Neoclassicism in art develops around the middle of the 18th century and ends with the end of the Napoleonic empire in 1815. What distinguishes the artistic style of those years was the adherence to the principles of classical art: they want to revive the principles of harmony, balance and proportion, which were present in the art of the ancient Greeks and the ancient Romans; in addition, the essentiality of forms and functionality are sought.
The main reason for this renewed interest in the ancient world were the numerous archaeological discoveries that marked the century: Herculaneum, Pompeii, Villa Adriana; Furthermore, numerous archaeological finds came from Greece and were exhibited in the main European museums. Therefore, the true source of classical greatness was identified in Greek art. Neoclassicism was inspired by the ethical values of Roman times, rediscovering the figure of the hero.
Neoclassicism reflects the Enlightenment mentality and rejects the excesses of the Baroque, seen as an excessively imaginative and complicated movement. Neoclassicism in art was born as a desire for a simpler and purer but still grandiose art, like the one practiced in the classical age. The Baroque appeared to be a stylistic degeneration which, although starting from the principles of Renaissance classicism, had been deformed in search of a spectacular and illusionistic effect.
Neoclassical art became the official style of Napoleon’s empire and was used to celebrate imperial power (art in the service of political propaganda); moreover, it embodied the ideals of the French Revolution and for this reason from the end of the 18th century the new capital of neoclassicism was no longer Rome, but Paris.
It was not only an artistic movement, but also a theoretical one; the greatest theorist of the period was Winckelmann, according to whom the ideal beauty was achievable through the imitation of ancient Greek and Roman models.
Other protagonists of the period were Anton Mengs (painter and theorist), Antonio Canova (sculptor), Jacques-Louis David, Andrea Appiani and Vincenzo Camuccini (painters).
Italy in 1700 was the favorite destination for those who took the Grand Tour, or a journey that represented, for the European nobility and intellectuals, a fundamental experience in the formation of taste and artistic aesthetics.
The privileged material for the sculpture of the neoclassical period is marble, unlike the Baroque where wood and metals were preferred. Neoclassical sculptors seek perfection in execution, extreme smoothness of the modeling and balanced and balanced compositions, without dynamic shots; the faces of the subjects are usually imperturbable. In neoclassical sculpture there is a direct link with the idea of classical beauty.
Neoclassical painting relied on the tools of Renaissance naturalism: perspective, chiaroscuro to enhance the volume and the contours traced with incisive and clear lines, to give great precision to the drawing. The subjects of the neoclassical works are mostly historical and mythological, drawn from ancient history, thanks to which ethical and moral values could be rediscovered. The neoclassical artist tends to represent only the significant moments, that is, the culminating and fundamental moments in a story, in which there is the greatest symbolic charge in history.
Classical language is also reused in architecture: the Ionic and Corinthian orders are the most widespread. In the construction of buildings, perfect proportions and functionality are sought, rather than aesthetic beauty.
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