Skip to main content Skip to Search Box

Definition: neoclassicism from The Macquarie Dictionary

a late 18th- and early 19th-century revivalist art and architectural style, deriving directly from classical models.

Summary Article: neoclassicism
From The Hutchinson Unabridged Encyclopedia with Atlas and Weather Guide

Movement in art, architecture, and design in Europe and North America about 1750–1850, characterized by a revival of classical Greek and Roman styles. Leading figures of the movement were the architects Claude-Nicolas Ledoux and Robert Adam; the painters Jacques-Louis David, Jean Ingres, and Anton Mengs; the sculptors Antonio Canova, John Flaxman, Bertel Thorvaldsen, and Johann Sergel; and the designers Josiah Wedgwood, George Hepplewhite, and Thomas Sheraton.

Neoclassicism replaced the rococo style and was inspired by the excavation of the Roman towns of Pompeii and Herculaneum, which began in 1748. Also influential were the cultural studies and theories of the German art historian Johann J Winckelmann (which revived Greek styles). Winckelmann identified the most important elements of classical art as being ‘noble simplicity and calm grandeur’. Neoclassical artists sought to capture these qualities by copying classical styles and subject matter (mainly by using columns, pediments, friezes, and ornamental motifs). They took themes from Homer and Plutarch and were influenced by John Flaxman's simple linear illustrations for the Iliad and Odyssey.

The greatest neoclassical painter was Jacques-Louis David, whose Oath of the Horatii (1784) in the Louvre, Paris, became a model example for movement, combining idealism, Stoicism, and simplicity, The British painters Angelica Kauffman and Frederic Leighton and sculptors Thomas Banks and John Gibson were also inspired by the neoclassical movement.

In architecture the visionary designs of Giovanni Piranesi and Étienne Louis Boullée were influential, though little of their work was completed. Other important neoclassicists were the British architects John Soane, Charles Cockerell, James Gibbs, William Playfair, Charles Barry, and Thomas Hamilton (1784–1858).

© RM, 2018. All rights reserved.

Related Articles

Full text Article neoclassicism
Blackwell Companions to Literature and Culture: A Companion to the Enlightenment

Although characterized in part by a dramatic revival of various aspects of classical antiquity, this movement, which came to dominate European art an

Full text Article Neoclassicism
The Bloomsbury Guide to Art

A term used to describe the 18th-century interest in Greek and Roman civilisation and the culture of rationality and morality associated with...

Full text Article neoclassicism
The Macmillan Encyclopedia

1. In art and architecture, a style dominant in Europe from the late 18th to mid-19th centuries. Originating in Rome in about 1750, it...

See more from Credo