Neoclassicism & Romanticism


Neoclassicism, 1780s:

Neoclassical pieces generally portrayed Roman history; they elevated Roman heroes. During the 1780s was an Age of Reason and through its history paintings, its works were modes for conveying the Enlightenment ideals. Many of the pieces, like the Oath of the Horatii, are reactions to the revolutions of their time. This piece is a call to arms, which shows that man is great and can be in control. Pieces during the Neoclassical time show a heightened contemplative moment like the one in this piece.

-brought back and depicted Roman history
-formal composition
-the use of diagonals shows the apex of emotion/moment (versus a regular moment)
-local color
-overall lighting
-classic geo-structure
-completed canvas

Romanticism, 1800s-1810s:

Unlike Neoclassicism, Romanticism was during the Age of Passion; there was no time for contemplation, so pieces generally showed emotional extremes. Romanticism is a reaction to the classical, contemplative nature of Neoclassical pieces. Romanticism celebrated the elemental forces of nature, depicting nature as out of control. When the uncontrollable nature is compared to life, it makes people think life should be uncontrollable; life should be continuously on the edge.

-shows the height of action
-emotional extremes
-celebrated nature as out of control
-dramatic compositions
-heightened sensation (life and death moments)



















Neoclassicism in France:

Adéläide Labille-Guiard, Self-Portrait with Two Pupils, 1785
Jacques Louis-David, Oath of the Horatii, 1784-1785
Angelica Kauffmann, Cornelia Pointing to her Children as Her Treasures, 1785


Antoine-Jean Gros, Napoleon in the Plague House at Jaffa, 1804
Jean-Auguste Dominique Ingres, Large Odalisque, 1814


Adéläide Labille-Guiard, Self-Portrait with Two Pupils, 1785, Oil on Canvas

-pastel colors, delicately curving forms, dainty figures and a light-hearted mood
-French portrait painting before the French Revolution of 1789, like this piece, may be characterized as a modified form of Rococo; elegant informality continued to be featured, but new themes were introduced, figures tended to be larger and more robust and compositional arrangements were more stable
-Labille-Guiard was elected to one of the four places in the French Academy available to women and later successfully petitioned to end the restriction on women
-this work is often seen as a propaganda piece that argues for the place of women in the Academy
-the monumental image of the artist at her easel was meant to eradicate any rumors that men painted her works and the works of other female artists; for example, in a role reversal, the only male in her work is her muse – her father, whose bust is behind her
-the self-portrait flatters the painter’s conventional feminine charms in a manner generally consistent with the Rococo tradition; she has a more monumental female type, in keeping with her conception of women as important contributors to national life, which is an Enlightenment aspiration; the triangular arrangement of the figures adds to this effect
-the work also shows a rich palette and fine detail
-the artist’s fashionable dress asserts her femininity; the presence of her pupils and the statue of the Vestal Virgin in the background emphasize the feminist mood (and show that women can and should be teachers) – in ancient Rome, the Vestal virgins were the holy priestesses of Vesta, the goddess of the hearth; their primary task was to maintain the sacred fire of Vesta – the Vestal duty brought great honor and afforded greater privileges to women who served in that role

Jacques Louis-David, Oath of the Horatii, 1784-1785, Oil on Canvas

-royal commission
-reflects the taste and values of Louis XVI who was sympathetic to the Enlightenment
-following Diderot’s lead, the king believed art should improve public morals
-the painting was inspired by the seventeenth century drama Horace – Roman history = Rome v. Alba (sons of Horace fight for Rome)
-in the painting, the Horatii (three sons of Horace) are shown with their father, pledging an oath to the State
-in contrast to the upright muscular angularity of the men is a group of limp weeping women and frightened children – sad due to probability of death, but also because of the women’s involvement with the enemy (through marriage, etc) women = weak
-the composition effectively contrasts the men’s stoic willingness to sacrifice themselves for the State with the women’s emotional commitment to family ties
-composition is a classical pyramid (geometric/structural – divided into three compartments)
-David wants the revolution – call to arms
-painting extols antique virtues of stoicism
-vanishing point at the sword – symbolic
-goes back to Roman history with morality tales
-everything adds up to the “thesis” – standing up for your beliefs (moral courage) – women = the counterargument; looking for a just government
-during the Age of Reason, the world could be known through study and a painter could paint a rational painting that could change the world
-areas of local color draw the viewer across the canvas

Angelica Kauffmann, Cornelia Pointing to her Children as Her Treasures, 1785, Oil on Canvas

-for an English patron
-Neoclassical history painting, subjects drawn from classical antiquity (Age of Reason, contemplation)
-the story takes place in the second century BCE, during the Republican era of Rome (Roman history)
-a woman visitor has been showing Cornelia her jewels and then requests to see those of her hostess; Cornelia turns to her sons and says that these are her most precious jewels
-Cornelia exemplifies the “good mother” (popular subject in late eighteenth century)
-in the reforming spirit of the Enlightenment – depicted subjects that would teach lessons in virtue (didactic paintings)
-the value of Cornelia’s maternal dedication is emphasized by the fact that under her loving care the sons grew up to be political reformers
-setting = simple (like the message), but the effect of the whole is softened by the warm, subdued lighting and by the tranquil grace of the leading characters

Antoine-Jean Gros, Napoleon in the Plague House at Jaffa, 1804, Oil on Canvas

-chronicled Napoleon’s military campaigns
-added Romantic elements: dramatic lighting, emotionally stimulating elements, main action is meant to incite veneration, not republican virtue – at the center of a small group of soldiers and a doctor, Napoleon calmly reaches toward the sores of one of the victims, the image of a Christ-like figure healing the sick with his touch, consciously intended to promote him as semi-divine (Gros paints the gore = Romantic)
-idealized account of an actual incident: During Napoleon’s campaign against the Turks in 1799, bubonic plague broke out among his troops. Napoleon decided to quiet the fears of the healthy by visiting the sick and dying, who were housed in a converted mosque
-shallow stage and a series of arcades behind the main actors are inspired by David’s Oath of the Horatii

Jean-Auguste Dominique Ingres, Large Odalisque, 1814, Oil on Canvas

-odalisque: a female slave or concubine in a sultan’s harem (sexual fantasy – repressed)
-body turned away from the master’s gaze makes her erotic and aloof
-the cool blues of the couch and the curtain at the right heighten the effect of the woman’s warm skin, while the tight angularity of the crumpled sheets accentuates the languid, sensual contours of her form
-fluid line/elegant postures = Neoclassical
-Romantic themes = odalisque in a highly personal fashion, her body is not anatomically correct, but is aesthetically pleasing
-fascination with the exotic – exploration – French discover exotic near East during Napoleon’s campaigns
-commissioned by the Queen of Naples
-concerned with the line, not remaining true to form