The Style of Neoclassicism

As its name implies, Neoclassicism focused on bringing together the old and the new. It celebrated the artistic designs of Ancient Rome and Ancient Greece, but its artists strove to give new form to this classical inspiration. Unlike the exuberance and exploratory themes of the Renaissance, Neoclassicism typically had themes of order, reason, and restraint.

The History of Neoclassicism

The beginning of the 18th century marked the start of the era known as the Age of Enlightenment. During this time, scholars and scientists promoted changes in society through a focus on reason rather than tradition. Gathering facts through the scientific method and engaging in philosophical discussions were just two ways intellectual thinking was fostered.

This focus on Western philosophy and science meant that many scholars began to look back to the philosophers of the ancient world such as Plato and Aristotle. This influenced much of the literature of the era, and this influence even made its way into the art world in the form of Neoclassicism.

The simplicity and restraint of Neoclassicism contrasted with the lavishness of Rococo and the adventurousness of Romanticism. Artists and sculptors were insistent on realism and traditional styles that imitated those of the Ancients.

Famous Examples of Neoclassicism

Because neoclassical painters didn’t have a lot of classical examples of Ancient Greek or Roman paintings to draw inspiration from, they weren’t very prolific. Some of the most famous Neoclassical paintings were actually drawn in the beginning of the 19th century, such as Jacques-Louis David’s The Coronation of Napoleon and The Emperor Napoleon in His Study at the Tuileries. It’s not too surprising that Napoleon is the main subject of David’s paintings, considering he was Napoleon’s official painter.

One of the most famous sculptors of the age was Jean-Antoine Houdon. His skills were so renowned that he even traveled to the United States to create busts of historic figures like George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, and Ben Franklin.