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Differences between Neoclassicism and Romanticism

Differences between Neoclassicism and Romanticism

The neoclassical and romantic eras in art history are typically viewed as polar opposites. However, there are many similarities between these two movements as well as key distinctions. In this blog post, we will explore the differences between neoclassicism and romanticism, with a special focus on the ways in which these styles developed in response to each other.

What is Neoclassicism?

Neoclassicism is a movement in the arts that began in the late 18th century. Neoclassical artists sought to revive the principles of Greek and Roman art, which they believed to be more harmonious and rational than the Rococo style which was then in vogue.

Neoclassical artists often depicted scenes from classical mythology or history, and their work is characterized by its clarity, elegance, and props. Some of the most famous Neoclassical artists include Jacques-Louis David, Jean-Honoré Fragonard, and Antonio Canova. Neoclassicism remained a dominant force in the arts until the mid-19th century when it was supplanted by Romanticism.

What is Romanticism?

Romanticism was an intellectual movement that began in the late 18th century. It emphasized individualism, emotion, and nature. Romantic thinkers believed that human beings could be connected to nature and that they could find truth through their feelings.

  • They also believed in the power of the individual imagination and often used symbols and myths in their writings. Romanticism had a strong influence on many areas of culture, including literature, art, music, and politics.
  • In the United States, Romanticism is often associated with Transcendentalism, a philosophical movement that emerged in the early 19th century. Transcendentalists believed in the power of intuition and self-reliance.
  • They also held a deep respect for nature and saw it as a source of inspiration and wisdom. Like Romantics, they believed that each person has access to truth through their own inner experience. Romanticism and Transcendentalism were both very influential movements in the United States, and their ideas continue to shape American culture.

Differences between Neoclassicism and Romanticism

Neoclassicism and Romanticism are two competing styles in art and literature that emerged in the late 18th century. Neoclassicism prioritize order, calm, balance, hierarchy, and reason, while Romanticism exalted the individual, emotions, nature, and imagination.

  • Neoclassical artists sought to revive the idealized art of ancient Greece and Rome, while Romantics looked to nature and folk traditions for inspiration.
  • Neoclassicism dominated the art world for much of the 19th century, but Romanticism began to gain favor in the early 1800s as a reaction against the rigid conventions of Neoclassicism.
  • Neoclassicism relies heavily on symmetry and formal compositions, while Romanticism is characterized by irregularity and asymmetry. Neoclassical artists often depict heroic or imaginary scenes with idealized figures, while Romantics prefer to portray real people in everyday situations. Neoclassicism reached its peak in the late 18th century, while Romanticism continued to grow in popularity throughout the 19th century.


As we’ve seen, neoclassicism and romanticism are two very different movements in the history of art. While neoclassicism favored order, discipline, and rationality, romanticism championed emotion, intuition, and freedom. It’s important to understand these differences when studying art history so that you can place works within their proper context.

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