Neoclassicism, a genre that spanned from the late 18th to the early 19th century, yielded art and architecture that drew inspiration from classical forms and motifs. In stark contrast to the dynamism and elaborate compositions of the Rococo and Baroque styles, Neoclassicism demonstrated a yearning for the simplicity, symmetry, and idealism of works from Greek and Roman antiquity.
A focus on idealism—a philosophy which, when applied to the fine arts, emphasized the use of imagination and attempt to realize a mental conception of beauty—defined this era. Artists drew heavily upon classical shapes and materials, but tended to avoid the potentially stuffy and cold features of the past by focusing on harmony, simplicity, and proportion of shapes, materials, and colors.
What is the Difference Between Classicism and Neoclassicism?
Classicism and Neoclassicism both draw an aesthetic sensibility from the art and architecture of ancient Greece and Rome, but their disparate time periods serve as the greatest distinction between the two. While classical art refers to art produced during the height of Greek and Roman antiquity, Neoclassical art—though heavily inspired by classicism—happened later. As a result, the terms are often used interchangeably, but it’s important to note the differences.
There are a few distinctions in terms of theoretical ideas as well. Much of classicism is based on the search for theoretical perfection, before a work is overly manipulated to the point of extravagance. It was thought that such high drama served to diminish the piece’s original purpose or meaning, as felt by the previous Rococo and Baroque periods. Neoclassicism focused more on an appreciation and fascination with antiquity rather than embracing it as a way of modern life.