nature, and the use of Greco-Roman or Gothic ruins, bridges, and other picturesque architecture, designed to recreate an idyllic pastoral landscape. It was the opposite of the symmetrical and geometrically planned Baroque garden (aka jardin à la française).


Neoclassical Women[]

Walking dress
  • walking dresss
  • corsets
  • petticoats
  • reticules
  • gloves
  • Rectangle shawl (1800s)
    rectangular shawls
  • spencer (tailored short jacket)

Neoclassical Men[]

Waistcote (1800s)
  • Tall boots
  • Waistcoats
  • Tight fitting fall-front pantaloons
  • watch fob
  • gloves
  • canes
  • top hats



  • Anton Raphael Mengs (1728-79)
  • Joseph-Marie Vien (1716-1809)
  • Pompeo Batoni (1708-87)
  • Angelica Kauffmann (1741-1807)



History pages[]