10. Neo-classicists and Romantics

Partly as a reaction to the capricious artificiality of the Rococo, there emerged in the arts from the mid-eighteenth century a growing trend for imitating the austere forms of the classical world. The vogue for Greek pottery grew steadily, and from 1748 there began to be startling archaeological discoveries in Herculaneum and Pompeii which revealed the true forms of classical painting and sculpture.

Under the influence of the esthetic theories of Winkelmann and others, grandeur, balance and sobriety came to be considered the essential artistic virtues. Perhaps the supreme Neo-classical painters were David, Gros and Ingres in France, alternating mythological subjects with classicized contemporary ones, and capable of depicting the political figures of their day - Robespierre, Bonaparte - as Roman emperors.

As is evident from certain films in the last section (eg The Hand of Adam) Neo-classicism also manifested itself in architecture, frequently mingled with Baroque and Rococco traits. In particular there were Palladian country houses and their landscape gardens, in which nature was subtly 'improved' and harmonized into Italianate order, often featuring classical style temples, grottos, and antique or pseudo-antique statuary.

Though developing almost simultaneously with Neo-classicism, and at times shading imperceptibly into it (as in the work of Géricault), the Romantic movement contrasts with it in seeking to liberate the inner passions of the individual, rather than to impose order and rationality. The dawn of the nineteenth century, with its political revolts and the social disorientations of the Industrial Revolution, provides the tumultuous backdrop for the energetic and sometimes propagandist art of Delacroix and Géricault in France, for Blake's forceful mysticism in England, and for Friedrich's desolate spirituality in Germany. Where Neo-classicists celebrated social order, the Romantics sang the supremacy of the individual struggling to be liberated from, rather than lost without, ordered beliefs and customs. Thus they anticipate many of the concerns of Modernist and Expressionist artists.