An Overview of Neoclassicism

Neoclassicism is a Western cultural movement that brought out an innovative style in literature, visual arts, music, architecture, and theatre. The movement was inspired by the culture and art of classical antiquity. The movement was initiated as a counter-reaction to the facetious sensuality of the foregoing Rococo style. The Neoclassical artists filled their works with the past Greco-Roman epitomes. They tried to go back to the study of history, science, anatomy, and mathematics, unlike the Rocco culture.

Neoclassicism took birth in Rome and the works of Johann Joachim Winckelmann had a large contribution to the movement. But the movement was popularized by some European art students who returned to their homeland after a Grand Tour in Italy. The primary Neoclassicists believed that art was to portray the ideal virtues that could impart some moral messages to the viewer. As the society during those days was facing major changes due to the industrial revolution and the developments in science, the neoclassical artists considered that art could reform, civilize and transform society to a better moral world.

The Age of Enlightenment is believed to be a parent of Neoclassicism. The philosophers of those days believed that by studying the law of nature, one could control their destinies. Giving importance to rational thinking and moderation, Neoclassicism continued its journey to the Classical tradition. 

Sensible colors, transparency in form, shallow space, powerful verticals and horizontals, and classical subjects were the characteristics of neoclassicism. The principles of symmetry, simplicity, and mathematics were the principles of neoclassicism architecture. These principles were considered to be the virtues art has to deliver by the Ancient Greeks as well as the Romans.

Let’s discuss the influence of neoclassicism in different fields.


The major neoclassicism paintings used subjects like mythology, the bible, and history as the major inspiration. Genre paintings, portraitures, still lives, and landscapes were also seen in neoclassicism paintings. Nicolas Poussin and Claude Lorrain were considered to be ideal history painters of neoclassicism.


The sculptors of the neoclassicism period enjoyed a great reputation and the Roman copies were highly regarded in the period. Jean-Antoine Houdon was one of the famous sculptors in the neoclassicism period who concentrated more on portraits. He worked on most of the prominent personalities of the Enlightenment period. Antonio Canova and the Dane Bertel Thorvaldsen were more inclined towards the idealizing trend in the sculptures of the neoclassicism period.


Neoclassical architecture was a combination of both traditional and modern concepts. The popularity of neoclassicism was first seen in England and France. The writings of Winckelmann and the influence of some art students from France, who were trained in Rome, were the major inspiration for the wide acceptance of neoclassicism architecture in both these countries. Very soon the influence spread to Russia, Sweden, and Poland. Genuine classical interiors were a characteristic of the architectures in neoclassicism.


The simple women’s dresses were a popular trend followed in the neoclassicism period. The outfits and styles used in the portraits become trend-setters for public events and going out. Shorter curly hairstyles were widely adopted during the period. White-colored loose and light dresses were popularly used. For men, wigs became out of trend and short hair was accepted as the latest fashion.