Cambridge Encyclopedia » Cambridge Encyclopedia Vol. 53

Neoclassicism (art and architecture) - Neoclassicism in architecture and in the decorative and visual arts, Covert neoclassicism in Modern styles

A classical revival affecting all the visual arts, including architecture and the decorative arts, which flourished from c.1750 onwards, lasting well into the 19th-c. A reaction against the decorous excesses of Baroque and the ‘frivolity’ of Rococo, it began in Rome, but spread throughout W Europe and North America. Partly inspired by the excavations at Pompeii, Herculaneum, and Paestum, it received its theoretical underpinning from Winckelmann, whose essay on the ‘noble simplicity and calm grandeur’ of Greek art (1755) was followed by a pioneering history of antique art (1764). In painting, the style reached its peak in the powerful and dramatic works of David (eg ‘Oath of the Horatii’, 1784, Louvre), while the rather frigid side of Neoclassicism is well exemplified by the sculpture of Canova. In architecture, theorists proposed a reasoned approach based on the ‘primitive hut’ and clear structural principles. The buildings are usually characterized by pure geometric form, restrained decoration, unbroken contours, an overall severe appearance, and sometimes monumental proportions. The chief exponents were Etienne Louis Boullée and Claude Nicolas Ledoux in France, and John Soane in England.

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