Neoclassicism and the Enlightenment
The Enlightenment was a time of great innovation and evolution. One of
the most significant movements which owes at least the majority of its
beginnings to the Enlightenment is the architectural and artistic
movement of Neoclassicism. This Neoclassicism of the mid eighteenth to
mid nineteenth centuries is one that valued ancient Greek, Roman, and
Etruscan artistic ideals.
These ideals, including order, symmetry, and balance, were considered
by many European generations to be the highest point of artistic
excellence. Although many movements in European art were largely
devoid of classical characteristics, they were always looked to as
sources of inspiration and were revived as significant movements at
least three times throughout European history, in the twelfth century,
during the Renaissance, and during the age of the present topic, the
Enlightenment, with its development of Neoclassicism.
There are several events and movements within the Enlightenment that
contributed to the rise of Neoclassicism. The expansion, evolution,
and redefinition of the European standard classical education was one
of the greatest causes, as well was the then recent archeological
discoveries of Pompeii and Herculaneum. The rise in commissioned art
and architecture and the refinement of art scholarship also gave rise
to this movement. Finally, the general reaction to the exorbitant
styles of Baroque and Rococo necessitated a return to the more orderly
ideals of antiquity.
The Neoclassical movement, for the purposes of this paper, can be
defined as the movement that, from 1750 to 1830, looked back to the
Greek and Roman artists, philosophers, and ideals as the highest point
in artistic achievement and then attempted to combine antiquity's
feelings of solidarity and harmony with new designs to create a
vibrant and exciting, yet distinguished and restrained art form. From
the "rustic hut" to Doric to Corinthian the art of the ancients was
seen as a perfect blend of "order, symmetry, and simplicity of style."
This is what the artists and architects of France, England, and Italy
sought to integrate into their art.
One of the earliest causes for the rise of Neoclassicism is the
reaction by many Enlightenment thinkers to Rococo and Baroque art. The
Baroque was too busy and ornamental for many people and once it
evolved into Rococo it had become less of a style and more of a
display of extravagance. Rococo had even gone so far as to include
farce and jokes into its style. The pettiness of these movements had
created a backlash and these thinkers and art critics welcomed the
harsher and more ordered Neoclassical style as they began to swing the
art pendulum in the opposite direction.
One of the primary causes in the rise of Neoclassicism in the
mid-eighteenth century was the expansion of what was previously called
a classical education. By 1750 Italian tourism was already a full