Neoclassical Style as a Revival & an Influence

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  • 0:00 The Neoclassical Style
  • 1:00 The Neoclassical as a Revival
  • 3:05 The Influence of Neoclassicism
  • 5:10 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Christopher Muscato

Chris has a master's degree in history and teaches at the University of Northern Colorado.

The Neoclassical style was a major revival movement and also an influence on later styles. Explore the link between these two ideas and test your understanding with a brief quiz.

The Neoclassical Style

Have you noticed how styles from the 1980s are coming back around? Neon colors, crazy hair, rollerblading? I actually saw all three of these in a single instance just the other day- a bunch of kids rollerblading at the park by my apartment, all wearing neon colors with flock-of-seagulls hair.

Styles come around, but that's not all there is to it. You see, while we've been revitalizing '80s styles, we're also using this to create our own 21st-century styles. So this period is both a revival and an inspiration for something new.

This happens with art, as well. No, really, it's true! Back in the 18th century, art was dominated by a revival of classical Greek and Roman styles. We call this the Neoclassical movement. Neoclassicism was all about reviving classical styles, but it also paved the way for new styles to emerge: revival and influence.

The Neoclassical as a Revival

By definition, the Neoclassical movement was all about revival. That's what it did; it tried to emulate the styles of the classical civilizations of ancient Greece and Rome. The result ended up being something like this. The images on the left - those are Greek and Roman originals. Those on the right, they're Neoclassical designs. See any similarities? Neoclassical art was deeply committed to the calm, ordered, logical perfection of the ancient styles. Sculptures often depicted idealized bodies the ways the Greeks did, with very realistic heads and faces, following the Roman example.


And look at the connection in architecture. On the left is the Pantheon, a Roman temple to all of the gods. On the right is the Panthéon, a church in Paris. They're so similar that even the name is the same! The idea was to capture the spirit of classical civilization, which was noted for its strength, wisdom, respect for the rights of the citizens, and patriotism.


So Neoclassical art looks a lot like Classical art. But that doesn't mean that they're exactly the same. You see, while the Pantheon in Rome was a temple to the gods, the Panthéon in Paris is a Catholic church meant to honor national heroes. In a way, they serve a similar purpose, but that purpose has been updated for the late 18th century. In many cases, the Neoclassical movement was more about capturing the spirit of classical civilization, particularly in reference to specific issues.

In the late 18th century, France started a revolution that would overthrow the monarchy and institute a representative government. A little before this, the 13 British colonies of North America rebelled and formed their own representative government. The first societies to extol the virtues of democracy and the rights of the people were ancient Greece and the Roman Republic, so the revival of classical styles was no accident. It was meant to symbolize a revival of classical ideas about government, as well.

The Influence of Neoclassicism

Now, like I said earlier, the Neoclassical movement has more significance than just reviving classical styles. It was also pretty influential on later artistic styles. And that influence is largely centered around this guy, Jacques-Louis David. David was one of the foremost Neoclassical painters in France, painting legends from Roman history that had a modern, moral message about patriotic sacrifice and civic duty. After the Revolution ended, France's new emperor, Napoleon Bonaparte, decided he had to have David as his official court painter. But instead of trying to connect France to the Roman Republic, now David was in charge of connecting France to the Roman Empire. Napoleon spread his empire not only across Europe but also into Egypt and Africa.


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