Definition of neoclassicism

Neoclassicism is a term that refers to an artistic movement that had its beginnings during the 18th century. Its main foundation was the renewal of those philosophical and aesthetic values ​​of classical antiquity as well as the cult of reason, these being models for the initiation of modernity.

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This movement had its origins in France , where it had as its main name, classism. From that point begins its extension to the rest of the European continent and America together with the Illuminism movement, which is considered as the main key of the neoclassical movement in its manifestations in general.

Neoclassicism is known as a literary and artistic trend born in Europe in the 18th century, which was inspired by the values ​​and art of Classical or Greco-Roman Antiquity. It had manifestation in the different artistic disciplines, such as literature, architecture, painting, sculpture and music.

The word is composed with the prefix neo-, which means ‘new’ and the suffix -ismo, which indicates movement or doctrine. In France neoclassicism is simply known as classicism.


Neoclassicism was the aesthetic expression of the Enlightenment or Enlightenment , which is why it was very well received in many American countries, such as the United States, which found the inspiration for independence in the political values ​​of this movement.

It tried to develop an art committed to universal values, especially rationalism (the cult of reason) and the secularization of the State, so that initially neoclassicism perceived itself as a revolutionary movement.

Like the thinkers of the Enlightenment, the neoclassical artists understood rationalism as a flag to combat the fanaticism that had caused the recent wars of religion in Europe.

In that sense, Classical Antiquity was once again seen as a model to be imitated, since at that moment in history philosophy, science and democracy were born.

This renewed interest in the Greco-Roman past arose from the recent discoveries of the ruins of Herculaneum and Pompeii, which occurred in 1738 and 1748 respectively.

For this reason, to oppose baroque art, characterized by excessive decoration, the abuse of curved lines and open forms and the use of multiple vanishing points, neoclassicism would prefer order, proportion and symmetry.

However, when the secular state began to display authoritarian and irrational features, and especially when France (Napoleon) sought to extend its rule to the rest of Europe, the art of neoclassicism suffered serious discredit and was judged as proselytizing , cold and soulless. This is how romanticism made its appearance, the immediate precedent of which was the Sturm und Drang movement towards the end of the 18th century.

Examples of neoclassism

  • In the paint

In the field of painting, its main basis was form and drawing on color. His main themes were the historical and the mythological using as a primary element, oil painting and in some cases, fresco painting.

  • In sculpture

In this cultural aspect, there was a main inclination towards sculpture with white marble. These types of figures were real works that captured simple elaboration and aesthetics, emphasizing the beauty of the classic style and its pure lines. The main topics they addressed were Greco-Roman mythology and referential expressions.

  • In architecture

Its main foundation is to rescue the basic idea of ​​pragmatism and the functionality of the ancient architecture of Greece and Rome. That is why this type of architecture presents a resounding rejection of the excessive ornament that preceded it, called the Baroque era.

  • In the literature

His main focus is directed towards philosophy , these are known as the greats of illunimism. Among these greats we can mention Rousseau, Voltaire and Montesquieu. Its main foundation is the cult of reason and logic and outright opposition to religious dogma. Its main feature is the fable, plays and neoclassical poetry.

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