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The Tune of the Seven Towers (1857), watercolour, Tate Britain

What is The Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood?

The Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood (also known as the Pre-Raphaelites) was a group of English painters, poets, and critics, founded in 1848 by William Holman Hunt, John Everett Millais and Dante Gabriel Rossetti. The three founders were joined by William Michael Rossetti, James Collinson, Frederic George Stephens and Thomas Woolner to form the seven-member “brotherhood”.

What is The Pre Raphaelite Brotherhood?   William Holman Hunt The Hireling Shepherd 1851

William Holman Hunt – The Hireling Shepherd, 1851

The group’s intention was to reform art by rejecting what it considered the mechanistic approach first adopted by Mannerist artists who succeeded Raphael and Michelangelo. Its members believed the Classical poses and elegant compositions of Raphael in particular had been a corrupting influence on the academic teaching of art, hence the name “Pre-Raphaelite”.

In particular, the group objected to the influence of Sir Joshua Reynolds, founder of the English Royal Academy of Arts, whom they called “Sir Sloshua“. To the Pre-Raphaelites, according to William Michael Rossetti, “sloshy” meant “anything lax or scamped in the process of painting … and hence … any thing or person of a commonplace or conventional kind“. In contrast, the brotherhood wanted a return to the abundant detail, intense colours and complex compositions of Quattrocento Italian art.

What is The Pre Raphaelite Brotherhood?   Medea by Evelyn De Morgan 1889 in quattrocento style

Medea by Evelyn De Morgan, 1889, in quattrocento style

Through the PRB initials, the brotherhood announced in coded form the arrival of a new movement in British art. The group continued to accept the concepts of history painting and mimesis, imitation of nature, as central to the purpose of art. The Pre-Raphaelites defined themselves as a reform movement, created a distinct name for their form of art, and published a periodical, The Germ, to promote their ideas. The group’s debates were recorded in the Pre-Raphaelite Journal.

The Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood was founded in John Millais’s parents’ house on Gower Street, London in 1848. At the first meeting, the painters John Everett Millais, Dante Gabriel Rossetti, and William Holman Hunt were present. Hunt and Millais were students at the Royal Academy of Arts and had met in another loose association, the Cyclographic Club, a sketching society. At his own request Rossetti became a pupil of Ford Madox Brown in 1848. At that date, Rossetti and Hunt shared lodgings in Cleveland Street, Fitzrovia, Central London. Hunt had started painting The Eve of St. Agnes based on Keats’s poem of the same name, but it was not completed until 1867.

As an aspiring poet, Rossetti wished to develop the links between Romantic poetry and art. By autumn, four more members, painters James Collinson and Frederic George Stephens, Rossetti’s brother, poet and critic William Michael Rossetti, and sculptor Thomas Woolner, had joined to form a seven-member-strong brotherhood. Ford Madox Brown was invited to join, but the more senior artist remained independent but supported the group throughout the PRB period of Pre-Raphaelitism and contributed to The Germ. Other young painters and sculptors became close associates, including Charles Allston Collins, Thomas Tupper, and Alexander Munro. The PRB intended to keep the existence of the brotherhood secret from members of the Royal Academy.

The brotherhood’s early doctrines were expressed in four declarations:

  • to have genuine ideas to express
  • to study nature attentively, so as to know how to express them
  • to sympathise with what is direct and serious and heartfelt in previous art, to the exclusion of what is conventional and self-parodying and learned by rote
  • most indispensable of all, to produce thoroughly good pictures and statues
What is The Pre Raphaelite Brotherhood?   The Tune of the Seven Towers 1857 watercolour Tate Britain

The Tune of the Seven Towers (1857), watercolour, Tate Britain

The principles were deliberately non-dogmatic, since the brotherhood wished to emphasize the personal responsibility of individual artists to determine their own ideas and methods of depiction. Influenced by Romanticism, the members thought freedom and responsibility were inseparable. Nevertheless, they were particularly fascinated by medieval culture, believing it to possess a spiritual and creative integrity that had been lost in later eras. The emphasis on medieval culture clashed with principles of realism which stress the independent observation of nature.

What is The Pre Raphaelite Brotherhood?   Rossettis The Roman Widow at Museo de Arte de Ponce Ponce Puerto Rico

Rossetti’s The Roman Widow at Museo de Arte de Ponce, Ponce, Puerto Rico

In its early stages, the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood believed its two interests were consistent with one another, but in later years the movement divided and moved in two directions. The realists were led by Hunt and Millais, while the medievalists were led by Rossetti and his followers, Edward Burne-Jones and William Morris. The split was never absolute, since both factions believed that art was essentially spiritual in character, opposing their idealism to the materialist realism associated with Courbet and Impressionism.

The Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood was greatly influenced by nature and its members used great detail to show the natural world using bright and sharp focus techniques on a white canvas. In attempts to revive the brilliance of colour found in Quattrocento art, Hunt and Millais developed a technique of painting in thin glazes of pigment over a wet white ground in the hope that the colours would retain jewel-like transparency and clarity. Their emphasis on brilliance of colour was a reaction to the excessive use of bitumen by earlier British artists, such as Reynolds, David Wilkie and Benjamin Robert Haydon. Bitumen produces unstable areas of muddy darkness, an effect the Pre-Raphaelites despised.

The first exhibitions of Pre-Raphaelite work occurred in 1849. Both Millais’s Isabella (1848–1849) and Holman Hunt’s Rienzi (1848–1849) were exhibited at the Royal Academy. Rossetti’s Girlhood of Mary Virgin was shown at a Free Exhibition on Hyde Park Corner. As agreed, all members of the brotherhood signed their work with their name and the initials “PRB”. Between January and April 1850, the group published a literary magazine, The Germ edited by William Rossetti which published poetry by the Rossettis, Woolner, and Collinson and essays on art and literature by associates of the brotherhood, such as Coventry Patmore. As the short run-time implies, the magazine did not manage to achieve sustained momentum. (Daly 1989)

In 1850, the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood became the subject of controversy after the exhibition of Millais’ painting Christ in the House of His Parents was considered to be blasphemous by many reviewers, notably Charles Dickens. Dickens considered Millais’ Mary to be ugly. Millais had used his sister-in-law, Mary Hodgkinson, as the model for Mary in his painting. The brotherhood’s medievalism was attacked as backward-looking and its extreme devotion to detail was condemned as ugly and jarring to the eye. According to Dickens, Millais made the Holy Family look like alcoholics and slum-dwellers, adopting contorted and absurd “medieval” poses. A rival group of older artists, The Clique, used its influence against the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood and its principles were publicly attacked by the President of the Academy, Sir Charles Lock Eastlake.

After the controversy, Collinson left the brotherhood and the remaining members met to discuss whether he should be replaced by Charles Allston Collins or Walter Howell Deverell, but were unable to make a decision. From that point the group disbanded, though its influence continued. Artists who had worked in the style initially continued but no longer signed works “PRB”.

What is The Pre Raphaelite Brotherhood?   Proserpine by Dante Gabriel Rossetti

Proserpine, by Dante Gabriel Rossetti

The brotherhood found support from the critic John Ruskin, who praised its devotion to nature and rejection of conventional methods of composition. The Pre-Raphaelites were influenced by Ruskin’s theories and he wrote to The Times defending their work and subsequently met them. Initially, he favoured Millais, who travelled to Scotland in the summer of 1853 with Ruskin and Ruskin’s wife, Effie, to paint Ruskin’s portrait. Effie’s increasing attachment to Millais (as well as Ruskin’s non-consummation of their marriage) created a crisis, leading Effie to leave and have the marriage annulled on grounds that it had not been consummated, and marry Millais, which caused a public scandal.

Millais abandoned the Pre-Raphaelite style after his marriage, and Ruskin savagely attacked his later works. Ruskin continued to support Hunt and Rossetti and provided funds to encourage the art of Rossetti’s wife Elizabeth Siddal.

Artists influenced by the brotherhood include John Brett, Philip Calderon, Arthur Hughes, Gustave Moreau, Evelyn De Morgan, Frederic Sandys (who came into the Pre-Raphaelite circle in 1857), and John William Waterhouse. Ford Madox Brown, who was associated with them from the beginning, is often seen as most closely adopting the Pre-Raphaelite principles. One follower who developed his own distinct style was Aubrey Beardsley, who was pre-eminently influenced by Burne-Jones.

After 1856, Dante Gabriel Rossetti became an inspiration for the medievalising strand of the movement. He was the link between the two types of Pre Raphaelite painting (nature and Romance) after the PRB became lost in the late 1800s. Rossetti, although the least committed to the brotherhood, continued the name and changed its style. He began painting versions of femme fatales using models like Jane Morris, in paintings such as: Proserpine, the blue silk dress, La Pia de’ Tolomei, etc. His work influenced his friend William Morris, in whose firm Morris, Marshall, Faulkner & Co. he became a partner, and with whose wife Jane he may have had an affair.

Ford Madox Brown and Edward Burne-Jones also became partners in the firm. Through Morris’s company, the ideals of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood influenced many interior designers and architects, arousing interest in medieval designs and other crafts leading to the Arts and Crafts movement headed by William Morris. Holman Hunt was involved with the movement to reform design through the Della Robbia Pottery company.

What is The Pre Raphaelite Brotherhood?   Christ In the House of His Parents by John Everett Millais 1850

Christ In the House of His Parents, by John Everett Millais, 1850

After 1850, Hunt and Millais moved away from direct imitation of medieval art. They stressed the realist and scientific aspects of the movement, though Hunt continued to emphasise the spiritual significance of art, seeking to reconcile religion and science by making accurate observations and studies of locations in Egypt and Palestine for his paintings on biblical subjects. In contrast, Millais abandoned Pre-Raphaelitism after 1860, adopting a much broader and looser style influenced by Reynolds. William Morris and others condemned his reversal of principles.

Pre-Raphaleitism had a significant impact in Scotland and on Scottish artists. The figure in Scottish art most associated with the Pre-Raphaelites was the Aberdeen-born William Dyce (1806–64). Dyce befriended the young Pre-Raphaelites in London and introduced their work to Ruskin. His later work was Pre-Raphaelite in its spirituality, as can be seen in his The Man of Sorrows and David in the Wilderness (both 1860), which contain a Pre-Raphaelite attention to detail.

Joseph Noel Paton (1821-1901) studied at the Royal Academy schools in London, where he became a friend of Millais and he subsequently followed him into Pre-Raphaelitism, producing pictures that stressed detail and melodrama such as The Bludie Tryst (1855). His later paintings, like those of Millias, have been criticised for descending into popular sentimentality. Also influenced by Millias was James Archer (1823-1904) and whose work includes Summertime, Gloucestershire (1860)[13] and who from 1861 began a series of Arthurian-based paintings including La Morte d’Arthur and Sir Lancelot and Queen Guinevere.

The movement influenced many later British artists into the 20th century. Rossetti came to be seen as a precursor of the wider European Symbolist movement. In the late 20th century the Brotherhood of Ruralists based its aims on Pre-Raphaelitism, while the Stuckists and the Birmingham Group have also derived inspiration from it.

Birmingham Museum & Art Gallery has a world-renowned collection of works by Burne-Jones and the Pre-Raphaelites that, some claim, strongly influenced the young J.R.R. Tolkien, who wrote The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings, with influences taken from the same mythological scenes portrayed by the Pre-Raphaelites.

In the 20th century artistic ideals changed and art moved away from representing reality. Since the Pre-Raphaelites were fixed on portraying things with near-photographic precision, though with a distinctive attention to detailed surface-patterns, their work was devalued by many painters and critics. After the First World War, British Modernists associated Pre-Raphaelite art with the repressive and backward times in which they grew up. In the 1960s there was a major revival of Pre-Raphaelitism. Exhibitions and catalogues of works, culminating in a 1984 exhibition in London’s Tate Gallery, re-established a canon of Pre-Raphaelite work.

What is The Pre Raphaelite Brotherhood?   Ophelia by John Everett Millais

Ophelia, by John Everett Millais

There are major collections of Pre-Raphaelite work in the Tate Gallery, Victoria and Albert Museum, Manchester Art Gallery, Lady Lever Art Gallery, Liverpool’s Walker Art Gallery and Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery. The Art Gallery of South Australia and the Delaware Art Museum have the most significant collections of Pre-Raphaelite art outside the United Kingdom.

Andrew Lloyd Webber is an avid collector of Pre-Raphaelite works and a selection of 300 items from his collection were shown at a major exhibition at the Royal Academy in 2003.

The National Trust houses at Wightwick Manor, Wolverhampton, and at Wallington Hall, Northumberland, both have significant and representative collections.

Kelmscott Manor, the country home of William Morris from 1871 until his death in 1896, owned by the Society of Antiquaries of London, is open to the public. The Manor is featured in Morris’ work News from Nowhere. It also appears in the background of Water Willow, a portrait of his wife, Jane Morris, painted by Dante Gabriel Rossetti in 1871. There are exhibits connected with Morris and Rossetti’s early experiments with photography.

There is a set of Pre-Raphaelite murals in the Old Library at the Oxford Union. These were painted between 1857 and 1859 by a team of young artists including Dante Gabriel Rossetti, William Morris and Edward Burne-Jones. The paintings depict scenes from the Arthurian legends. This podcast tells you the story of how the murals were painted. Oxford Brookes University YouTube Channel also has a series of podcasts on the Pre-Raphaelites in Oxford, with this one dedicated to the Union murals.

The story of the brotherhood, from its controversial first exhibition to being embraced by the art establishment, has been depicted in two BBC television series. The first, The Love School, was broadcast in 1975; the second is the 2009 BBC television drama serial Desperate Romantics by Peter Bowker. Although much of the latter’s material is derived from Franny Moyle’s factual book Desperate Romantics: The Private Lives of the Pre-Raphaelites, the series occasionally departs from established facts in favour of dramatic licence and is prefaced by the disclaimer: “In the mid-19th century, a group of young men challenged the art establishment of the day. The pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood were inspired by the real world around them, yet took imaginative licence in their art. This story, based on their lives and loves, follows in that inventive spirit.” Ken Russell’s television film Dante’s Inferno (1967) contains brief scenes on some of the leading Pre-Raphaelites but mainly concentrates on the life of Rossetti, played by Oliver Reed.

Hope you enjoyed the article as much as i did compiling the info and the images! See you next time!

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Georges Rochegrosse, The Slave and The Lion

What is Orientalism?

Orientalism is a term used by art historians and literary and cultural studies scholars for the imitation or depiction of aspects of Middle Eastern and East Asian cultures (Eastern cultures) by writers, designers and artists from the West. In particular, Orientalist painting, depicting more specifically “the Middle East”, was one of the many specialisms of 19th-century Academic art, and the literatures of European countries took a similar interest in Oriental themes.

Since the publication of Edward Said’s Orientalism in 1978, much academic discourse has begun to use the term “Orientalism” to refer to a general patronizing Western attitude towards Middle Eastern, Asian and North African societies. In Said’s analysis, the West essentializes these societies as static and undeveloped—thereby fabricating a view of Oriental culture that can be studied, depicted, and reproduced. Implicit in this fabrication, writes Said, is the idea that Western society is developed, rational, flexible, and superior.

Note: Orientalism paintings contain nudity. If that offends you, don’t read the article!

What is Orientalism?   John Frederick Lewis The Reception 1873

John Frederick Lewis, The Reception, 1873

“Orientalism” refers to the Orient or East, in contrast to the Occident or West, and often, as seen by the West. Orient came into English from Middle French orient (the root word is oriēns, L). Oriēns has related meanings: the eastern part of the world, the part of the sky in which the sun rises, the east, the rising sun, daybreak, and dawn. Together with the geographical concepts of different ages, its reference of “eastern part” has changed. For example, when Chaucer wrote “That they conquered many regnes grete / In the orient, with many a fair citee” in Monk’s Tale (1375), the “orient” refers to countries lying immediately to the east of the Mediterranean or Southern Europe; while in Aneurin Bevan’s In Place of Fear (1952) this geographical term had already expanded to East Asia — “the awakening of the Orient under the impact of Western ideas”.

“Orientalism” is widely used in art to refer to the works of the many Western 19th-century artists, who specialized in “Oriental” subjects, often drawing on their travels to Western Asia. Artists as well as scholars were already described as “Orientalists” in the 19th century, especially in France, where the term, with a rather dismissive sense, was largely popularized by the critic Jules-Antoine Castagnary. Such disdain did not prevent the Société des Peintres Orientalistes (“Society of Orientalist Painters”) being founded in 1893, with Jean-Léon Gérôme as honorary president; the word was less often used as a term for artists in 19th century England.

What is Orientalism?   Eugène Delacroix The Women of Algiers 1834 the Louvre Paris

Eugène Delacroix, The Women of Algiers, 1834, the Louvre, Paris

Since the 18th century, Orientalist has been the traditional term for a scholar of Oriental studies; however the use in English of Orientalism to describe the academic subject of “Oriental studies” is rare; the Oxford English Dictionary cites only one such usage, by Lord Byron in 1812. The academic discipline of Oriental studies is now more often called Asian studies.

What is Orientalism?   Design by Léon Cogniet for a ceiling decoration in the Louvre depicting the 1798 Egyptian Expedition

Design by Léon Cogniet for a ceiling decoration in the Louvre depicting the 1798 Egyptian Expedition

In 1978, the Palestinian-American scholar Edward Said published his influential and controversial book, Orientalism, which “would forever redefine” the word; he used the term to describe what he argued was a pervasive Western tradition, both academic and artistic, of prejudiced outsider interpretations of the East, shaped by the attitudes of European imperialism in the 18th and 19th centuries. Said was critical of this scholarly tradition and of some modern scholars, particularly Bernard Lewis. Said’s Orientalism elaborates Antonio Gramsci’s concept of hegemony and Michel Foucault’s theorisation of discourse and relationship between knowledge and power. Said was mainly concerned with literature in the widest sense, especially French literature, and did not cover visual art and Orientalist painting. Others, notably Linda Nochlin, have tried to extend his analysis to art, “with uneven results”. Said’s work became one of the foundational texts of Postcolonialism or Postcolonial studies.

The Moresque style of Renaissance ornament is a European adaptation of the Islamic arabesque that began in the late 15th century and was to be used in some types of work, such as bookbinding, until almost the present day. Early architectural use of motifs lifted from the Indian subcontinent has sometimes been called “Hindoo style”. One of the earliest examples is the façade of Guildhall, London (1788–1789). The style gained momentum in the west with the publication of views of India by William Hodges, and William and Thomas Daniell from about 1795. Examples of “Hindoo” architecture are Sezincote House (c. 1805) in Gloucestershire, built for a nabob returned from Bengal, and the Royal Pavilion in Brighton.

What is Orientalism?   Anonymous Venetian orientalist painting The Reception of the Ambassadors in Damascus 1511 the Louvre. The deer with antlers in the foreground is not known ever to have existed in the wild in Syria.

Anonymous Venetian orientalist painting, The Reception of the Ambassadors in Damascus, 1511, the Louvre. The deer with antlers in the foreground is not known ever to have existed in the wild in Syria.

Turquerie, which began as early as the late 15th century, continued until at least the 18th century, and included both the use of “Turkish” styles in the decorative arts, the adoption of Turkish costume at times, and interest in art depicting the Ottoman Empire itself. Venice, the traditional trading partner of the Ottomans, was the earliest centre, with France becoming more prominent in the 18th century.

Chinoiserie is the catch-all term for the fashion for Chinese themes in decoration in Western Europe, beginning in the late 17th century and peaking in waves, especially Rococo Chinoiserie, ca. 1740–1770. From the Renaissance to the 18th century, Western designers attempted to imitate the technical sophistication of Chinese ceramics with only partial success. Early hints of Chinoiserie appeared in the 17th century in nations with active East India companies: England (the British East India Company), Denmark (the Danish East India Company), the Netherlands (the Dutch East India Company) and France (the French East India Company). Tin-glazed pottery made at Delft and other Dutch towns adopted genuine blue-and-white Ming decoration from the early 17th century.

What is Orientalism?   Algerian shops by Louis Comfort Tiffany

Algerian shops, by Louis Comfort Tiffany

Early ceramic wares made at Meissen and other centers of true porcelain imitated Chinese shapes for dishes, vases and teawares. Pleasure pavilions in “Chinese taste” appeared in the formal parterres of late Baroque and Rococo German palaces, and in tile panels at Aranjuez near Madrid. Thomas Chippendale’s mahogany tea tables and china cabinets, especially, were embellished with fretwork glazing and railings, ca 1753–70. Sober homages to early Xing scholars’ furnishings were also naturalized, as the tang evolved into a mid-Georgian side table and squared slat-back armchairs that suited English gentlemen as well as Chinese scholars. Not every adaptation of Chinese design principles falls within mainstream “chinoiserie.” Chinoiserie media included imitations of lacquer and painted tin (tôle) ware that imitated japanning, early painted wallpapers in sheets, and ceramic figurines and table ornaments. Small pagodas appeared on chimneypieces and full-sized ones in gardens. Kew has a magnificent garden pagoda designed by Sir William Chambers. The Wilhelma (1846) in Stuttgart is an example of Moorish Revival architecture. Leighton House, built for the artist Lord Leighton, has a conventional facade but elaborate Arab-style interiors, including original Islamic tiles and other elements as well as Victorian Orientalizing work.

What is Orientalism?   Frederick Goodall A New Light in the Harem 1884

Frederick Goodall, A New Light in the Harem, 1884

After 1860, Japonisme, sparked by the importing of Japanese woodblock prints, became an important influence in the western arts. In particular, many modern French artists such as Monet and Degas were influenced by the Japanese style. Mary Cassatt, an American artist who worked in France, used elements of combined patterns, flat planes and shifting perspective of Japanese prints in her own images. The paintings of James McNeill Whistler and his “Peacock Room” demonstrated how he used aspects of Japanese tradition and are some of the finest works of the genre. California architects Greene and Greene were inspired by Japanese elements in their design of the Gamble House and other buildings.
In architecture, Egyptian revival architecture was popular mostly in the early and mid-19th century, and Indo-Saracenic Revival architecture or Moorish Revival architecture, covering a variety of general Islamic or Indian features, in the later part of the century; “Saracenic” referred to styles from Arabic-speaking areas. Both were sometimes used in the Orient itself by colonial governments.

Orientalist Art

Depictions of Islamic “Moors” and “Turks” (imprecisely named Muslim groups of southern Europe, North Africa and West Asia) can be found in Medieval, Renaissance, and Baroque art. In Biblical scenes in Early Netherlandish painting, secondary figures, especially Romans, were given exotic costumes that distantly reflected the clothes of the Near East. The Three Magi in Nativity scenes were an especial focus for this. In general art with Biblical settings would not be considered as Orientalist except where contemporary or historicist Middle Eastern detail or settings is a feature of works, as with some paintings by Gentile Bellini and others, and a number of 19th century works.

What is Orientalism?   Sultan Mehmed II attr. Gentile Bellini 1480

Sultan Mehmed II, attr. Gentile Bellini, 1480

Renaissance Venice had a phase of particular interest in depictions of the Ottoman Empire in painting and prints. Gentile Bellini, who travelled to Constantinople and painted the Sultan, and Vittore Carpaccio were the leading painters. By then the depictions were more accurate, with men typically dressed all in white. The depiction of Oriental carpets in Renaissance painting sometimes draws from Orientalist interest, but more often just reflects the prestige these expensive objects had in the period.

Jean-Étienne Liotard (1702–1789) visited Istanbul and painted numerous pastels of Turkish domestic scenes; he also continued to wear Turkish dress for much of the time when back in Europe. The ambitious Scottish 18th-century artist Gavin Hamilton found a solution to the problem of using modern dress, considered unheroic and inelegant, in history painting by using Middle Eastern settings with Europeans wearing local costume, as travellers were advised to do. His huge James Dawkins and Robert Wood Discovering the Ruins of Palmyra (1758, now Edinburgh) elevates tourism to the heroic, with the two travellers wearing what look very like togas. Many travellers had themselves painted in exotic Eastern dress on their return, including Lord Byron, as did many who had never left Europe, including Madame de Pompadour. Byron’s poetry was highly influential in introducing Europe to the heady cocktail of Romanticism in exotic Oriental settings which was to dominate 19th century Oriental art.

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Anne-Louis Girodet de Roussy-Trioson, Ossian receiving the Ghosts of the French Heroes, 1800–02

What is Romanticism?

Romanticism (also the Romantic era or the Romantic period) was an artistic, literary, and intellectual movement that originated in Europe toward the end of the 18th century and in most areas was at its peak in the approximate period from 1800 to 1850. Partly a reaction to the Industrial Revolution, it was also a revolt against the aristocratic social and political norms of the Age of Enlightenment and a reaction against the scientific rationalization of nature.

What is Romanticism?

Thomas Jones, The Bard, 1774, a prophetic combination of Romanticism and nationalism by the Welsh artist.

It was embodied most strongly in the visual arts, music, and literature, but had a major impact on historiography, education and the natural sciences. Its effect on politics was considerable and complex; while for much of the peak Romantic period it was associated with liberalism and radicalism, in the long term its effect on the growth of nationalism was probably more significant.

The movement validated strong emotion as an authentic source of aesthetic experience, placing new emphasis on such emotions as apprehension, horror and terror, and awe—especially that which is experienced in confronting the sublimity of untamed nature and its picturesque qualities, both new aesthetic categories. It elevated folk art and ancient custom to something noble, made spontaneity a desirable characteristic (as in the musical impromptu), and argued for a “natural” epistemology of human activities as conditioned by nature in the form of language and customary usage. Romanticism reached beyond the rational and Classicist ideal models to elevate a revived medievalism and elements of art and narrative perceived to be authentically medieval in an attempt to escape the confines of population growth, urban sprawl, and industrialism, and it also attempted to embrace the exotic, unfamiliar, and distant in modes more authentic than Rococo chinoiserie, harnessing the power of the imagination to envision and to escape.

What is Romanticism?   Thomas Cole Childhood one of the 4 scenes in The Voyage of Life 1842

Thomas Cole, Childhood, one of the 4 scenes in The Voyage of Life, 1842

Although the movement was rooted in the German Sturm und Drang movement, which prized intuition and emotion over Enlightenment rationalism, the ideologies and events of the French Revolution laid the background from which both Romanticism and the Counter-Enlightenment emerged. The confines of the Industrial Revolution also had their influence on Romanticism, which was in part an escape from modern realities; indeed, in the second half of the 19th century, “Realism” was offered as a polarized opposite to Romanticism. Romanticism elevated the achievements of what it perceived as heroic individualists and artists, whose pioneering examples would elevate society. It also legitimized the individual imagination as a critical authority, which permitted freedom from classical notions of form in art. There was a strong recourse to historical and natural inevitability, a Zeitgeist, in the representation of its ideas.

Romanticism isn’t exactly what you might be thinking

The group of words with the root “Roman” in the various European languages, such as romance and Romanesque, has a complicated history, but by the middle of the 18th century “romantic” in English and romantique in French were both in common use as adjectives of praise for natural phenomena such as views and sunsets, in a sense close to modern English usage but without the implied sexual element. The application of the term to literature first became common in Germany, where the circle around the Schlegel brothers, critics August and Friedrich, began to speak of romantische Poesie (“romantic poetry”) in the 1790s, contrasting it with “classic” but in terms of spirit rather than merely dating. Friedrich Schlegel wrote in his Dialogue on Poetry (1800), “I seek and find the romantic among the older moderns, in Shakespeare, in Cervantes, in Italian poetry, in that age of chivalry, love and fable, from which the phenomenon and the word itself are derived.

What is Romanticism?   Théodore Géricault The Raft of the Medusa 1819

Théodore Géricault, The Raft of the Medusa, 1819

In both French and German the closeness of the adjective to roman, meaning the fairly new literary form of the novel, had some effect on the sense of the word in those languages. The use of the word did not become general very quickly, and was probably spread more widely in France by its persistent use by Madame de Staël in her De L’Allemagne (1813), recounting her travels in Germany. In England Wordsworth wrote in a preface to his poems of 1815 of the “romantic harp” and “classic lyre”, but in 1820 Byron could still write, perhaps slightly disingenuously, “I perceive that in Germany, as well as in Italy, there is a great struggle about what they call ‘Classical’ and ‘Romantic’, terms which were not subjects of classification in England, at least when I left it four or five years ago“. It is only from the 1820s that Romanticism certainly knew itself by its name, and in 1824 the Académie française took the wholly ineffective step of issuing a decree condemning it in literature.

Defining the nature of Romanticism may be approached from the starting point of the primary importance of the free expression of the feelings of the artist. The importance the Romantics placed on untrammelled feeling is summed up in the remark of the German painter Caspar David Friedrich that “the artist’s feeling is his law“. To William Wordsworth poetry should be “the spontaneous overflow of powerful feelings“. In order to truly express these feelings, the content of the art must come from the imagination of the artist, with as little interference as possible from “artificial” rules dictating what a work should consist of. Coleridge was not alone in believing that there were natural laws governing these matters which the imagination, at least of a good creative artist, would freely and unconsciously follow through artistic inspiration if left alone to do so. As well as rules, the influence of models from other works would impede the creator’s own imagination, so originality was absolutely essential. The concept of the genius, or artist who was able to produce his own original work through this process of “creation from nothingness”, is key to Romanticism, and to be derivative was the worst sin. This idea is often called “romantic originality.”

What is Romanticism?   Louis Janmot from his series The Poem of the Soul before 1854

Louis Janmot, from his series ‘The Poem of the Soul’ , before 1854

Not essential to Romanticism, but so widespread as to be normative, was a strong belief and interest in the importance of nature. However this is particularly in the effect of nature upon the artist when he is surrounded by it, preferably alone. In contrast to the usually very social art of the Enlightenment, Romantics were distrustful of the human world, and tended to believe that a close connection with nature was mentally and morally healthy. Romantic art addressed its audiences directly and personally with what was intended to be felt as the personal voice of the artist. So, in literature, “much of romantic poetry invited the reader to identify the protagonists with the poets themselves”.

According to Isaiah Berlin, Romanticism embodied “a new and restless spirit, seeking violently to burst through old and cramping forms, a nervous preoccupation with perpetually changing inner states of consciousness, a longing for the unbounded and the indefinable, for perpetual movement and change, an effort to return to the forgotten sources of life, a passionate effort at self-assertion both individual and collective, a search after means of expressing an unappeasable yearning for unattainable goals.

 

What is Romanticism?   Karl Bryullov The Last Day of Pompeii 1833 The State Russian Museum St. Petersburg Russia

Karl Bryullov, The Last Day of Pompeii, 1833, The State Russian Museum, St. Petersburg, Russia

Unsurprisingly, given its rejection on principle of rules, Romanticism is not easily defined, and the period typically called Romantic varies greatly between different countries and different artistic media or areas of thought. Margaret Drabble described it in literature as taking place “roughly between 1770 and 1848″, and few dates much earlier than 1770 will be found. In English literature, M. H. Abrams placed it between 1789, or 1798, this latter a very typical view, and about 1830, perhaps a little later than some other critics. In other fields and other countries the period denominated as Romantic can be considerably different; musical Romanticism, for example, is generally regarded as only having ceased as a major artistic force as late as 1910, but in an extreme extension the Four Last Songs of Richard Strauss are described stylistically as “Late Romantic” and were composed in 1946–48.  However in most fields the Romantic Period is said to be over by about 1850, or earlier.

The early period of the Romantic Era was a time of war, with the French Revolution (1789–1799) followed by the Napoleonic Wars until 1815. These wars, along with the political and social turmoil that went along with them, served as the background for Romanticism. The key generation of French Romantics born between 1795–1805 had, in the words of one of their number, Alfred de Vigny, been “conceived between battles, attended school to the rolling of drums”.

The more precise characterization and specific definition of Romanticism has been the subject of debate in the fields of intellectual history and literary history throughout the 20th century, without any great measure of consensus emerging. That it was part of the Counter-Enlightenment, a reaction against the Age of Enlightenment, is generally accepted. Its relationship to the French Revolution which began in 1789 in the very early stages of the period, is clearly important, but highly variable depending on geography and individual reactions. Most Romantics can be said to be broadly progressive in their views, but a considerable number always had, or developed, a wide range of conservative views, and nationalism was in many countries strongly associated with Romanticism, as discussed in detail below.

What is Romanticism?   Joseph Vernet 1759 Shipwreck the 18th century sublime

Joseph Vernet, 1759, Shipwreck; the 18th century ‘sublime’

In philosophy and the history of ideas, Romanticism was seen by Isaiah Berlin as disrupting for over a century the classic Western traditions of rationality and the very idea of moral absolutes and agreed values, leading “to something like the melting away of the very notion of objective truth”,  and hence not only to nationalism, but also fascism and totalitarianism, with a gradual recovery coming only after the catharsis of World War II. For the Romantics, Berlin says,
in the realm of ethics, politics, aesthetics it was the authenticity and sincerity of the pursuit of inner goals that mattered; this applied equally to individuals and groups — states, nations, movements. This is most evident in the aesthetics of romanticism, where the notion of eternal models, a Platonic vision of ideal beauty, which the artist seeks to convey, however imperfectly, on canvas or in sound, is replaced by a passionate belief in spiritual freedom, individual creativity. The painter, the poet, the composer do not hold up a mirror to nature, however ideal, but invent; they do not imitate (the doctrine of mimesis), but create not merely the means but the goals that they pursue; these goals represent the self-expression of the artist’s own unique, inner vision, to set aside which in response to the demands of some “external” voice — church, state, public opinion, family friends, arbiters of taste — is an act of betrayal of what alone justifies their existence for those who are in any sense creative.

Arthur Lovejoy attempted to demonstrate the difficulty of defining Romanticism in his seminal article “On The Discrimination of Romanticisms” in his Essays in the History of Ideas (1948); some scholars see Romanticism as essentially continuous with the present, some like Robert Hughes see in it the inaugural moment of modernity, and some like Chateaubriand, ‘Novalis’ and Samuel Taylor Coleridge see it as the beginning of a tradition of resistance to Enlightenment rationalism—a ‘Counter-Enlightenment’— to be associated most closely with German Romanticism. An earlier definition comes from Charles Baudelaire: “Romanticism is precisely situated neither in choice of subject nor exact truth, but in the way of feeling.”

The end of the Romantic era is marked in some areas by a new style of Realism, which affected literature, especially the novel and drama, painting, and even music, through Verismo opera. This movement was led by France, with Balzac and Flaubert in literature and Courbet in painting; Stendhal and Goya were important precursors of Realism in their respective media. However, Romantic styles, now often representing the established and safe style against which Realists rebelled, continued to flourish in many fields for the rest of the century and beyond. In music such works from after about 1850 are referred to by some writers as “Late Romantic” and by others as “Neoromantic” or “Postromantic”, but other fields do not usually use these terms; in English literature and painting the convenient term “Victorian” avoids having to characterise the period further.

What is Romanticism?   John William Waterhouse The Lady of Shalott 1888 after a poem by Tennyson like many Victorian paintings romantic but not Romantic.

John William Waterhouse, The Lady of Shalott, 1888, after a poem by Tennyson; like many Victorian paintings, romantic but not Romantic.

In northern Europe, the Early Romantic visionary optimism and belief that the world was in the process of great change and improvement had largely vanished, and some art became more conventionally political and polemical as its creators engaged polemically with the world as it was. Elsewhere, including in very different ways the United States and Russia, feelings that great change was underway or just about to come were still possible. Displays of intense emotion in art remained prominent, as did the exotic and historical settings pioneered by the Romantics, but experimentation with form and technique was generally reduced, often replaced with meticulous technique, as in the poems of Tennyson or many paintings. If not realist, late 19th-century art was often extremely detailed, and pride was taken in adding authentic details in a way that earlier Romantics did not trouble with. Many Romantic ideas about the nature and purpose of art, above all the pre-eminent importance of originality, continued to be important for later generations, and often underlie modern views, despite opposition from theorists.

Romantic Literature

In literature, Romanticism found recurrent themes in the evocation or criticism of the past, the cult of “sensibility” with its emphasis on women and children, the heroic isolation of the artist or narrator, and respect for a new, wilder, untrammeled and “pure” nature. Furthermore, several romantic authors, such as Edgar Allan Poe and Nathaniel Hawthorne, based their writings on the supernatural/occult and human psychology. Romanticism tended to regard satire as something unworthy of serious attention, a prejudice still influential today.

What is Romanticism?   Henry Wallis The Death of Chatterton 1856 by suicide at 18 in 1770.

Henry Wallis, The Death of Chatterton 1856, by suicide at 18 in 1770.

The precursors of Romanticism in English poetry go back to the middle of the 18th century, including figures such as Joseph Warton (headmaster at Winchester College) and his brother Thomas Warton, professor of Poetry at Oxford University. Joseph maintained that invention and imagination were the chief qualities of a poet. Thomas Chatterton is generally considered to be the first Romantic poet in English. The Scottish poet James Macpherson influenced the early development of Romanticism with the international success of his Ossian cycle of poems published in 1762, inspiring both Goethe and the young Walter Scott. Both Chatterton and Macpherson’s work involved elements of fraud, as what they claimed to be earlier literature that they had discovered or compiled was in fact entirely their own work. The Gothic novel, beginning with Horace Walpole’s The Castle of Otranto (1764), was an important precursor of one strain of Romanticism, with a delight in horror and threat, and exotic picturesque settings, matched in Walpole’s case by his role in the early revival of Gothic architecture. Tristram Shandy, a novel by Laurence Sterne (1759–67) introduced a whimsical version of the anti-rational sentimental novel to the English literary public.

An early German influence came from Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, whose 1774 novel The Sorrows of Young Werther had young men throughout Europe emulating its protagonist, a young artist with a very sensitive and passionate temperament. At that time Germany was a multitude of small separate states, and Goethe’s works would have a seminal influence in developing a unifying sense of nationalism. Important motifs in German Romanticism are travelling, nature, and Germanic myths. The later German Romanticism of, for example, E. T. A. Hoffmann’s Der Sandmann (The Sandman), 1817, and Joseph Freiherr von Eichendorff’s Das Marmorbild (The Marble Statue), 1819, was darker in its motifs and has gothic elements. The significance to Romanticism of childhood innocence, the importance of imagination, and racial theories all combined to give an unprecedented importance to folk literature, non-classical mythology and children’s literature, above all in Germany.

In English literature, the group of poets now considered the key figures of the Romantic movement includes William Wordsworth, Samuel Taylor Coleridge, John Keats, Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley, Percy Bysshe Shelley, and the much older William Blake, followed later by the isolated figure of John Clare. The publication in 1798 of Lyrical Ballads, with many of the finest poems by Wordsworth and Coleridge, is often held to mark the start of the movement.

What is Romanticism?   Ivan Aivazovsky 1850 The Ninth Wave Russian Museum St. Petersburg

Ivan Aivazovsky, 1850, The Ninth Wave, Russian Museum, St. Petersburg

In contrast to Germany, Romanticism in English literature had little connection with nationalism, and the Romantics were often regarded with suspicion for the sympathy many felt for the ideals of the French Revolution, whose collapse and replacement with the dictatorship of Napoleon was, as elsewhere in Europe, a shock to the movement. Though his novels celebrated Scottish identity and history, Scott was politically a firm Unionist. Several spent much time abroad, and a famous stay on Lake Geneva with Byron and Shelley in 1816 produced the hugely influential novel Frankenstein by Shelley’s wife-to-be Mary Shelley and the novella The Vampyre by Byron’s doctor John William Polidori. The lyrics of Robert Burns in Scotland and Thomas Moore, from Ireland but based in London or elsewhere reflected in different ways their countries and the Romantic interest in folk literature, but neither had a fully Romantic approach to life or their work.

What is Romanticism?   Henry Fuseli 1781 The Nightmare a classical artist whose themes often anticipate the Romantic

Henry Fuseli, 1781, The Nightmare, a classical artist whose themes often anticipate the Romantic

Romanticism was relatively late in developing in French literature, even more so than in the visual arts. The 18th century precursor to Romanticism, the cult of sensibility, had become associated with the Ancien regime, and the French Revolution had been more of an inspiration to foreign writers than those experiencing it at first hand. The first major figure was François-René de Chateaubriand, a minor aristocrat who had remained a royalist throughout the Revolution, and returned to France from exile in England and America under Napoleon, with whose regime he had an uneasy relationship. His writings, all in prose, included some fiction, such as his influential novella of exile René (1802), which anticipated Byron in its alienated hero, but mostly contemporary history and politics, his travels, a defence of religion and the medieval spirit (Génie du christianisme 1802), and finally in the 1830s and 1840s his enormous autobiography Mémoires d’Outre-Tombe (“Memoirs from beyond the grave”).

The European Romantic movement reached America in the early 19th century. American Romanticism was just as multifaceted and individualistic as it was in Europe. Like the Europeans, the American Romantics demonstrated a high level of moral enthusiasm, commitment to individualism and the unfolding of the self, an emphasis on intuitive perception, and the assumption that the natural world was inherently good, while human society was filled with corruption.

Romanticism became popular in American politics, philosophy and art. The movement appealed to the revolutionary spirit of America as well as to those longing to break free of the strict religious traditions of early settlement. The Romantics rejected rationalism and religious intellect. It appealed to those in opposition of Calvinism, which includes the belief that the destiny of each individual is preordained. The Romantic movement gave rise to New England Transcendentalism which portrayed a less restrictive relationship between God and Universe. The new philosophy presented the individual with a more personal relationship with God. Transcendentalism and Romanticism appealed to Americans in a similar fashion, for both privileged feeling over reason, individual freedom of expression over the restraints of tradition and custom. It often involved a rapturous response to nature. It encouraged the rejection of harsh, rigid Calvinism, and promised a new blossoming of American culture.

American Romanticism embraced the individual and rebelled against the confinement of neoclassicism and religious tradition. The Romantic movement in America created a new literary genre that continues to influence American writers. Novels, short stories, and poems replaced the sermons and manifestos of yore. Romantic literature was personal, intense, and portrayed more emotion than ever seen in neoclassical literature. America’s preoccupation with freedom became a great source of motivation for Romantic writers as many were delighted in free expression and emotion without so much fear of ridicule and controversy. They also put more effort into the psychological development of their characters, and the main characters typically displayed extremes of sensitivity and excitement.

The works of the Romantic Era also differed from preceding works in that they spoke to a wider audience, partly reflecting the greater distribution of books as costs came down during the period.The Romantic period saw an increase in female authors and also female readers.

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Jacques-Louis David - The Oath of the Horatii

What is Neoclassicism?

Neoclassicism is the name given to Western movements in the decorative and visual arts, literature, theatre, music, and architecture that draw inspiration from the “classical” art and culture of Ancient Greece or Ancient Rome. The main Neoclassical movement coincided with the 18th century Age of Enlightenment, and continued into the early 19th century, latterly competing with Romanticism. In architecture, the style continued throughout the 19th and 20th centuries and into the 21st.

What is Neoclassicism?   Jean Auguste Dominique Ingres Oedipus and the Sphynx

Jean Auguste Dominique Ingres – Oedipus and the Sphynx

Neoclassicism is a revival of the styles and spirit of classic antiquity inspired directly from the classical period, which coincided and reflected the developments in philosophy and other areas of the Age of Enlightenment, and was initially a reaction against the excesses of the preceding Rococo style. While the movement is often described as the opposed counterpart of Romanticism, this is a great over-simplification that tends not to be sustainable when specific artists or works are considered, the case of the supposed main champion of late Neoclassicism, Ingres, demonstrating this especially well. The revival can be traced to the establishment of formal archaeology. The writings of Johann Joachim Winckelmann were important in shaping this movement in both architecture and the visual arts. His books, Thoughts on the Imitation of Greek Works in Painting and Sculpture (1750) and Geschichte der Kunst des Alterthums (“History of Ancient Art”, 1764) were the first to distinguish sharply between Ancient Greek and Roman art, and define periods within Greek art, tracing a trajectory from growth to maturity and then imitation or decadence that continues to have influence to the present day. Winckelmann believed that art should aim at “noble simplicity and calm grandeur”, and praised the idealism of Greek art, in which he said we find: “not only nature at its most beautiful but also something beyond nature, namely certain ideal forms of its beauty, which, as an ancient interpreter of Plato teaches us, come from images created by the mind alone.” The theory was very far from new in Western art, but his emphasis on close copying of Greek models was: “The only way for us to become great or, if this be possible, inimitable, is to imitate the ancients”.

With the advent of the Grand Tour, a fad of collecting antiquities began that laid the foundations of many great collections spreading a Neoclassical revival throughout Europe. “Neoclassicism” in each art implies a particular canon of a “classical” model.

In English, the term “Neoclassicism” is used primarily of the visual arts; the similar movement in English literature, which began considerably earlier, is called Augustan literature, which had been dominant for several decades, and was beginning to decline, by the time Neoclassicism in the visual arts became fashionable. Though terms differ, the situation in French literature was similar. In music, the period saw the rise of classical music, and “neoclassicism” is used of 20th century developments. However the operas of Christoph Willibald Gluck, represented a specifically neo-classical approach, spelt out in his preface to the published score of Alceste (1769), which aimed to reform opera by removing ornamentation, increasing the role of the chorus in line with Greek tragedy, and using simpler unadorned melodic lines.

What is Neoclassicism?   Le triomphe de 1810 Jean Pierre Cortot from the Arc de triomphe

Le triomphe de 1810, Jean-Pierre Cortot, from the Arc de triomphe

The term “Neoclassical” was not invented until the mid-19th century, and at the time the style was described by such terms as “the true style”, “reformed” and “revival”; what was regarded as being revived varying considerably. Ancient models were certainly very much involved, but the style could also be regarded as a revival of the Renaissance, and especially in France as a return to the more austere and noble Baroque of the age of Louis XIV, for which a considerable nostalgia had developed as France’s dominant military and political position started a serious decline. Ingres’s coronation portrait of Napoleon even borrowed from Late Antique consular diptychs and their Carolingian revival, to the disapproval of critics.

Neoclassicism was strongest in architecture, sculpture and the decorative arts, where classical models in the same medium were relatively numerous and accessible; examples from ancient painting that demonstrated the qualities that Winckelmann’s writing found in sculpture were and are lacking. Winckelmann was involved in the dissemination of knowledge of the first large Roman paintings to be discovered, at Pompeii and Herculaneum and, like most contemporaries except for Gavin Hamilton, was unimpressed by them, citing Pliny the Younger’s comments on the decline of painting in his period.

European Neoclassicism in the visual arts began c. 1760 in opposition to the then-dominant Baroque and Rococo styles. Rococo architecture emphasizes grace, ornamentation and asymmetry; Neoclassical architecture is based on the principles of simplicity and symmetry, which were seen as virtues of the arts of Rome and Ancient Greece, and were more immediately drawn from 16th century Renaissance Classicism. Each “neo”- classicism selects some models among the range of possible classics that are available to it, and ignores others. The neoclassical writers and talkers, patrons and collectors, artists and sculptors of 1765–1830 paid homage to an idea of the generation of Pheidias, but the sculpture examples they actually embraced were more likely to be Roman copies of Hellenistic sculptures. They ignored both Archaic Greek art and the works of Late Antiquity.

The Rococo art of ancient Palmyra came as a revelation, through engravings in Wood’s The Ruins of Palmyra. Even Greece was all-but-unvisited, a rough backwater of the Ottoman Empire, dangerous to explore, so neoclassicists’ appreciation of Greek architecture was mediated through drawings and engravings, which subtly smoothed and regularized, “corrected’ and “restored” the monuments of Greece, not always consciously. As for painting, Greek painting was utterly lost: neoclassicist painters imaginatively revived it, partly through bas-relief friezes, mosaics, and pottery painting and partly through the examples of painting and decoration of the High Renaissance of Raphael’s generation, frescos in Nero’s Domus Aurea, Pompeii and Herculaneum and through renewed admiration of Nicholas Poussin. Much “neoclassical” painting is more classicizing in subject matter than in anything else. A fierce, but often very badly informed, dispute raged for decades over the relative merits of Greek and Roman art, with Winckelmann and his fellow Hellenists generally the winning side.

What is Neoclassicism?   Jacques Louis David The Intervention of the Sabine Women

Jacques-Louis David – The Intervention of the Sabine Women

Influential Neoclassicism Artists

Painting and printmaking

It is hard to recapture the radical and exciting nature of early neo-classical painting for contemporary audiences; it now strikes even those writers favourably inclined to it as “insipid” and “almost entirely uninteresting to us”—some of Kenneth Clark’s comments on Anton Raphael Mengs’ ambitious Parnassus at the Villa Albani, by the artist who his friend Winckelmann described as “the greatest artist of his own, and perhaps of later times”. The drawings, subsequently turned into prints, of John Flaxman used very simple line drawing (thought to be the purest classical medium) and figures mostly in profile to depict The Odyssey and other subjects, and once “fired the artistic youth of Europe” but are now “neglected”, while the history paintings of Angelica Kauffman, mainly a portraitist, are described as having “an unctuous softness and tediousness” by Fritz Novotny. Rococo frivolity and Baroque movement had been stripped away but many artists struggled to put anything in their place, and in the absence of ancient examples for history painting, other than the Greek vases used by Flaxman, Raphael tended to be used as a substitute model, as Winckelmann recommended.

What is Neoclassicism?   Angelica Kauffman Venus Induces Helen to Fall in Love with Paris 1790

Angelica Kauffman, Venus Induces Helen to Fall in Love with Paris, 1790

The work of other artists, who could not easily be described as insipid, combined aspects of Romanticism with a generally Neoclassical style, and form part of the history of both movements. The German-Danish painter Asmus Jacob Carstens finished very few of the large mythological works that he planned, leaving mostly drawings and colour studies which often succeed in approaching Winckelmann’s prescription of “noble simplicity and calm grandeur”. Unlike Carstens’ unrealized schemes, the etchings of Giovanni Battista Piranesi were numerous and profitable, and taken back by those making the Grand Tour to all parts of Europe. His main subject matter was the buildings and ruins of Rome, and he was more stimulated by the ancient than the modern. The somewhat disquieting atmosphere of many of his Vedute (views) becomes dominant in his series of 16 prints of Carceri d’Invenzione (“Imaginary Prisons”) whose “oppressive cyclopean architecture” conveys “dreams of fear and frustration”. The Swiss-born Johann Heinrich Füssli spent most of his career in England, and while his fundamental style was based on neoclassical principles, his subjects and treatment more often reflected the “Gothic” strain of Romanticism, and sought to evoke drama and excitement.

Neoclassicism in painting gained a new sense of direction with the sensational success of Jacques-Louis David’s Oath of the Horatii at the Paris Salon of 1785. Despite its evocation of republican virtues, this was a commission by the royal government, which David insisted on painting in Rome. David managed to combine an idealist style with drama and forcefulness. The central perspective is perpendicular to the picture plane, made more emphatic by the dim arcade behind, against which the heroic figures are disposed as in a frieze, with a hint of the artificial lighting and staging of opera, and the classical colouring of Nicholas Poussin. David rapidly became the leader of French art, and after the French Revolution became a politician with control of much government patronage in art. He managed to retain his influence in the Napoleonic period, turning to frankly propagandistic works, but had to leave France for exile in Brussels at the Bourbon Restoration.

David’s many students included Jean Auguste Dominique Ingres, who saw himself as a classicist throughout his long career, despite a mature style that has an equivocal relationship with the main current of Neoclassicism, and many later diversions into Orientalism and the Troubadour style that are hard to distinguish from those of his unabashedly Romantic contemporaries, except by the primacy his works always give to drawing. He exhibited at the Salon for over 60 years, from 1802 into the beginnings of Impressionism, but his style, once formed, changed little.

What is Neoclassicism?   Antonio Canovas Psyche Revived by Loves Kiss

Antonio Canova’s Psyche Revived by Love’s Kiss

Sculpture

What is Neoclassicism?   Hebe by Canova 1800–05 in the appropriately neoclassical surroundings of the Hermitage Museum

Hebe by Canova (1800–05), in the appropriately neoclassical surroundings of the Hermitage Museum

If Neoclassical painting suffered from a lack of ancient models, Neoclassical sculpture tended to suffer from an excess of them, although examples of actual Greek sculpture of the “classical period” beginning in about 500 BC were then very few; the most highly regarded works were mostly Roman copies. The leading Neoclassical sculptors enjoyed huge reputations in their own day, but are now less regarded, with the exception of Jean-Antoine Houdon, whose work was mainly portraits, very often as busts, which do not sacrifice a strong impression of the sitter’s personality to idealism. His style became more classical as his long career continued, and represents a rather smooth progression from Rococo charm to classical dignity. Unlike some Neoclassical sculptors he did not insist on his sitters wearing Roman dress, or being unclothed. He portrayed most of the great figures of the Enlightenment, and travelled to America to produce a statue of George Washington, as well as busts of Thomas Jefferson, Ben Franklin and other luminaries of the new republic.

Antonio Canova and the Dane Bertel Thorvaldsen were both based in Rome, and as well as portraits produced many ambitious life-size figures and groups; both represented the strongly idealizing tendency in neoclassical sculpture. Canova has a lightness and grace, where Thorvaldsen is more severe; the difference is exemplified in their respective groups of the Three Graces. All these, and Flaxman, were still active in the 1820s, and Romanticism was slow to impact sculpture, where versions of Neoclassicism remained the dominant style for most of the 19th century.

An early neoclassicist in sculpture was the Swede Johan Tobias Sergel,. John Flaxman was also, or mainly, a sculptor, mostly producing severely classical reliefs that are comparable in style to his prints; he also designed and modelled neoclassical ceramics for Josiah Wedgwood for several years. Johann Gottfried Schadow and his son Rudolph, one of the few neoclassical sculptors to die young, were the leading German artists, with Franz Anton Zauner in Austria. The late Baroque Austrian sculptor Franz Xaver Messerschmidt turned to Neoclassicism in mid-career, shortly before he appears to have suffered some kind of mental crisis, after which he retired to the country and devoted himself to the highly distinctive “character heads” of bald figures pulling extreme facial expressions. Like Piranesi’s Carceri, these enjoyed a great revival of interest during the age of psychoanalysis in the early 20th century. The Dutch neoclassical sculptor Mathieu Kessels studied with Thorvaldsen and worked almost exclusively in Rome.

Since prior to the 1830s the United States did not have a sculpture tradition of its own, save in the areas of tombstones, weathervanes and ship figureheads, the European neoclassical manner was adopted there, and it was to hold sway for decades and is exemplified in the sculptures of Horatio Greenough, Hiram Powers, Randolph Rogers and William Henry Rinehart.

Architecture and the decorative arts

What is Neoclassicism?   Château de Malmaison 1800 room for the Empress Joséphine on the cusp between Directoire style and Empire style

Château de Malmaison, 1800, room for the Empress Joséphine, on the cusp between Directoire style and Empire style

There is an anti-Rococo strain that can be detected in some European architecture of the earlier 18th century, most vividly represented in the Palladian architecture of Georgian Britain and Ireland, but also recognizable in a classicizing vein of architecture in Berlin. Neoclassicism first gained influence in England and France, through a generation of French art students trained in Rome and influenced by the writings of Winckelmann, and it was quickly adopted by progressive circles in other countries such as Sweden and Russia. At first, classicizing decor was grafted onto familiar European forms, as in the interiors for Catherine II’s lover Count Orlov, designed by an Italian architect with a team of Italian stuccadori: only the isolated oval medallions like cameos and the bas-relief overdoors hint of neoclassicism; the furnishings are fully Italian Rococo.

A second neoclassic wave, more severe, more studied (through the medium of engravings) and more consciously archaeological, is associated with the height of the Napoleonic Empire. In France, the first phase of neoclassicism was expressed in the “Louis XVI style”, and the second in the styles called “Directoire” or Empire. The Rococo style remained popular in Italy until the Napoleonic regimes brought the new archaeological classicism.

In the decorative arts, neoclassicism is exemplified in Empire furniture made in Paris, London, New York, Berlin; in Biedermeier furniture made in Austria; in Karl Friedrich Schinkel’s museums in Berlin, Sir John Soane’s Bank of England in London and the newly built “capitol” in Washington, DC; and in Wedgwood’s bas reliefs and “black basaltes” vases. The style was international; Scots architect Charles Cameron created palatial Italianate interiors for the German-born Catherine II the Great, in Russian St. Petersburg.

Indoors, neoclassicism made a discovery of the genuine classic interior, inspired by the rediscoveries at Pompeii and Herculaneum. These had begun in the late 1740s, but only achieved a wide audience in the 1760s, with the first luxurious volumes of tightly controlled distribution of Le Antichità di Ercolano (The Antiquities of Herculaneum). The antiquities of Herculaneum showed that even the most classicizing interiors of the Baroque, or the most “Roman” rooms of William Kent were based on basilica and temple exterior architecture turned outside in, hence their often bombastic appeatrance to modern eyes: pedimented window frames turned into gilded mirrors, fireplaces topped with temple fronts. The new interiors sought to recreate an authentically Roman and genuinely interior vocabulary.

Techniques employed in the style included flatter, lighter motifs, sculpted in low frieze-like relief or painted in monotones en camaïeu (“like cameos”), isolated medallions or vases or busts or bucrania or other motifs, suspended on swags of laurel or ribbon, with slender arabesques against backgrounds, perhaps, of “Pompeiian red” or pale tints, or stone colors. The style in France was initially a Parisian style, the Goût grec (“Greek style”), not a court style; when Louis XVI acceded to the throne in 1774, Marie Antoinette, his fashion-loving Queen, brought the “Louis XVI” style to court. However there was no real attempt to employ the basic forms of Roman furniture until around the turn of the century, and furniture-makers were more likely to borrow from ancient architecture, just as silversmiths were more likely to take from ancient pottery and stone-carving than metalwork: “Designers and craftsmen … seem to have taken an almost perverse pleasure in transferring motifs from one medium to another”.

From about 1800 a fresh influx of Greek architectural examples, seen through the medium of etchings and engravings, gave a new impetus to neoclassicism, the Greek Revival. At the same time the Empire style was a more grandiose wave of neoclassicism in architecture and the decorative arts. Mainly based on Imperial Roman styles, it originated in, and took its name from, the rule of Napoleon I in the First French Empire, where it was intended to idealize Napoleon’s leadership and the French state. The style corresponds to the more bourgeois Biedermeier style in the German-speaking lands, Federal style in the United States, the Regency style in Britain, and the Napoleonstil in Sweden. According to the art historian Hugh Honour “so far from being, as is sometimes supposed, the culmination of the Neo-classical movement, the Empire marks its rapid decline and transformation back once more into a mere antique revival, drained of all the high-minded ideas and force of conviction that had inspired its masterpieces”.  An earlier phase of the style was called the Adam style in Great Britain and “Louis Seize”, or Louis XVI, in France.

Neoclassicism continued to be a major force in academic art through the 19th century and beyond—a constant antithesis to Romanticism or Gothic revivals— although from the late 19th century on it had often been considered anti-modern, or even reactionary, in influential critical circles. The centres of several European cities, notably St Petersburg and Munich, came to look much like museums of Neoclassical architecture.

Gothic revival architecture (often linked with the Romantic cultural movement), a style originating in the 18th century which grew in popularity throughout the 19th century, contrasted Neoclassicism. Whilst Neoclassicism was characterized by Greek and Roman-influenced styles, geometric lines and order, Gothic revival architecture placed an emphasis on medieval-looking buildings, often made to have a rustic, “romantic”, appearance.

Neoclassicism and fashion

In fashion, Neoclassicism influenced the much greater simplicity of women’s dresses, and the long-lasting fashion for white, from well before the French Revolution, but it was not until after it that thorough-going attempts to imitate ancient styles became fashionable in France, at least for women. Classical costumes had long been worn by fashionable ladies posing “as” some figure from Greek or Roman myth in a portrait (in particular there was a rash of such portraits of the young “model” Emma, Lady Hamilton from the 1780s), but such costumes were only worn for the portrait sitting and masquerade balls until the Revolutionary period, and perhaps, like other exotic styles, as undress at home. But the styles worn in portraits by Juliette Récamier, Joséphine de Beauharnais, Thérésa Tallien and other Parisian trend-setters were for going-out in public as well. Seeing Mme Tallien at the opera, Talleyrand quipped that: “Il n’est pas possible de s’exposer plus somptueusement!” (“One could not be more sumptously undressed”). In 1788, just before the Revolution, the court portraitist Louise Élisabeth Vigée Le Brun had held a “Greek supper” where the ladies wore plain white “greek” tunics. Shorter classical hairstyles, where possible with curls, were less controversial and very widely adopted, and hair was now uncovered even outdoors; except for evening dress bonnets or other coverings had typically been worn even indoors before. Thin Greek-style ribbons or fillets were used to tie or decorate the hair instead.

What is Neoclassicism?   Madame Raymond de Verninac by Jacques Louis David with clothes and chair in Directoire style.

Madame Raymond de Verninac by Jacques-Louis David, with clothes and chair in Directoire style.

Very light and loose dresses, usually white and often with shockingly bare arms, rose sheer from the ankle to just below the bodice, where there was a strongly emphasized thin hem or tie round the body, often in a different colour. The shape is now often known as the Empire silhouette although it predates the First French Empire of Napoleon, but his first Empress Joséphine de Beauharnais was influential in spreading it around Europe. A long rectangular shawl or wrap, very often plain red but with a decorated border in portraits, helped in colder weather, and was apparently laid around the midriff when seated – for which sprawling semi-recumbent postures were favoured. By the start of the 19th century, such styles had spread widely across Europe.

Neoclassical fashion for men was far more problematic, and never really took off other than for hair, where it played an important role in the shorter styles that finally despatched the use of wigs, and then white hair-powder, for younger men. The trouser had been the symbol of the barbarian to the Greeks and Romans, but outside the painter’s or, especially, the sculptor’s studio, few men were prepared to abandon it. Indeed the period saw the triumph of the pure trouser, or pantaloon, over the cullottes or knee-breeches of the Ancien Regime. Even when David designed a new French “national costume” at the request of the government during the height of the Revolutionary enthusiasm for changing everything in 1792, it included fairly tight leggings under a coat that stopped above the knee. A high proportion of well-to-do young men spent much of the key period in military service because of the French Revolutionary Wars, and military uniform, which began to emphasize jackets that were short at the front, giving a full view of tight-fitting trousers, was often worn when not on duty, and influenced cilivian male styles.

What is Neoclassicism?   James Dawkins and Robert Wood Discovering the Ruins of Palmyra by Gavin Hamilton 1758

James Dawkins and Robert Wood Discovering the Ruins of Palmyra, by Gavin Hamilton (1758)

The trouser-problem had been recognised by artists as a barrier to creating contemporary history paintings; like other elements of contemporary dress they were seen as irredeemably ugly and unheroic by many artists and critics. Various strategems were used to avoid depicting them in modern scenes. In James Dawkins and Robert Wood Discovering the Ruins of Palmyra (1758) by Gavin Hamilton, the two gentleman antiquaries are shown in toga-like Arab robes. In Watson and the Shark (1778) by John Singleton Copley, the main figure could plausibly be shown nude, and the composition is such that of the eight other men shown, only one shows a single breeched leg prominently. However the Americans Copley and Benjamin West led the artists who successfully showed that trousers could be used in heroic scenes, with works like West’s The Death of General Wolfe (1770) and Copley’s The Death of Major Peirson, 6 January 1781 (1783), although the trouser was still being carefully avoided in The Raft of the Medusa, completed in 1819.

Classically inspired male hair styles included the Bedford Crop, arguably the precursor of most plain modern male styles, which was invented by the radical politician Francis Russell, 5th Duke of Bedford as a protest against a tax on hair powder; he encouraged his frends to adopt it by betting them they would not. Another influential style (or group of styles) was named by the French after the Roman Emperor Titus, from his busts, with hair short and layered but somewhat piled up on the crown, often with restrained quiffs or locks hanging down; variants are familiar from the hair of both Napoleon and George IV of England. The style was supposed to have been introduced by the actor François-Joseph Talma, who upstaged his wigged co-actors when appearing in productions of works such as Voltaire’s Brutus. In 1799 a Parisian fashion magazine reported that even bald men were adopting Titus wigs, and the style was also worn by women, the Journal de Paris reporting in 1802 that “more than half of elegant women were wearing their hair or wig à la Titus.

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Rembrandt Harmenszoon van Rijn - The Anatomy Lecture of Dr. Nicolaes Tulp

What is the Dutch Golden Age?

The Dutch Golden Age was a period in Dutch history, roughly spanning the 17th century, in which Dutch trade, science, military, and art were among the most acclaimed in the world. The first half is characterized by the Eighty Years’ War until 1648. The Golden Age went on in peace time during the Dutch Republic until the end of the century.

What is the Dutch Golden Age?   Rembrandt Harmenszoon van Rijn The Nightwatch 1030x858

Rembrandt – The Nightwatch

In 1568, the Seven Provinces that later signed the Union of Utrecht started a rebellion against Philip II of Spain that led to the Eighty Years’ War. Before the Low Countries could be completely reconquered, a war between England and Spain (the Anglo-Spanish War (1585–1604)) broke out, forcing Spanish troops to halt their advances and leaving them in control of the important trading cities of Bruges and Ghent, but without control of Antwerp, which was then arguably the most important port in the world. After a siege, on August 17, 1585 Antwerp fell, and the division of the Northern and Southern Netherlands (mostly modern Belgium) was defined.

The United Provinces (roughly today’s Netherlands) fought on until the Twelve Years’ Truce, which did not end the hostilities. The Peace of Westphalia in 1648, which ended the Thirty Years’ War, brought the Dutch Republic formal recognition and independence from the Spanish crown.

Under the terms of surrender of Antwerp in 1585 the Protestant population (if unwilling to reconvert) were given four years to settle their affairs before leaving the city and Habsburg territory. Similar arrangements were made in other places. Protestants were especially well-represented among the skilled craftsmen and rich merchants of the port cities of Bruges, Ghent, and Antwerp. More moved to the north between 1585 and 1630 than Catholics moved in the other direction, although there were also many of these. Of those moving north, many settled in Amsterdam, transforming what was a small port into one of the most important ports and commercial centres in the world by 1630.

In addition to the mass migration of natives from the Southern Netherlands, there were also significant influxes of non-native refugees who themselves had previously fled from religious persecution, particularly Sephardi Jews from Portugal and Spain and, later, Huguenots from France. The Pilgrim Fathers also spent time there before going to the “New World.”

Several other factors also contributed to the flowering of trade, industry, the arts and the sciences in the Netherlands during this period. A necessary condition was the supply of cheap energy from windmills and from peat, easily transported by canal to the cities. The invention of the sawmill enabled the construction of a massive fleet of ships for worldwide trading and for defense of the republic’s economic interests by military means.

In 1602 the Dutch East India Company was founded. It was the first-ever multinational corporation, financed by shares that established the first modern stock exchange. This company received a Dutch monopoly on Asian trade and would keep this for two centuries. It became the world’s largest commercial enterprise of the 17th century. Spices were imported in bulk and brought huge profits, due to the efforts and risks involved and seemingly insatiable demand. To finance the growing trade within the region, the Bank of Amsterdam was established in 1609, the precursor to, if not the first true central bank.

These various reasons for the domination of Amsterdam as a trade centre led to a trade monopoly in 1640 by the Dutch East India Company (VOC) with Japan through the trading post on Dejima. The former island in the bay of Nagasaki measured 15,000 square metres- from here the Dutch traded between China and Japan and at the same time paid tribute to the Shogun. Until 1854, the Dutch were Japan’s sole window to the western world. The collection of scientific learning introduced from Europe became known in Japan as Rangaku or Dutch Learning. The Dutch became instrumental in transmitting to Japan some knowledge of the industrial and scientific revolution that was occurring in Europe. The Japanese purchased and translated numerous scientific books from the Dutch, obtained from them Western curiosities and manufactures (such as clocks), and received demonstrations of various Western innovations (such as the demonstrations of electric phenomena, and the flight of a hot air balloon in the early 19th century). In the 17th and 18th centuries, the Dutch were arguably the most economically wealthy and scientifically advanced of all European nations, which put them in a privileged position to transfer Western knowledge to Japan.

Dutch Golden Age Painting

Although Dutch painting of the Golden Age comes in the general European period of Baroque painting, and often shows many of its characteristics, most lacks the idealization and love of splendor typical of much Baroque work, including that of neighboring Flanders. Most work, including that for which the period is best known, reflects the traditions of detailed realism inherited from Early Netherlandish painting.

What is the Dutch Golden Age?   Johannes Vermeer The Milkmaid 932x1030

Johannes Vermeer – The Milkmaid

A distinctive feature of the period is the proliferation of distinct genres of paintings, with the majority of artists producing the bulk of their work within one of these. The full development of this specialization is seen from the late 1620s, and the period from then until the French invasion of 1672 is the core of Golden Age painting.

Compared to earlier European painting there was a small amount of religious painting. Dutch Calvinism forbade religious painting in churches, and though biblical subjects were acceptable in private homes, relatively few were produced. The other traditional classes of history and portrait painting were present, but the period is more notable for a huge variety of other genres, sub-divided into numerous specialized categories, such as scenes of peasant life, landscapes, townscapes, landscapes with animals, maritime paintings, flower paintings and still lifes of various types. The development of many of these types of painting was decisively influenced by 17th-century Dutch artists.

The widely held theory of the “hierarchy of genres” in painting, whereby some types were regarded as more prestigious than others, led many painters to want to produce history painting. However this was the hardest to sell, as even Rembrandt found. Many were forced to produce portraits or genre scenes, which sold much more easily. In descending order of status the categories in the hierarchy were:

  • History painting, including allegories and popular religious subjects.
  • Portrait painting, including the tronie
  • Genre painting (or scenes of everyday life)
  • Landscape, including seascapes, battlescenes, cityscapes, and ruins.
  • Still life

The Dutch concentrated heavily on the “lower” categories, but by no means rejected the concept of the hierarchy. Most paintings were relatively small – the only common type of really large paintings were group portraits. Painting directly onto walls hardly existed; when a wall-space in a public building needed decorating fitted framed canvas was normally used. For the extra precision possible on a hard surface many painters continued to use wooden panels, some time after the rest of Western Europe had abandoned them; some used copper plates, usually recycling plates from printmaking. In turn the number of surviving Golden Age paintings was reduced by them being overpainted with new works by artists throughout the 18th and 19th century – poor ones were usually cheaper than a new canvas, stretcher and frame.

There was very little Dutch sculpture during the period; it is mostly found in tomb monuments and attached to public buildings, and small sculptures for houses are a noticeable gap, their place taken by silverware and ceramics. Painted delftware tiles were very cheap and common, if rarely of really high quality, but silver, especially in the auricular style, led Europe. With this exception, the best artistic efforts were concentrated on painting and printmaking.

What is the Dutch Golden Age?   Johannes Vermeer The Astronomer 902x1030

Johannes Vermeer – The Astronomer

Foreigners remarked on the enormous quantities of art produced, and the large fairs where many paintings were sold – it has been roughly estimated that over 1.3 million Dutch pictures were painted in the 20 years after 1640 alone. The volume of production meant that prices were fairly low, except for the best known artists; as in most subsequent periods there was a steep price gradient for more fashionable artists. Those without a strong contemporary reputation or fallen out of fashion, including many now considered among the greatest of the period, such as Vermeer, Frans Hals and Rembrandt in his last years, had considerable problems earning a living, and died poor; many artists had other jobs, or abandoned art entirely.

In particular the French invasion of 1672 (the Rampjaar, or “year of disaster”), brought a severe depression to the art market, which never quite returned to earlier heights. The distribution of pictures was very wide: “yea many tymes, blacksmithes, cobblers etts., will have some picture or other by their Forge and in their stalle. Such is the generall Notion, enclination and delight that these Countrie Native have to Painting” reported an English traveller in 1640. There were for virtually the first time many professional art dealers, several also significant artists, like Vermeer and his father, Jan van Goyen and Willem Kalf. Rembrandt’s dealer Hendrick van Uylenburgh and his son Gerrit were among the most important. Landscapes were the easiest uncommissioned works to sell, and their painters were the “common footmen in the Army of Art” according to Samuel van Hoogstraten.

The technical quality of Dutch artists was generally very high, still mostly following the old medieval system of training by apprenticeship with a master; typically workshops were smaller than in Flanders or Italy, with only one or two apprentices at a time, the number often being restricted by guild regulations. The turmoil of the early years of the Republic, with displaced artists from the South moving north and the loss of traditional markets in the court and church, led to a resurgence of artists guilds, often still called the Guild of Saint Luke; in many cases these involved the artists extricating themselves from medieval groupings where they shared a guild with several other trades, such as housepainting.

What is the Dutch Golden Age?   Rembrandt Harmenszoon van Rijn Sampling Officials of the Drapers Guild 1030x698

Rembrandt Harmenszoon van Rijn – Sampling Officials of the Drapers’ Guild

Several new guilds were established in the period: Amsterdam in 1579, Haarlem in 1590, and Gouda, Rotterdam, Utrecht and Delft between 1609 and 1611. The Leiden authorities distrusted guilds and did not allow one until 1648.
Later in the century it began to become clear to all involved that the old idea of a guild controlling both training and sales no long worked well, and gradually the guilds were replaced with academies, often only concerned with the training of artists. The Hague, with the court, was an early example, where artists split into two groups in 1656 with the founding of the Confrerie Pictura. With the obvious exception of portraits, many more Dutch paintings were done “speculatively” without a specific commission than was then the case in other countries – one of many ways in which the Dutch art market showed the future.

There were many dynasties of artists, and many married the daughters of their masters or other artists. Many artists came from well-off families, who paid fees for their apprenticeships, and they often married into property. Rembrandt and Jan Steen were both enrolled at the University of Leiden for a while. Several cities had distinct styles and specialities by subject, but Amsterdam was the largest artistic centre, because of its great wealth.

Dutch artists were strikingly less concerned about artistic theory than those of many nations, and less given to discussing their art; it appears that there was also much less interest in artistic theory in general intellectual circles and among the wider public than was by then common in Italy.  As nearly all commissions and sales were private, and between bourgeois individuals whose accounts have not been preserved, these are also less well documented than elsewhere. But Dutch art was a source of national pride, and the major biographers are crucial sources of information. These are Karel van Mander (Het Schilderboeck, 1604), who essentially covers the previous century, and Arnold Houbraken (De groote schouburgh der Neder­lantsche konstschilders en schilderessen – “The Great Theatre of Dutch Painters“, 1718–21). Both followed, and indeed exceeded, Vasari in including a great number of short lives of artists – over 500 in Houbraken’s case – and both are considered generally accurate on factual matters. The German artist Joachim von Sandrart (1606–1688) had worked for periods in Holland, and his Deutsche Akademie in the same format covers many Dutch artists he knew. Houbraken’s master, and Rembrandt’s pupil, was Samuel van Hoogstraten (1627–1678), whose Zichtbare wereld and Inleyding tot de Hooge Schoole der Schilderkonst (1678) contain more critical than biographical information, and are among the most important treatises on painting of the period. Like other Dutch works on the theory of art, they expound many commonplaces of Renaissance theory and do not entirely reflect contemporary Dutch art, still often concentrating on history painting.

History Painting

This category comprises not only paintings that depicted historical events of the past, but also paintings that showed biblical, mythological, literary and allegorical scenes. Recent historical events essentially fell out of the category, and were treated in a realist fashion, as the appropriate combination of portraits with marine, townscape or landscape subjects. Large dramatic historical or Biblical scenes were produced less frequently than in other countries, as there was no local market for church art, and few large aristocratic Baroque houses to fill. More than that, the Protestant population of major cities had been exposed to some remarkably hypocritical uses of Mannerist allegory in unsuccessful Habsburg propaganda during the Dutch Revolt, which had produced a strong reaction towards realism and a distrust of grandiose visual rhetoric. History painting was now a “minority art”, although to an extent this was redressed by a relatively keen interest in print versions of history subjects.

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Jean-Honoré Fragonard - Progress of Love The Confession of Love

What is Rococo?

Rococo (also referred to as “Late Baroque”), is an 18th-century artistic movement and style, which affected several aspects of the arts including painting, sculpture, architecture, interior design, decoration, literature, music and theatre. The Rococo developed in the early part of the 18th century in Paris, France as a reaction against the grandeur, symmetry and strict regulations of the Baroque, especially that of the Palace of Versailles.

What is Rococo?   François Boucher The Bath of Venus 819x1030

François Boucher – The Bath of Venus

In such a way, Rococo artists opted for a more jocular, florid and graceful approach to Baroque art and architecture. Rococo art and architecture in such a way was ornate and made strong usage of creamy, pastel-like colours, asymmetrical designs, curves and gold. Unlike the more politically focused Baroque, the Rococo had more playful and often witty artistic themes. With regards to interior decoration, Rococo rooms were designed as total works of art with elegant and ornate furniture, small sculptures, ornamental mirrors, and tapestry complementing architecture, reliefs, and wall paintings. The Rococo additionally played an important role in theatre. In the book The Rococo, it is written that there was no other culture which “has produced a wittier, more elegant, and teasing dialogue full of elusive and camouflaging language and gestures, refined feelings and subtle criticism” than Rococo theatre, especially that of France.

Towards the end of the 18th century, Rococo started to fall out of fashion, and it was largely supplanted by the Neoclassic style. In 1835 the Dictionary of the French Academy stated that the word Rococo “usually covers the kind of ornament, style and design associated with Louis XV’s reign and the beginning of that of Louis XVI”. It includes therefore, all types of art produced around the middle of the 18th century in France. The word Rococo is seen as a combination of the French rocaille, meaning stone, and coquilles, meaning shell, due to reliance on these objects as motifs of decoration. The term Rococo may also be interpreted as a combination of the Italian word “barocco” (an irregularly shaped pearl, possibly the source of the word “baroque”) and the French “rocaille” (a popular form of garden or interior ornamentation using shells and pebbles), and may be used to describe the refined and fanciful style that became fashionable in parts of Europe during the eighteenth century.

Owing to Rococo love of shell-like curves and focus on decorative arts, some critics used the term to derogatively imply that the style was frivolous or merely modish. When the term was first used in English in about 1836, it was a colloquialism meaning “old-fashioned”. As a matter of fact, the style received harsh criticism, and was seen by some to be superficial and of poor taste, especially when compared to neoclassicism; despite this, it has been praised for its aesthetic qualities, and since the mid-19th century, the term has been accepted by art historians. While there is still some debate about the historical significance of the style to art in general, Rococo is now widely recognized as a major period in the development of European art.

What is Rococo?   Jean Honoré Fragonard The Bathers 1030x801

Jean-Honoré Fragonard – The Bathers

An exotic but in some ways more formal type of Rococo appeared in France where Louis XIV’s succession brought a change in the court artists and general artistic fashion. By the end of the king’s long reign, rich Baroque designs were giving way to lighter elements with more curves and natural patterns. These elements are obvious in the architectural designs of Nicolas Pineau. During the Régence, court life moved away from Versailles and this artistic change became well established, first in the royal palace and then throughout French high society. The delicacy and playfulness of Rococo designs is often seen as perfectly in tune with the excesses of Louis XV’s reign.

The 1730s represented the height of Rococo development in France. The style had spread beyond architecture and furniture to painting and sculpture, exemplified by the works of Antoine Watteau and François Boucher. Rococo still maintained the Baroque taste for complex forms and intricate patterns, but by this point, it had begun to integrate a variety of diverse characteristics, including a taste for Oriental designs and asymmetric compositions. The Rococo style was spread by French artists and engraved publications.

What is Rococo?   Thomas Gainsborough Mr and Mrs Andrews 1030x596

Thomas Gainsborough-Mr and Mrs Andrews

In Great Britain, Rococo was always thought of as the “French taste” and was never widely adopted as an architectural style, although its influence was strongly felt in such areas as silverwork, porcelain, and silks, and Thomas Chippendale transformed British furniture design through his adaptation and refinement of the style. William Hogarth helped develop a theoretical foundation for Rococo beauty. Though not intentionally referencing the movement, he argued in his Analysis of Beauty (1753) that the undulating lines and S-curves prominent in Rococo were the basis for grace and beauty in art or nature (unlike the straight line or the circle in Classicism). The development of Rococo in Great Britain is considered to have been connected with the revival of interest in Gothic architecture early in the 18th century.

The beginning of the end for Rococo came in the early 1760s as figures like Voltaire and Jacques-François Blondel began to voice their criticism of the superficiality and degeneracy of the art. Blondel decried the “ridiculous jumble of shells, dragons, reeds, palm-trees and plants” in contemporary interiors. By 1785, Rococo had passed out of fashion in France, replaced by the order and seriousness of Neoclassical artists like Jacques-Louis David. In Germany, late 18th century Rococo was ridiculed as Zopf und Perücke (“pigtail and periwig”), and this phase is sometimes referred to as Zopfstil. Rococo remained popular in the provinces and in Italy, until the second phase of neoclassicism, “Empire style”, arrived with Napoleonic governments and swept Rococo away.

There was a renewed interest in the Rococo style between 1820 and 1870. The British were among the first to revive the “Louis XIV style” as it was miscalled at first, and paid inflated prices for second-hand Rococo luxury goods that could scarcely be sold in Paris. But prominent artists like Eugène Delacroix and patrons like Empress Eugénie also rediscovered the value of grace and playfulness in art and design.

What is Rococo?   Jean Antoine Watteau The Embarkation for Cythera 1030x683

Jean-Antoine Watteau – The Embarkation for Cythera

Rococo in furniture and decorative objects

The lighthearted themes and intricate designs of Rococo presented themselves best at a more intimate scale than the imposing Baroque architecture and sculpture. It is not surprising, then, that French Rococo art was at home indoors. Metalwork, porcelain figures and especially furniture rose to new pre-eminence as the French upper classes sought to outfit their homes in the now fashionable style. Rococo style took pleasure in asymmetry, a taste that was new to European style. This practice of leaving elements unbalanced for effect is called contraste.

During the Rococo period, furniture was lighthearted, physically and visually. The idea of furniture had evolved to a symbol of status and took on a role in comfort and versatility. Furniture could be easily moved around for gatherings, and many specialized forms came to be such as the fauteuil chair, the voyeuse chair, and the berger en gondola. Changes in design of these chairs ranges from cushioned detached arms, lengthening of the cushioned back (also known as “hammerhead”) and a loose seat cushion. Furniture was also freestanding, instead of being anchored by the wall, to accentuate the lighthearted atmosphere and versatility of each piece.

Mahogany was widely used in furniture construction due to its strength, resulting in the absence of the stretcher as seen on many chairs of the time. Also, the use of mirrors hung above mantels became ever more popular in light of the development of unblemished glass. In a full-blown Rococo design, like the Table d’appartement (c. 1730), by German designer J. A. Meissonnier, working in Paris, any reference to tectonic form is gone: even the marble slab top is shaped. Apron, legs, stretcher have all been seamlessly integrated into a flow of opposed c-scrolls and “rocaille.” The knot (noeud) of the stretcher shows the asymmetrical “contraste” that was a Rococo innovation.

Most widely admired and displayed in the “minor” and decorative arts its detractors claimed that its tendency to depart from or obscure traditionally recognised forms and structures rendered it unsuitable for larger scale projects and disqualified it as a fully architectural style. Dynasties of Parisian ébénistes, some of them German-born, developed a style of surfaces curved in three dimensions (bombé), where matched veneers (marquetry temporarily being in eclipse) or vernis martin japanning was effortlessly complemented by gilt-bronze (“ormolu”) mounts: Antoine Gaudreau, Charles Cressent, Jean-Pierre Latz, Jean-François Oeben, Bernard II van Risamburgh are the outstanding names.

French designers like François de Cuvilliés, Nicholas Pineau and Bartolomeo Rastrelli exported Parisian styles in person to Munich and Saint Petersburg, while the German Juste-Aurèle Meissonier found his career at Paris. The guiding spirits of the Parisian rococo were a small group of marchands-merciers, the forerunners of modern decorators, led by Simon-Philippe Poirier.

In French furniture the style remained somewhat more reserved, since the ornaments were mostly of wood, or, after the fashion of wood-carving, less robust and naturalistic and less exuberant in the mixture of natural with artificial forms of all kinds (e.g. plant motives, stalactitic representations, grotesques, masks, implements of various professions, badges, paintings, precious stones).

British Rococo tended to be more restrained. Thomas Chippendale’s furniture designs kept the curves and feel, but stopped short of the French heights of whimsy. The most successful exponent of British Rococo was probably Thomas Johnson, a gifted carver and furniture designer working in London in the mid-18th century.

The word ‘Rococo’ is derived from the French “rocaille”, a word used to describe the rock and shell work of the Versailles grottoes. Many pieces of carved furniture dating from the 18th century—in particular, mirror frames—depict rocks, shells, and dripping water in their composition, frequently in association with Chinese figures and pagodas.

Rococo in Architecture

What is Rococo?   Igreja de São Francisco de Assis in São João del Rei 1749–1774 by the Brazilian master Aleijadinho

Igreja de São Francisco de Assis in São João del Rei, 1749–1774, by the Brazilian master Aleijadinho

Rococo architecture, as mentioned above, was a lighter, more graceful, yet also more elaborate version of Baroque architecture, which was ornate and austere. Whilst the styles were similar, there are some notable differences between both Rococo and Baroque architecture, one of them being symmetry, since Rococo emphasised the asymmetry of forms, whilst Baroque was the opposite. The styles, despite both being richly decorated, also had different themes; the Baroque, for instance, was more serious, placing an emphasis on religion, and was often characterized by Christian themes (as a matter of fact, the Baroque began in Rome as a response to the Protestant Reformation); Rococo architecture was an 18th-century, more secular, adaptation of the Baroque which was characterized by more light-hearted and jocular themes. Other elements belonging to the architectural style of Rococo include numerous curves and decorations, as well as the usage of pale colours.

There are numerous examples of Rococo buildings as well as architects. Amongst the most famous include the Catherine Palace, in Russia, the Queluz National Palace in Portugal, the Augustusburg and Falkenlust Palaces, Brühl, the Chinese House (Potsdam) the Charlottenburg Palace in Germany, as well as elements of the Château de Versailles in France. Architects who were renowned for their constructions using the style include Francesco Bartolomeo Rastrelli, an Italian architect who worked in Russia and who was noted for his lavish and opulent works, Philip de Lange, who worked in both Danish and Dutch Rococo architecture, or Matthäus Daniel Pöppelmann, who worked in the late Baroque style and who contributed to the reconstruction of the city of Dresden, in Germany.

Rococo architecture also brought significant changes to the building of edifices, placing an emphasis on privacy rather than the grand public majesty of Baroque architecture, as well as improving the structure of buildings in order to create a more healthy environment.

Rococo in Interior design

Solitude Palace in Stuttgart and Chinese Palace in Oranienbaum, the Bavarian church of Wies and Sanssouci in Potsdam are examples of how Rococo made its way into European architecture. In those Continental contexts where Rococo is fully in control, sportive, fantastic, and sculptured forms are expressed with abstract ornament using flaming, leafy or shell-like textures in asymmetrical sweeps and flourishes and broken curves; intimate Rococo interiors suppress architectonic divisions of architrave, frieze, and cornice for the picturesque, the curious, and the whimsical, expressed in plastic materials like carved wood and above all stucco (as in the work of the Wessobrunner School). Walls, ceiling, furniture, and works of metal and porcelain present a unified ensemble. The Rococo palette is softer and paler than the rich primary colors and dark tonalities favored in Baroque tastes.

What is Rococo?   The Rococo staircase of Gruber Palace in Ljubljana

The Rococo staircase of Gruber Palace in Ljubljana

A few anti-architectural hints rapidly evolved into full-blown Rococo at the end of the 1720s and began to affect interiors and decorative arts throughout Europe. The richest forms of German Rococo are in Catholic Germany.

Rococo plasterwork by immigrant Italian-Swiss artists like Bagutti and Artari is a feature of houses by James Gibbs, and the Franchini brothers working in Ireland equalled anything that was attempted in Great Britain.
Inaugurated in some rooms in Versailles, it unfolds its magnificence in several Parisian buildings (especially the Hôtel Soubise). In Germany, French and German artists (Cuvilliés, Neumann, Knobelsdorff, etc.) effected the dignified equipment of the Amalienburg near Munich, and the castles of Würzburg, Potsdam, Charlottenburg, Brühl, Bruchsal, Solitude (Stuttgart), and Schönbrunn.

In Great Britain, one of Hogarth’s set of paintings forming a melodramatic morality tale titled Marriage à la Mode, engraved in 1745, shows the parade rooms of a stylish London house, in which the only rococo is in plasterwork of the salon’s ceiling. Palladian architecture is in control. Here, on the Kentian mantel, the crowd of Chinese vases and mandarins are satirically rendered as hideous little monstrosities, and the Rococo wall clock is a jumble of leafy branches.
In general, Rococo is an entirely interior style, because the wealthy and aristocratic moved back to Paris from Versailles. Paris was already built up and so rather than engaging in major architectural additions, they simply renovated the interiors of the existing buildings.

What is Rococo?   Charles André van Loo Halt to the Hunt 1737

Charles-André van Loo, Halt to the Hunt, 1737

Rococo in Painting

Though Rococo originated in the purely decorative arts, the style showed clearly in painting. These painters used delicate colors and curving forms, decorating their canvases with cherubs and myths of love. Portraiture was also popular among Rococo painters. Some works show a sort of naughtiness or impurity in the behavior of their subjects, showing the historical trend of departing away from the Baroque’s church/state orientation. Landscapes were pastoral and often depicted the leisurely outings of aristocratic couples.

 

What is Rococo?   Gustaf Lundberg Portrait of François Boucher 1741

Gustaf Lundberg, Portrait of François Boucher, 1741

Jean-Antoine Watteau (1684–1721) is generally considered the first great Rococo painter. He had a great influence on later painters, including François Boucher (1703–1770) and Jean-Honoré Fragonard (1732–1806), two masters of the late period. Even Thomas Gainsborough’s (1727–1788) delicate touch and sensitivity are reflective of the Rococo spirit. Élisabeth-Louise Vigée-Le Brun’s (1755–1842) style also shows a great deal of Rococo influence, particularly in her portraits of Marie Antoinette. Other Rococo painters include: Jean François de Troy (1679–1752), Jean-Baptiste van Loo (1685–1745), his two sons Louis-Michel van Loo (1707–1771) and Charles-Amédée-Philippe van Loo (1719–1795), his younger brother Charles-André van Loo (1705–1765), and Nicolas Lancret (1690–1743). Both Jean-Baptiste-Siméon Chardin (1699–1779) and Jean-Baptiste Greuze (1725–1805), were important French painters of the Rococo era who are considered Anti-Rococo.

During the Rococo era Portraiture was an important component of painting in all countries, but especially in Great Britain, where the leaders were William Hogarth (1697–1764), in a blunt realist style, and Francis Hayman (1708–1776), Angelica Kauffman who was Swiss, (1741–1807), Thomas Gainsborough and Joshua Reynolds (1723–1792), in more flattering styles influenced by Anthony van Dyck (1599–1641). While in France during the Rococo era Jean-Baptiste Greuze was the favorite painter of Denis Diderot (1713–1785), and Maurice Quentin de La Tour (1704–1788), and Élisabeth Vigée-Lebrun were highly accomplished Portrait painters and History painters.

What is Rococo?   Francis Hayman Dancing Milkmaids 1735

Francis Hayman, Dancing Milkmaids, 1735

Rococo in Sculpture

Sculpture was another area where the Rococo was widely adopted. Étienne-Maurice Falconet (1716–1791) is widely considered one of the best representatives of French Rococo. In general, this style was best expressed through delicate porcelain sculpture rather than imposing marble statues. Falconet himself was director of a famous porcelain factory at Sèvres. The themes of love and gaiety were reflected in sculpture, as were elements of nature, curving lines and asymmetry.

What is Rococo?   Integrated rococo carving stucco and fresco at Zwiefalten

Integrated rococo carving, stucco and fresco at Zwiefalten

The sculptor Edmé Bouchardon represented Cupid engaged in carving his darts of love from the club of Hercules; this serves as an excellent symbol of the Rococo style—the demigod is transformed into the soft child, the bone-shattering club becomes the heart-scathing arrows, just as marble is so freely replaced by stucco. In this connection, the French sculptors, Jean-Louis Lemoyne, Jean-Baptiste Lemoyne, Robert Le Lorrain, Louis-Simon Boizot, Michel Clodion, and Pigalle may be mentioned in passing.

Rococo in Music

A Rococo period existed in music history, although it is not as well known as the earlier Baroque and later Classical forms. The Rococo music style itself developed out of baroque music both in France, where the new style was referred to as style galante (“gallant” or “elegant” style), and in Germany, where it was referred to as empfindsamer stil (“sensitive style”). It can be characterized as light, intimate music with extremely elaborate and refined forms of ornamentation. Exemplars include Jean Philippe Rameau, Louis-Claude Daquin and François Couperin in France; in Germany, the style’s main proponents were C. P. E. Bach and Johann Christian Bach, two sons of the renowned J.S. Bach.

An insight into the French term “galante” can be seen through Boucher’s painting Le Déjeuner (above), which provides a glimpse of the society which Rococo reflected. “Courtly” would be pretentious in this upper bourgeois circle, yet the man’s gesture is gallant. The stylish but cozy interior, the informal decorous intimacy of people’s manners, the curious and delightful details everywhere one turns one’s eye, the luxury of sipping chocolate: all are “galante.”

In the second half of the 18th century, a reaction against the Rococo style occurred, primarily against its perceived overuse of ornamentation and decoration. Led by C.P.E. Bach (an accomplished Rococo composer in his own right), Domenico Scarlatti, and Christoph Willibald Gluck, this reaction ushered in the Classical era.

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Caravaggio - The Calling of Saint Matthew

What is the Baroque?

The Baroque is a period of artistic style that used exaggerated motion and clear, easily interpreted detail to produce drama, tension, exuberance, and grandeur in sculpture, painting, architecture, literature, dance, and music.

What is the Baroque?   Caravaggio Judith Beheading Holofernes 1030x764

Caravaggio – Judith Beheading Holofernes

The style began around 1600 in Rome, Italy and spread to most of Europe. The popularity and success of the Baroque style was encouraged by the Roman Catholic Church, which had decided at the time of the Council of Trent, in response to the Protestant Reformation, that the arts should communicate religious themes in direct and emotional involvement. The aristocracy also saw the dramatic style of Baroque architecture and art as a means of impressing visitors and expressing triumph, power and control. Baroque palaces are built around an entrance of courts, grand staircases and reception rooms of sequentially increasing opulence.

According to the Oxford English Dictionary, the word baroque is derived from the Portuguese word “barroco”, Spanish “barroco”, or French “baroque”, all of which refer to a “rough or imperfect pearl”, though whether it entered those languages via Latin, Arabic, or some other source is uncertain. The 1911 Encyclopædia Britannica 11th edition, thought the term was derived from the Spanish barrueco, a large, irregularly-shaped pearl, and that it had for a time been confined to the craft of the jeweller. Others derive it from the mnemonic term “Baroco”, a supposedly labored form of syllogism in logical Scholastica. The Latin root can be found in bis-roca.

In informal usage, the word baroque can simply mean that something is “elaborate”, with many details, without reference to the Baroque styles of the 17th and 18th centuries.

What is the Baroque?   Diego Velázquez The Triumph of Bacchus Los Borrachos The Topers 1030x744

Diego Velázquez – The Triumph of Bacchus (Los Borrachos, The Topers)

The word “Baroque”, like most periodic or stylistic designations, was invented by later critics rather than practitioners of the arts in the 17th and early 18th centuries, and was initially used in a derogatory sense, to underline the excesses of its emphasis. In particular, the term was used to describe its eccentric redundancy and noisy abundance of details, which sharply contrasted the clear and sober rationality of the Renaissance. Although it was long thought that the word as a critical term was first applied to architecture, in fact it appears earlier in reference to music, in an anonymous, satirical review of the première in October 1733 of Jean-Philippe Rameau’s Hippolyte et Aricie, printed in the Mercure de France in May 1734. The critic implied that the novelty in this opera was “du barocque”, complaining that the music lacked coherent melody, was filled with unremitting dissonances, constantly changed key and meter, and speedily ran through every compositional device.

In modern usage, the term “Baroque” may still be used, usually pejoratively, describing works of art, craft, or design that are thought to have excessive ornamentation or complexity of line, or, as a synonym for “Byzantine”, to describe literature, computer software, contracts, or laws that are thought to be excessively complex, indirect, or obscure in language, to the extent of concealing or confusing their meaning.

What is the Baroque?   Jusepe de Ribera Apollo and Marsyas

Jusepe de Ribera – Apollo and Marsyas

The word was first rehabilitated by the Swiss-born art historian, Heinrich Wölfflin (1864–1945) in his Renaissance und Barock (1888); Wölfflin identified the Baroque as “movement imported into mass,” an art antithetic to Renaissance art. He did not make the distinctions between Mannerism and Baroque that modern writers do, and he ignored the later phase, the academic Baroque that lasted into the 18th century. Writers in French and English did not begin to treat Baroque as a respectable study until Wölfflin’s influence had made German scholarship pre-eminent.

The Baroque originated around 1600, several decades after the Council of Trent (1545–63), by which the Roman Catholic Church answered many questions of internal reform, addressed the representational arts by demanding that paintings and sculptures in church contexts should speak to the illiterate rather than to the well-informed. This turn toward a populist conception of the function of ecclesiastical art is seen by many art historians as driving the innovations of Caravaggio, brothers Agostino and Annibale Carracci, all of who were working (and competing for commissions) in Rome around 1600.

What is the Baroque?   Aeneas flees burning Troy Federico Barocci 1598

Aeneas flees burning Troy, Federico Barocci, 1598

The appeal of Baroque style turned consciously from the witty, intellectual qualities of 16th century Mannerist art to a visceral appeal aimed at the senses. It employed an iconography that was direct, simple, obvious, and theatrical. Baroque art drew on certain broad and heroic tendencies in Annibale Carracci and his circle, and found inspiration in other artists like Correggio and Caravaggio and Federico Barocci, nowadays sometimes termed ‘proto-Baroque’. Germinal ideas of the Baroque can also be found in the work of Michelangelo. Some general parallels in music make the expression “Baroque music” useful: there are contrasting phrase lengths, harmony and counterpoint have ousted polyphony, and orchestral color makes a stronger appearance. Even more generalized parallels perceived by some experts in philosophy, prose style and poetry, are harder to pinpoint.

What is the Baroque?   The Church of SantAndrea al Quirinale designed by Gian Lorenzo Bernini

The Church of Sant’Andrea al Quirinale, designed by Gian Lorenzo Bernini

Though Baroque was superseded in many centers by the Rococo style, beginning in France in the late 1720s, especially for interiors, paintings and the decorative arts, the Baroque style continued to be used in architecture until the advent of Neoclassicism in the later 18th century. See the Neapolitan palace of Caserta, a Baroque palace (though in a chaste exterior) whose construction began in 1752.

In paintings Baroque gestures are broader than Mannerist gestures: less ambiguous, less arcane and mysterious, more like the stage gestures of opera, a major Baroque art form. Baroque poses depend on contrapposto (“counterpoise”), the tension within the figures that move the planes of shoulders and hips in counterdirections. See Bernini’s David.
The dryer, less dramatic and coloristic, chastened later stages of 18th century Baroque architectural style are often seen as a separate Late Baroque manifestation, for example in buildings by Claude Perrault. Academic characteristics in the neo-Palladian style, epitomized by William Kent, are a parallel development in Britain and the British colonies: within interiors, Kent’s furniture designs are vividly influenced by the Baroque furniture of Rome and Genoa, hierarchical tectonic sculptural elements, meant never to be moved from their positions, completed the wall decoration. Baroque is a style of unity imposed upon rich, heavy detail.

The Baroque was defined by Heinrich Wölfflin as the age where the oval replaced the circle as the center of composition, that centralization replaced balance, and that coloristic and “painterly” effects began to become more prominent. Art historians, often Protestant ones, have traditionally emphasized that the Baroque style evolved during a time in which the Roman Catholic Church had to react against the many revolutionary cultural movements that produced a new science and new forms of religion— Reformation. It has been said that the monumental Baroque is a style that could give the Papacy, like secular absolute monarchies, a formal, imposing way of expression that could restore its prestige, at the point of becoming somehow symbolic of the Counter-Reformation.

Whether this is the case or not, it was successfully developed in Rome, where Baroque architecture widely renewed the central areas with perhaps the most important urbanistic revision.

The Baroque era is sometimes divided into roughly three phases for convenience

  • Early Baroque, c.1590–c.1625
  • High Baroque, c.1625–c.1660
  • Late Baroque, c.1660–c.1725

Late Baroque is also sometimes used synonymously with the succeeding Rococo movement.

Baroque in Painting

What is the Baroque?   Rembrandt Harmenszoon van Rijn The Nightwatch 1030x858

Rembrandt – The Nightwatch

Baroque painting is the painting associated with the Baroque cultural movement. The movement is often identified with Absolutism, the Counter Reformation and Catholic Revival, but the existence of important Baroque art and architecture in non-absolutist and Protestant states throughout Western Europe underscores its widespread popularity.

Baroque painting encompasses a great range of styles, as most important and major painting during the period beginning around 1600 and continuing throughout the 17th century, and into the early 18th century is identified today as Baroque painting. In its most typical manifestations, Baroque art is characterized by great drama, rich, deep colour, and intense light and dark shadows, but the classicism of French Baroque painters like Poussin and Dutch genre painters such as Vermeer are also covered by the term, at least in English. As opposed to Renaissance art, which usually showed the moment before an event took place, Baroque artists chose the most dramatic point, the moment when the action was occurring: Michelangelo, working in the High Renaissance, shows his David composed and still before he battles Goliath; Bernini’s baroque David is caught in the act of hurling the stone at the giant. Baroque art was meant to evoke emotion and passion instead of the calm rationality that had been prized during the Renaissance.

What is the Baroque?   Berninis Ecstasy of St. Teresa

Bernini’s Ecstasy of St. Teresa

Among the greatest painters of the Baroque period are Caravaggio, Rembrandt, Rubens, Velázquez, Poussin, and Vermeer. Caravaggio is an heir of the humanist painting of the High Renaissance. His realistic approach to the human figure, painted directly from life and dramatically spotlit against a dark background, shocked his contemporaries and opened a new chapter in the history of painting. Baroque painting often dramatizes scenes using chiaroscuro light effects; this can be seen in works by Rembrandt, Vermeer, Le Nain and La Tour. The Flemish painter Anthony van Dyck developed a graceful but imposing portrait style that was very influential, especially in England.
The prosperity of 17th century Holland led to an enormous production of art by large numbers of painters who were mostly highly specialized and painted only genre scenes, landscapes, Still-lifes, portraits or History paintings. Technical standards were very high, and Dutch Golden Age painting established a new repertoire of subjects that was very influential until the arrival of Modernism.

Baroque in Sculpture

In Baroque sculpture, groups of figures assumed new importance and there was a dynamic movement and energy of human forms— they spiraled around an empty central vortex, or reached outwards into the surrounding space. For the first time, Baroque sculpture often had multiple ideal viewing angles. The characteristic Baroque sculpture added extra-sculptural elements, for example, concealed lighting, or water fountains. Aleijadinho in Brazil was also one of the great names of baroque sculpture, and his master work is the set of statues of the Santuário de Bom Jesus de Matosinhos in Congonhas. The soapstone sculptures of old testament prophets around the terrace are considered amongst his finest work.

What is the Baroque?   Stanislas Kostka on his deathbed by Pierre Le Gros the Younger

Stanislas Kostka on his deathbed by Pierre Le Gros the Younger

The architecture, sculpture and fountains of Bernini (1598–1680) give highly charged characteristics of Baroque style. Bernini was undoubtedly the most important sculptor of the Baroque period. He approached Michelangelo in his omnicompetence: Bernini sculpted, worked as an architect, painted, wrote plays, and staged spectacles. In the late 20th century Bernini was most valued for his sculpture, both for his virtuosity in carving marble and his ability to create figures that combine the physical and the spiritual. He was also a fine sculptor of bust portraits in high demand among the powerful.

Baroque in Architecture

In Baroque architecture, new emphasis was placed on bold massing, colonnades, domes, light-and-shade (chiaroscuro), ‘painterly’ color effects, and the bold play of volume and void. In interiors, Baroque movement around and through a void informed monumental staircases that had no parallel in previous architecture. The other Baroque innovation in worldly interiors was the state apartment, a sequence of increasingly rich interiors that culminated in a presence chamber or throne room or a state bedroom. The sequence of monumental stairs followed by a state apartment was copied in smaller scale everywhere in aristocratic dwellings of any pretensions.

What is the Baroque?   Trevi Fountain in Rome

Trevi Fountain in Rome

Baroque architecture was taken up with enthusiasm in central Germany (see, e.g., Ludwigsburg Palace and Zwinger Dresden), Austria and Russia (see, e.g., Peterhof). In England the culmination of Baroque architecture was embodied in work by Sir Christopher Wren, Sir John Vanbrugh and Nicholas Hawksmoor, from ca. 1660 to ca. 1725. Many examples of Baroque architecture and town planning are found in other European towns, and in Latin America. Town planning of this period featured radiating avenues intersecting in squares, which took cues from Baroque garden plans. In Sicily, Baroque developed new shapes and themes as in Noto, Ragusa and Acireale “Basilica di San Sebastiano”.

Another example of Baroque architecture is the Cathedral of Morelia Michoacan in Mexico. Built in the 17th century by Vincenzo Barrochio, it is one of the many Baroque cathedrals in Mexico. Baroque churches are also seen in the Philippines, which were built during the Spanish period.

Francis Ching described Baroque architecture as “a style of architecture originating in Italy in the early 17th century and variously prevalent in Europe and the New World for a century and a half, characterized by free and sculptural use of the classical orders and ornament, dynamic opposition and interpenetration of spaces, and the dramatic combined effects of architecture, sculpture, painting, and the decorative arts.

Baroque in Theater

In theatre, the elaborate conceits, multiplicity of plot turns and a variety of situations characteristic of Mannerism (Shakespeare’s tragedies, for instance) were superseded by opera, which drew together all the arts into a unified whole.

Theatre evolved in the Baroque era and became a multimedia experience, starting with the actual architectural space. In fact, much of the technology used in current Broadway or commercial plays was invented and developed during this era. The stage could change from a romantic garden to the interior of a palace in a matter of seconds. The entire space became a framed selected area that only allows the users to see a specific action, hiding all the machinery and technology – mostly ropes and pulleys.
This technology affected the content of the narrated or performed pieces, practicing at its best the Deus ex Machina solution. Gods were finally able to come down – literally – from the heavens and rescue the hero in the most extreme and dangerous, even absurd situations.

The term Theatrum Mundi – the world is a stage – was also created. The social and political realm in the real world is manipulated in exactly the same way the actor and the machines are presenting/limiting what is being presented on stage, hiding selectively all the machinery that makes the actions happen.

The films Vatel, Farinelli, and the staging of Monteverdi’s Orpheus at the Gran Teatre del Liceu in Barcelona, give a good idea of the style of productions of the Baroque period. The American musician William Christie and Les Arts Florissants have performed extensive research on all the French Baroque Opera, performing pieces from Charpentier and Lully, among others that are extremely faithful to the original 17th century creations.

Baroque in Music

What is the Baroque?   Johann Sebastian Bach

Johann Sebastian Bach, 1748

The term Baroque is also used to designate the style of music composed during a period that overlaps with that of Baroque art, but usually encompasses a slightly later period.
It is a still-debated question as to what extent Baroque music shares aesthetic principles with the visual and literary arts of the Baroque period. A fairly clear, shared element is a love of ornamentation, and it is perhaps significant that the role of ornament was greatly diminished in both music and architecture as the Baroque gave way to the Classical period.

The application of the term “Baroque” to music is a relatively recent development, although it has recently been pointed out that the first use of the word “baroque” in criticism of any of the arts related to music, in an anonymous, satirical review of the première in October 1733 of Rameau’s Hippolyte et Aricie, printed in the Mercure de France in May 1734. The critic implied that the novelty in this opera was “du barocque,” complaining that the music lacked coherent melody, was filled with unremitting dissonances, constantly changed key and meter, and speedily ran through every compositional device.

However this was an isolated reference, and consistent use was only begun in 1919, by Curt Sachs, and it was not until 1940 that it was first used in English (in an article published by Manfred Bukofzer).

Many musical forms were born in that era, like the concerto and sinfonia. Forms such as the sonata, cantata and oratorio flourished. Also, opera was born out of the experimentation of the Florentine Camerata, the creators of monody, who attempted to recreate the theatrical arts of the Ancient Greeks. An important technique used in baroque music was the use of ground bass, a repeated bass line. Dido’s Lament by Henry Purcell is a famous example of this technique.

Hope you enjoyed the article as much as i did compiling the info and the images! See you next time!

Articles’ Images are in the public domain because their copyright has expired or are displayed here under the “ fair use” copyright law, and are available through WikipediaWikimedia.

This Articles’ text is licensed under the Creative Commons BY-SA License since it partially uses material from Wikipedia.

Parmigianino - Madonna and Child with Saints

What is Mannerism?

Mannerism is a period of European art that emerged from the later years of the Italian High Renaissance around 1520. It lasted until about 1580 in Italy, when the Baroque style began to replace it, but Northern Mannerism continued into the early 17th century. Stylistically, Mannerism encompasses a variety of approaches influenced by, and reacting to, the harmonious ideals associated with artists such as Leonardo da Vinci, Raphael, and early Michelangelo. While High Renaissance explored harmonious ideals, Mannerism wanted to go a step further.

Mannerism is notable for its intellectual sophistication as well as its artificial (as opposed to naturalistic) qualities.Mannerism favors compositional tension and instability rather than the balance and clarity of earlier Renaissance painting. Mannerism in literature and music is notable for its highly florid style and intellectual sophistication.

What is Mannerism?   Agnolo Bronzino Venus Cupid and Time Allegory of Lust 807x1030

Agnolo Bronzino – Venus, Cupid and Time (Allegory of Lust)

The definition of Mannerism, and the phases within it, continues to be the subject of debate among art historians. For example, some scholars have applied the label to certain early modern forms of literature (especially poetry) and music of the 16th and 17th centuries. The term is also used to refer to some Late Gothic painters working in northern Europe from about 1500 to 1530, especially the Antwerp Mannerists—a group unrelated to the Italian movement. Mannerism also has been applied by analogy to the Silver Age of Latin literature.

The word mannerism derives from the Italian maniera, meaning “style” or “manner”. Like the English word “style”, maniera can either indicate a specific type of style (a beautiful style, an abrasive style) or indicate an absolute that needs no qualification (someone “has style”). In the second edition of his Lives of the Most Excellent Painters, Sculptors, and Architects (1568), Giorgio Vasari used maniera in three different contexts: to discuss an artist’s manner or method of working; to describe a personal or group style, such as the term maniera greca to refer to the Byzantine style or simply to the maniera of Michelangelo; and to affirm a positive judgment of artistic quality.

Vasari was also a Mannerist artist, and he described the period in which he worked as “la maniera moderna”, or the “modern style”.James V. Mirollo describes how “bella maniera” poets attempted to surpass in virtuosity the sonnets of Petrarch. This notion of “bella maniera” suggests that artists thus inspired looked to copying and bettering their predecessors, rather than confronting nature directly. In essence, “bella maniera” utilized the best from a number of source materials, synthesizing it into something new.

As a stylistic label, “Mannerism” is not easily defined. It was used by Swiss historian Jacob Burckhardt and popularized by German art historians in the early 20th century to categorize the seemingly uncategorizable art of the Italian 16th century — art that was no longer found to exhibit the harmonious and rational approaches associated with the High Renaissance. “High Renaissance” connoted a period distinguished by harmony, grandeur and the revival of classical antiquity. (The term was redefined in 1967 by John Shearman.) The label “Mannerism” was used during the 16th century to comment on social behaviour and to convey a refined virtuoso quality or to signify a certain technique. However, for later writers, such as the 17th-century Gian Pietro Bellori, “la maniera” was a derogatory term for the perceived decline of art after Raphael, especially in the 1530s and 1540s. From the late 19th century on, art historians have commonly used the term to describe art that follows Renaissance classicism and precedes the Baroque.

Yet historians differ as to whether Mannerism is a style, a movement, or a period; and while the term remains controversial it is still commonly used to identify European art and culture of the 16th century.

Influential Mannerism Artists Include:

What is Mannerism?   Parmigianino Madonna dal Collo Lungo Madonna with Long Neck 635x1030

Parmigianino – Madonna dal Collo Lungo (Madonna with Long Neck)

Early Mannerism

The early Mannerists in Florence—especially the students of Andrea del Sarto: Jacopo da Pontormo and Rosso Fiorentino—are notable for elongated forms, precariously balanced poses, a collapsed perspective, irrational settings, and theatrical lighting. Parmigianino (a student of Correggio) and Giulio Romano (Raphael’s head assistant) were moving in similarly stylized aesthetic directions in Rome. These artists had matured under the influence of the High Renaissance, and their style has been characterized as a reaction or exaggerated extension of it. Instead of studying nature directly, younger artists began studying Hellenistic sculpture and paintings of masters past. Therefore, this style is often identified as “anti-classical”, yet at the time it was considered a natural progression from the High Renaissance. The earliest experimental phase of Mannerism, known for its “anti-classical” forms, lasted until about 1540 or 1550. Marcia B. Hall, professor of art history at Temple University, notes in her book After Raphael that Raphael’s premature death marked the beginning of Mannerism in Rome.

In past analyses, it has been noted that mannerism arose in the early 16th century contemporaneously with a number of other social, scientific, religious and political movements such as the Copernican model, the Sack of Rome, and the Protestant Reformation’s increasing challenge to the power of the Catholic Church. Because of this, the style’s elongated forms and distorted forms were once interpreted as a reaction to the idealized compositions prevalent in High Renaissance art. This explanation for the radical stylistic shift c. 1520 has fallen out of scholarly favor, though early Mannerist art is still sharply contrasted with High Renaissance conventions; the accessibility and balance achieved by Raphael’s School of Athens no longer seemed to interest young artists.

High Maniera

The second period of Mannerism is commonly differentiated from the earlier, so-called “anti-classical” phase. Subsequent mannerists stressed intellectual conceits and artistic virtuosity, features that have led later critics to accuse them of working in an unnatural and affected “manner” (maniera). Maniera artists looked to their older contemporary Michelangelo as their principal model; theirs was an art imitating art, rather than an art imitating nature. Freedberg argues that the intellectualizing aspect of maniera art involves expecting its audience to notice and appreciate this visual reference—a familiar figure in an unfamiliar setting enclosed between “unseen, but felt, quotation marks.”

The height of artifice is the Maniera painter’s penchant for deliberately misappropriating a quotation. Agnolo Bronzino and Giorgio Vasari exemplify this strain of Maniera that lasted from about 1530 to 1580. Based largely at courts and in intellectual circles around Europe, Maniera art couples exaggerated elegance with exquisite attention to surface and detail: porcelain-skinned figures recline in an even, tempered light, acknowledging the viewer with a cool glance, if they make eye contact at all. The Maniera subject rarely displays much emotion, and for this reason works exemplifying this trend are often called ‘cold’ or ‘aloof.’ This is typical of the so-called “stylish style” or Maniera in its maturity.

What is Mannerism?   Jacopo da Pontormo Joseph Being Sold to Potiphar

Jacopo da Pontormo – Joseph Being Sold to Potiphar

Spread of Mannerism

The cities Rome, Florence, and Mantua were Mannerist centers in Italy. Venetian painting pursued a different course, represented by Titian in his long career. A number of the earliest Mannerist artists who had been working in Rome during the 1520s fled the city after the Sack of Rome in 1527. As they spread out across the continent in search of employment, their style was disseminated throughout Italy and Northern Europe. The result was the first international artistic style since the Gothic. Other parts of Northern Europe did not have the advantage of such direct contact with Italian artists, but the Mannerist style made its presence felt through prints and illustrated books. European rulers, among others, purchased Italian works, while northern European artists continued to travel to Italy, helping to spread the Mannerist style. Individual Italian artists working in the North gave birth to a movement known as the Northern Mannerism. Francis I of France, for example, was presented with Bronzino’s Venus, Cupid, Folly and Time. The style waned in Italy after 1580, as a new generation of artists, including the Carracci brothers, Caravaggio and Cigoli, revived naturalism. Walter Friedlaender identified this period as “anti-mannerism”, just as the early mannerists were “anti-classical” in their reaction away from the aesthetic values of the High Renaissance.

What is Mannerism?   800px Fontainebleau escalier roi

Stucco overdoor at Fontainebleau, probably designed by Primaticcio, who painted the oval inset, 1530s or 1540s

Outside of Italy, however, Mannerism continued into the 17th century. In France, where Rosso traveled to work for the court at Fontainebleau, it is known as the “Henry II style” and had a particular impact on architecture. Other important continental centers of Northern Mannerism include the court of Rudolf II in Prague, as well as Haarlem and Antwerp. Mannerism as a stylistic category is less frequently applied to English visual and decorative arts, where native labels such as “Elizabethan” and “Jacobean” are more commonly applied. Seventeenth-century Artisan Mannerism is one exception, applied to architecture that relies on pattern books rather than on existing precedents in Continental Europe.
Of particular note is the Flemish influence at Fontainebleau that combined the eroticism of the French style with an early version of the vanitas tradition that would dominate seventeenth-century Dutch and Flemish painting. Prevalent at this time was the “pittore vago,” a description of painters from the north who entered the workshops in France and Italy to create a truly international style.

Mannerism in Sculpture

As in painting, early Italian Mannerist sculpture was very largely an attempt to find an original style that would top the achievement of the High Renaissance, which in sculpture essentially meant Michelangelo, and much of the struggle to achieve this was played out in commissions to fill other places in the Piazza della Signoria in Florence, next to Michelangelo’s David. Baccio Bandinelli took over the project of Hercules and Cacus from the master himself, but it was little more popular then than it is now, and maliciously compared by Benvenuto Cellini to “a sack of melons”, though it had a long-lasting effect in apparently introducing relief panels on the pedestal of statues. Like other works of his and other Mannerists it removes far more of the original block than Michelangelo would have done. Cellini’s bronze Perseus with the head of Medusa is certainly a masterpiece, designed with eight angles of view, another Mannerist characteristic, and artificially stylized in comparison with the Davids of Michelangelo and Donatello. Originally a goldsmith, his famous gold and enamel Salt Cellar (1543) was his first sculpture, and shows his talent at its best.

Small bronze figures for collector’s cabinets, often mythological subjects with nudes, were a popular Renaissance form at which Giambologna, originally Flemish but based in Florence, excelled in the later part of the century. He also created life-size sculptures, of which two entered the collection in the Piazza della Signoria. He and his followers devised elegant elongated examples of the figura serpentinata, often of two intertwined figures, that were interesting from all angles.

Mannerism in literature and music

In English literature, Mannerism is commonly identified with the qualities of the “Metaphysical” poets of whom the most famous is John Donne. The witty sally of a Baroque writer, John Dryden, against the verse of Donne in the previous generation, affords a concise contrast between Baroque and Mannerist aims in the arts: He affects the metaphysics, not only in his satires but in his amorous verses, where nature only should reign; and perplexes the minds of the fair sex with nice speculations of philosophy when he should engage their hearts and entertain them with the softnesses of love.

The rich musical possibilities in the poetry of the late 16th and early 17th centuries provided an attractive basis for the madrigal, which quickly rose to prominence as the pre-eminent musical form in Italian musical culture, as discussed by Tim Carter: The madrigal, particularly in its aristocratic guise, was obviously a vehicle for the ‘stylish style’ of Mannerism, with poets and musicians revelling in witty conceits and other visual, verbal and musical tricks to delight the connoisseur.

The word Mannerism has also been used to describe the style of highly florid and contrapuntally complex polyphonic music made in France in the late 14th century. This period is now usually referred to as the ars subtilior.

Mannerism and Theatre

The Early Commedia dell’Arte (1550–1621): The Mannerist Context by Paul Castagno discusses Mannerism’s effect on the contemporary professional theatre. Castagno’s was the first study to define a theatrical form as Mannerist, employing the vocabulary of Mannerism and maniera to discuss the typification, exaggerated, and effetto meraviglioso of the comici dell’arte. The study is largely iconographic, presenting a pictorial evidence that many of the artists who painted or printed commedia images were in fact, coming from the workshops of the day, heavily ensconced in the maniera tradition.

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Raphael Sanzio -The Three Graces

What is Classicism?

Classicism, in the arts, refers generally to a high regard for a classical period, classical antiquity in the Western tradition, as setting standards for taste which the classicists seek to emulate.

The art of classicism typically seeks to be formal and restrained: of the Discobolus Sir Kenneth Clark observed, “if we object to his restraint and compression we are simply objecting to the classicism of classic art. A violent emphasis or a sudden acceleration of rhythmic movement would have destroyed those qualities of balance and completeness through which it retained until the present century its position of authority in the restricted repertoire of visual images.” Classicism, as Clark noted, implies a canon of widely accepted ideal forms, whether in the Western canon that he was examining in The Nude (1956), or the literary Chinese classics or Chinese art, where the revival of classic styles is also recurring feature.

Classicism is a force which is often present in post-medieval European and European influenced traditions; however, some periods felt themselves more connected to the classical ideals than others, particularly the Age of Enlightenment.

Important Classicism Artists

General Term

Classicism is a specific genre of philosophy, expressing itself in literature, architecture, art, and music, which has Ancient Greek and Roman sources and an emphasis on society. It was particularly expressed in the Neoclassicism of the Age of Enlightenment.

What is Classicism?   Delivery of the Keys Perugino

Perugino – Delivery of the Keys

Classicism was a recurrent tendency in the Late Antique period, and had a major revival in Carolingian and Ottonian art. There was another, more durable revival in the Italian renaissance when the fall of Byzantium and rising trade with the Islamic cultures brought a flood of knowledge about, and from, the antiquity of Europe. Until that time the identification with antiquity had been seen as a continuous history of Christendom from the conversion of Roman Emperor Constantine I. Renaissance classicism introduced a host of elements into European culture, including the application of mathematics and empiricism into art, humanism, literary and depictive realism, and formalism. Importantly it also introduced Polytheism, or “paganism”, and the juxtaposition of ancient and modern.

The classicism of the Renaissance led to, and gave way to, a different sense of what was “classical” in the 16th and 17th centuries. In this period classicism took on more overtly structural overtones of orderliness, predictability, the use of geometry and grids, the importance of rigorous discipline and pedagogy, as well as the formation of schools of art and music. The court of Louis XIV was seen as the center of this form of classicism, with its references to the gods of Olympus as a symbolic prop for absolutism, its adherence to axiomatic and deductive reasoning, and its love of order and predictability.
This period sought the revival of classical art forms, including Greek drama and music. Opera, in its modern European form, had its roots in attempts to recreate the combination of singing and dancing with theatre thought to be the Greek norm. Examples of this appeal to classicism included Dante, Petrarch, and Shakespeare in poetry and theatre. Tudor drama, in particular, modeled itself after classical ideals and divided works into Tragedy and Comedy. Studying Ancient Greek became regarded as essential for a well-rounded education in the liberal arts.

What is Classicism?   Raphael Sanzio The Voyage of Galatea 797x1030

Raphael – Voyage of Galatea

The Renaissance also explicitly returned to architectural models and techniques associated with Greek and Roman antiquity, including the golden rectangle as a key proportion for buildings, the classical orders of columns, as well as a host of ornament and detail associated with Greek and Roman architecture. They also began reviving plastic arts such as bronze casting for sculpture, and used the classical naturalism as the foundation of drawing, painting and sculpture.

The Age of Enlightenment identified itself with a vision of antiquity which, while continuous with the classicism of the previous century, was shaken by the physics of Sir Isaac Newton, the improvements in machinery and measurement, and a sense of liberation which they saw as being present in the Greek civilization, particularly in its struggles against the Persian Empire. The ornate, organic, and complexly integrated forms of the baroque were to give way to a series of movements that regarded themselves expressly as “classical” or “neo-classical”, or would rapidly be labelled as such. For example the painting of Jacques-Louis David which was seen as an attempt to return to formal balance, clarity, manliness, and vigor in art.

The 19th century saw the classical age as being the precursor of academicism, including such movements as uniformitarianism in the sciences, and the creation of rigorous categories in artistic fields. Various movements of the romantic period saw themselves as classical revolts against a prevailing trend of emotionalism and irregularity, for example the Pre-Raphaelites. By this point classicism was old enough that previous classical movements received revivals; for example, the Renaissance was seen as a means to combine the organic medieval with the orderly classical. The 19th century continued or extended many classical programs in the sciences, most notably the Newtonian program to account for the movement of energy between bodies by means of exchange of mechanical and thermal energy.

The 20th century saw a number of changes in the arts and sciences. Classicism was used both by those who rejected, or saw as temporary, transfigurations in the political, scientific, and social world and by those who embraced the changes as a means to overthrow the perceived weight of the 19th century. Thus, both pre-20th century disciplines were labelled “classical” and modern movements in art which saw themselves as aligned with light, space, sparseness of texture, and formal coherence.

In the present day philosophy classicism is used as a term particularly in relation to Apollonian over Dionysian impulses in society and art; that is a preference for rationality, or at least rationally guided catharsis, over emotionalism.

Classicism in the Theatre

Classicism in the theatre was developed by 17th century French playwrights from what they judged to be the rules of Greek classical theatre, including the “Classical unities” of time, place and action, found in the Poetics of Aristotle.

  • Unity of time referred to the need for the entire action of the play to take place in a fictional 24-hour period
  • Unity of place meant that the action should unfold in a single location
  • Unity of action meant that the play should be constructed around a single ‘plot-line’, such as a tragic love affair or a conflict between honour and duty.

Examples of classicist playwrights are Pierre Corneille, Jean Racine and Moliere. In the period of Romanticism, Shakespeare, who conformed to none of the classical rules, became the focus of French argument over them, in which the Romantics eventually triumphed; Victor Hugo was among the first French playwrights to break these conventions.

The influence of these French rules on playwrights in other nations is debatable. In the English theatre, Restoration playwrights such as William Wycherly and William Congreve would have been familiar with them. William Shakespeare and his contemporaries did not follow this Classicist philosophy, in particular since they were not French and also because they wrote several decades prior to their establishment. Those of Shakespeare’s plays that seem to display the unities, such as The Tempest, probably indicate a familiarity with actual models from classical antiquity.

Classicism in Architecture

Classicism in architecture developed during the Italian Renaissance, notably in the writings and designs of Leon Battista Alberti and the work of Filippo Brunelleschi. It places emphasis on symmetry, proportion, geometry and the regularity of parts as they are demonstrated in the architecture of Classical antiquity and in particular, the architecture of Ancient Rome, of which many examples remained.

Orderly arrangements of columns, pilasters and lintels, as well as the use of semicircular arches, hemispherical domes, niches and aedicules replaced the more complex proportional systems and irregular profiles of medieval buildings. This style quickly spread to other Italian cities and then to France, Germany, England, Russia and elsewhere.

In the 16th century, Sebastiano Serlio helped codify the classical orders and Palladio’s legacy evolved into the long tradition of Palladian architecture. Building off of these influences, the 17th-century architects Inigo Jones and Christopher Wren firmly established classicism in England.

Classicism in Fine Arts

Italian Renaissance painting and sculpture are marked by their renewal of classical forms, motifs and subjects. In the 15th century Leon Battista Alberti was important in theorizing many of the ideas for painting that came to a fully realised product with Raphael’s School of Athens during the High Renaissance.

The themes continued largely unbroken into the 17th century, when artists such as Nicolas Poussin and Charles Le Brun represented of the more rigid classicism. Like Italian classicizing ideas in the 15th and 16th centuries, it spread through Europe in the mid to late 17th century.

What is Classicism?   Nicolas Poussin The Triumph of Neptune

Nicolas Poussin – The Triumph of Neptune (Neoclassicism Painting)

Later classicism in painting and sculpture from the mid-18th and 19th centuries is generally referred to as Neoclassicism.

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Detail of the Annunciation (1333) by the Sienese Simone Martini at Uffizi.

What is the International Gothic (or Gothicism)?

International Gothic is a phase of Gothic art which developed in Burgundy, Bohemia, France and northern Italy in the late 14th century and early 15th century. It then spread very widely across Western Europe, hence the name for the period, which was introduced by the French art historian Louis Courajod at the end of the 19th century.

What is the International Gothic (or Gothicism)?   The Garden of Eden from the Très Riches Heures du Duc de Berry by the Limbourg Brothers 1410s

The Garden of Eden from the Très Riches Heures du Duc de Berry by the Limbourg Brothers (1410s)

In this period, artists and portable works such as illuminated manuscripts traveled widely around the continent, creating a common aesthetic among the royalty and higher nobility and considerably reducing the variation in national styles among works produced for the courtly elites. The main influences were northern France, the Duchy of Burgundy, the Imperial court in Prague, and Italy. Royal marriages such as that between Richard II of England and Anne of Bohemia also helped to spread the style.

It was initially a style of courtly sophistication, but somewhat more robust versions spread to art commissioned by the emerging mercantile classes and the smaller nobility. In Northern Europe “Late Gothic” continuations of the style, especially in its decorative elements, could still be found until the early 16th century, as no alternative decorative vocabulary emerged to replace it before Renaissance Classicism. Usage of the terms by art historians varies somewhat, with some using the term more restrictively than others.

Some art historians feel the term is “in many ways … not very helpful.. since it tends to skate over both differences and details of transmission.”

What is the International Gothic (or Gothicism)?   The Flight into Egypt by Lorenzo Monaco c.1405

The Flight into Egypt by Lorenzo Monaco (c.1405)

The important Bohemian version of the style developed in the court of Charles IV, Holy Roman Emperor in Prague, which for a brief period became a leading force in the development of European art. Charles came from the Luxembourg dynasty, was tutored by the future Pope Clement VI, and as a youth spent seven years at the French court, as well as visiting Italy twice. This and family relationships gave him intimate links with the various courts of France, including that of the Avignon Papacy, and from 1363 the separate Valois Duchy of Burgundy under Philip the Bold. The Bohemian style initially lacked the elongated figures of other centres, but had a richness and sweetness in female figures that were very influential. Charles had at least one Italian altarpiece, apparently made in Italy and sent to Prague, near where it remains today in his showpiece Karlštejn Castle. For St. Vitus Cathedral in Prague, he first used a French architect, and then the German Peter Parler.

Much of the development of the style occurred in Italy, and it probably spread north of the Alps to influence France partly through the colony of Italian artists attached to the Papal Court at Avignon, and the works displayed from the residence there in the 1330s and 1340s of Simone Martini, a Sienese precursor of the style. Republican Siena had a large influence on the development of the style, but kept to its own dignified Gothic style throughout the period, and afterwards, while the flamboyant Visconti court at Milan, also closely related to the French royal family, was the most important Italian centre of the courtly style.As the style developed in Northern Europe, Italian artists were in turn influenced by it.

In painting and sculpture, the style is sometimes known in German as the “Schöne Stil” or “Weicher Stil” (“Beautiful style” or “Soft style”). Stylistic features are a dignified elegance, which replaces monumentality, along with rich decorative colouring, elongated figures and flowing lines. It also makes a more practised use of perspective, modelling, and setting. Figures begin to be given more space in their settings, and interest is taken in realistically depicted plants and animals.

In some works, above all the famous calendar scenes of the Très Riches Heures du Duc de Berry, the beginnings of real landscape painting are seen. Decoration became increasingly ornate as the style developed in Northern Europe, whereas in Italy the increased sophistication of figure painting was absorbed into Early Renaissance painting.

What is the International Gothic (or Gothicism)?   Gentile da Fabrianos Adoration of the Magi 1423–5

Gentile da Fabriano’s Adoration of the Magi (1423–5)

In sculpture the leading Italian artists remained closer to classicism, and were less affected by the movement; Lorenzo Ghiberti is in many respects close to the style, but already seems infused with Early Renaissance classicism. Claus Sluter was the leading sculptor in Burgundy, and was one artist able to use the style with a strongly monumental effect.

Most sculptors are unknown, and the style tended to survive longer in Northern sculpture than painting, as the detailed realism of Early Netherlandish painting was harder to translate into sculpture. Smaller painted wood figures, most often of the Madonna, were significant, and being relatively portable, probably helped to disseminate the style across Europe.

Notable artists included:

  • Fra Angelico (1395 – 1455)
  • Jacopo di Cione (1362 – 1398)
  • The Limbourg brothers (all dead by 1416)
  • Giovani Dei Grassi
  • Gentile De Fabriano (1385 – 1427)
  • Lorenzo Monaco (1370 – 1423)
  • Antonio Pisano or Pisanello 1395 – 1455)

Illuminated manuscripts remained important vehicles of the style, and in works like the Sherborne Missal were the main English contribution, apart from the stained glass of John Thornton in York Minster and of Thomas Glazier in Oxford and elsewhere. Nottingham alabaster carvings, produced in considerable quantities by workshops to standard patterns, were exported all over Western Europe to value-conscious parish churches. The Hours of Gian Galeazzo Visconti from Milan was a key work, as was the Wenceslas Bible (with the text in German) of Charles IV’s son. Both, like the Sherborne Missal, are marked by extravagantly decorated borders. John, Duke of Berry, son and brother of French kings, was the most extravagant commissioner of manuscripts, and the main employer of the Limbourg Brothers and Jacquemart de Hesdin, as well as using many other artists. Other large-scale collectors included Wenceslas, the son of Charles IV, John of Lancaster, 1st Duke of Bedford, son of Henry IV of England and “Regent” of English-occupied France, and the Dukes of Burgundy. In the fifteenth century the cities of Flanders, especially Bruges, came to outstrip Paris as a centre of both manuscript illumination and panel painting.

In a period lasting approximately between 1390 and 1420 there was a particularly close correspondence between works produced far apart in Europe. In the north the miniatures of the Très Riches Heures Limbourg brothers, in Italy the Adoration of the Magi of Lorenzo Monaco, and sculpture and miniatures in many countries show very stylised tall figures, the older men with imposingly long beards and swaying figures. Exotic clothes, based loosely on those of the contemporary Middle East or Byzantine Empire, are worn by figures in biblical scenes; many figures seem to be included just to show off these costumes. The number of figures in many standard religious scenes is greatly increased; the Magi have large retinues, and the Crucifixion often becomes a crowded event. This innovation was to survive the style itself.

The unveiling of Gentile da Fabriano’s Adoration of the Magi (below) in Florence in 1423, “the culminating work of International Gothic painting”, was almost immediately followed by the painting of the Brancacci Chapel by Masolino and Masaccio (1424–26), which was recognised as a breakthrough to a new style.

What is the International Gothic (or Gothicism)?   Detail of the Annunciation 1333 by the Sienese Simone Martini at Uffizi.

Detail of the Annunciation (1333) by the Sienese Simone Martini at Uffizi.

In similar fashion the Limbourg brothers’ masterpiece the Très Riches Heures du Duc de Berry was followed within a few years by the Turin-Milan Hours, a continuation of a manuscript started decades before by the Parement Master for the Duke of Berry, which despite a Gothic framework pioneered a very different style of painting. But outside Florence and the leading courts the International Gothic still held sway, gradually developing in directions that once again diverged considerably between Italy and Europe north of the Alps.

What is the International Gothic (or Gothicism)?   Adoration of the Magi by Conrad von Soest ca.1420

Adoration of the Magi by Conrad von Soest (ca.1420)

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Piet Mondrian, Composition No. 10, 1939-42, oil on canvas, 80 x 73 cm, private collection.

History of Modern Art: Minimalism

Minimalism describes movements in various forms of art and design, especially visual art and music, where the work is set out to expose the essence or identity of a subject through eliminating all non-essential forms, features or concepts. Minimalism is any design or style in which the simplest and fewest elements are used to create the maximum effect.

As a specific movement in the arts it is identified with developments in post–World War II Western Art, most strongly with American visual arts in the 1960s and early 1970s. Prominent artists associated with this movement include Donald Judd, John McCracken, Agnes Martin, Dan Flavin, Robert Morris, Anne Truitt, and Frank Stella. It is rooted in the reductive aspects of Modernism, and is often interpreted as a reaction against Abstract expressionism and a bridge to Postminimal art practices.

The Robe Following Her # 4', oil on canvas painting by Jim Dine, 1984-5

History of Modern Art: Pop Art

Hello everyone, today in our History of Modern Art series we’ll review the pop art movement!

Pop art is an art movement that emerged in the mid 1950s in Britain and in the late 1950s in the United States. Pop art presented a challenge to traditions of fine art by including imagery from popular culture such as advertising, news, etc. In Pop art, material is sometimes visually removed from its known context, isolated, and/or combined with unrelated material. The concept of pop art refers not as much to the art itself as to the attitudes that led to it.

History of Modern Art: Pop Art   The Robe Following Her 4 oil on canvas painting by Jim Dine 1984 5

The Robe Following Her # 4′, oil on canvas painting by Jim Dine, 1984-5

Pop art employs aspects of mass culture, such as advertising, comic books and mundane cultural objects. It is widely interpreted as a reaction to the then-dominant ideas of abstract expressionism, as well as an expansion upon them. And due to its utilization of found objects and images it is similar to Dada. Pop art is aimed to employ images of popular as opposed to elitist culture in art, emphasizing the banal or kitschy elements of any given culture, most often through the use of irony. It is also associated with the artists’ use of mechanical means of reproduction or rendering techniques.

Much of pop art is considered incongruent, as the conceptual practices that are often used make it difficult for some to readily comprehend. Pop art and minimalism are considered to be art movements that precede postmodern art, or are some of the earliest examples of Post-modern Art themselves.

Pop art often takes as its imagery that which is currently in use in advertising. Product labeling and logos figure prominently in the imagery chosen by pop artists, like in the Campbell’s Soup Cans labels, by Andy Warhol. Even the labeling on the shipping box containing retail items has been used as subject matter in pop art, for example in Warhol’s Campbell’s Tomato Juice Box 1964, or his Brillo Soap Box sculptures.

tribal art

Western Painting – Tribal Art, Native Art from the West

Tribal Art is the objects and artifacts made by the tribes in the rural areas, for religious reasons rather than as an example of artistry. Its numerous uses differ from tribe to tribe. They could be used to decorate objects of daily use or can even be used for spiritual ceremonial functions. Very often tribes are isolated from civilisations, with no tradition of literacy. Hence, art is a good way to demonstrate and preserve tribal traditions, mythology, and history. In the Western Art scene, the most widely known Tribal Art categories are from the tribes of the remote areas of Central and South America. While the primary influence on Tribal Art is the geography and the climate of a region, the social and religious needs of a tribe and the availability of resources are also other important factors determining its evolution and proliferation. Because there is no access to technology, the artisans use hand-tools made of materials, like stone, wood, tusks, bones, skin of animals, dyes made from minerals, baskets woven with natural grasses, pottery made of clay, and sand for painting etc. The designs and symbols used represent favourable weather, good crops, successful hunting, illness cures, and other common experiences of the tribe. The images of dream and supernatural visions constitute the most creative works of Tribal Art. Since the tribes are isolated from the outside world, tribal art is unchanging in style. The tribes usually sustain themselves on the internal trade exchanges among the tribes.

Genres of Tribal Art

Inuit - It refers to the culturally similar group, residing in the Arctic region of Canada, Greenland, Russia, and the United States. The art forms here are from ivory & bone sculptures and figurative works on soft stones, such as soapstone & argillite.  The usual subjects are hunting, whaling, and other everyday activities.

Navajo Folk Art – Is the Tribal Art from Bluff town in Utah, US. With considerable exposure to the civilized world, this art form has diverse interesting creations, such as vibrantly painted wooden chicken, cowboy riding buffaloes, dog in business suit, etc. Horsehair, wool, and leather are mainly used. The Navajo pictorial rugs, pottery, and sand paintings are famous all over the world.

Hopi Tribe - resides in the high desert plateaus of North Arizona. Art is inherent in this deeply religious tribe, including hand woven kilts & sashes, baskets & pottery, jewellery, Katsina carvings, and Kachina dolls, & toys for children.

Iroquois Confederacy Homelands - They are in the upstate New York and across the border into Canada. They have a culture rich in tradition and history. Their motifs include   animals, sun, moon, and other natural elements. The various art forms of this tribe include basket weaving, beadwork, pottery, cornhusk artifacts, stonework, woodwork, and metal carving etc.

The uniqueness of each form of Tribal Art stems from the history and culture of the respective tribe. The recognition of tribes by the Federal Government along with the rights granted to the civilized world to interact with tribes had a major impact on Tribal Art and culture, giving way to Contemporary Tribal Art. Tribal artefacts are found in museums and souvenir stores all over the world.

Featured Image: Provided by Author – source captivedecals.com

Article by James Vasanth

James Vasanth writes a blog on Scottsdale Art Auction, about Western Arts, Fine arts and connecting the dots between online and offline.

 

Willem-De-Kooning-Woman-V-1952–1953.

History of Modern Art: Abstract Expressionism

Hello folks! Welcome to our weekly series on the history of modern art! Today on review is the abstract expressionism movement.

History of Modern Art: Abstract Expressionism   Hans Hofmann The Gate 1959–1960.

Hans Hofmann The Gate, 1959–1960.

Abstract expressionism was an American post–World War II art movement. It was the first specifically American movement to achieve international influence and put New York City at the center of the western art world, a role formerly filled by Paris. Although the term “abstract expressionism” was first applied to American art in 1946 by the art critic Robert Coates, it had been first used in Germany in 1919 in the magazine Der Sturm, regarding German Expressionism. In the United States, Alfred Barr was the first to use this term in 1929 in relation to works by Wassily Kandinsky.

Technically, an important predecessor is surrealism, with its emphasis on spontaneous, automatic or subconscious creation. Jackson Pollock’s dripping paint onto a canvas laid on the floor is a technique that has its roots in the work of André Masson, Max Ernst and David Alfaro Siqueiros. Another important early manifestation of what came to be abstract expressionism is the work of American Northwest artist Mark Tobey, especially his “white writing” canvases, which, though generally not large in scale, anticipate the “all-over” look of Pollock’s drip paintings.

The movement’s name is derived from the combination of the emotional intensity and self-denial of the German Expressionists with the anti-figurative aesthetic of the European abstract schools such as Futurism, the Bauhaus and Synthetic Cubism. Additionally, it has an image of being rebellious, anarchic, highly idiosyncratic and, some feel, nihilistic.

In practice, the term is applied to any number of artists working (mostly) in New York who had quite different styles and even to work that is neither especially abstract nor expressionist. California Abstract Expressionist Jay Meuser, who typically painted in the non-objective style, wrote about his painting Mare Nostrum, “It is far better to capture the glorious spirit of the sea than to paint all of its tiny ripples.” Pollock’s energetic “action paintings”, with their “busy” feel, are different, both technically and aesthetically, from the violent and grotesque Women series of Willem de Kooning’s figurative paintings and the rectangles of color in Mark Rothko’s Color Field paintings (which are not what would usually be called expressionist and which Rothko denied were abstract). Yet all four artists are classified as abstract expressionists.