Meaning of Neoclassicism

What is Neoclassicism:

Neoclassicism is known as a literary and artistic trend born in Europe in the 18th century, which was inspired by the values ​​and art of Classical or Greco-Roman Antiquity. It had manifestation in the different artistic disciplines, such as literature, architecture, painting, sculpture and music.

The word is composed with the prefix neo-, which means 'new' and the suffix -ism, indicating movement or doctrine. In France neoclassicism is simply known as classicism.

Neoclassicism was the aesthetic expression of the Enlightenment or Enlightenment, which is why it was very well received in many American countries, such as the United States, which found the inspiration for independence in the political values ​​of this movement.

He tried to develop an art committed to universal values, especially rationalism (the cult of reason) and the secularization of the State, so that initially neoclassicism perceived itself as a revolutionary movement.

Like the thinkers of the Enlightenment, the neoclassical artists understood rationalism as a flag to combat the fanaticism that had caused the recent wars of religion in Europe.

In that sense, Classical Antiquity was once again seen as a model to imitate, since at that moment in history philosophy, science and democracy were born.

This renewed interest in the Greco-Roman past arose from the recent discoveries of the ruins of Herculaneum and Pompeii, which occurred in 1738 and 1748 respectively.

Therefore, to oppose baroque art (art of the Reformation and Counter-Reformation), characterized by excessive decoration (horror vacui), the abuse of the curved line and open forms and the use of multiple vanishing points, neoclassicism would prefer order, proportion and symmetry.

However, when the secular state began to display authoritarian and irrational features, and especially when France (Napoleon) sought to extend its rule to the rest of Europe, the art of neoclassicism suffered serious discredit and was judged as proselytizing, cold and soulless. This is how romanticism made its appearance, whose immediate precedent was the movement Sturm und Drang towards the end of the 18th century.

See also:

  • Illuminism.
  • Old age.
  • Baroque.

Neoclassicism in painting


The death of Marat, Jacques Louis-David, 1793

In neoclassical painting, drawing and form predominated over color. Historical and mythological subjects were cultivated mainly using oil painting, although there were also fresco paintings.

Neoclassicism in sculpture


Cupid and Psyche, Antonio Canova, 1794

In neoclassical sculpture, there was a predilection for white marble. The sculpted figures evoked simple aesthetics emphasizing the purity of lines and classical beauty, addressing themes of Greco-Roman mythology and allegorical expressions.

Neoclassicism in architecture

St. Isaac's Cathedral, Auguste de Montferrand, 1818-1858

Neoclassical architecture was characterized by rescuing the idea of ​​functionality and pragmatism from the architecture of Classical Antiquity (Greece and Rome).

In this way, the architectural structures reflect the rejection of the excessive ornament of the time that preceded it, called Baroque.

Likewise, civil buildings proliferated, such as government palaces, parliaments, museums, academies, etc., since all the nascent governments of the 18th century onwards aspired to integrate into the universality of modern values ​​that neoclassical rationalism represented.

Neoclassicism in literature

Neoclassical literature focuses mainly on philosophy, known as the great representatives of Enlightenment. Among them stand out: Voltaire, Rousseau and Montesquieu.

The literary production of this period tends to worship reason and reject religious dogmas. It is characterized mainly by its fables and plays, although neoclassical poetry also enjoyed great popularity.

We can highlight some of the neoclassical authors such as, for example, the Spanish playwright Leandro Fernández de Moratin (1760-1828) with works such as, The new comedy from 1796 and Girls Yes: Comedy in Three Acts from 1805.

Classical music and neoclassicism

The musical movement that corresponds to the neoclassical period is called musical classicism and its characteristic music is called classical music, although this term is often used erroneously to refer to all academic music.

Musical classicism developed in Europe between 1750 and 1820. Its greatest exponents were Joseph Haydn, W.A. Mozart and Ludwig van Beethoven, who ended up becoming a figure of transition towards musical romanticism.

On the other hand, a movement of academic music that emerged in the 20th century, between the First and Second World War, is known as musical neoclassicism.

Among the representatives of neoclassical music, the Russian composer Igor Fyodorovich Stravinsky (1882-1971) stands out with his concert Spring consecration 1913 and the German composer Paul Hindemith (1895-1963) with his symphony Mathis der Maler from 1934.

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