Romanticism and Classicism are two different styles of art of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, they are both famous for varied and contradictory definitions.But however, they are also two styles that are not very easy to tell apart at some points. While the Classicists considered of the world as having a rigid and stern structure, the romanticists considered of the world as a place to express their ideas and believe. Romanticism allows the artists to free their unlimited expressions in their works; Classicism artists show a lot of control and restraint in their works. Toward the end of the eighteenth-century, Romanticism emerged as a response to Classicism. Even though this change was in fact gradual, it changed everything from art and philosophy to science and education. So, Romanticism and Classicism have contradictory qualities, but in the artists’ works, they are also hard to tell apart. Romanticism artists and Classicism artists differed their works in their views of nature. The Romantic Movement favors subjective, macabre, fantastic, and transcendental subject matter, while the Classical stance favors objectivity and rationality. “Romanticism emphasized the individual, the subjective, the irrational, the imaginative, the personal, the spontaneous, the emotional, the visionary, and the transcendental,” (Thompson, E.P. Pg. 108-109).Romanticism is associative; it is usually interesting or powerful because of its associations. Ferdinand Victor Eugène Delacroix (26 April 1798 – 13 August 1863) was a French Romantic artist regarded from the outset of his career as the leader of the French Romantic school .He is a representative of Romantic art. In his work “The Masscare of Kios” which is done in 1824, he described a world full of death. In this work, Delacroix broke off from the norm because there are too much death in this painting. This work is based on the rebellion of the Greek on the Turkish authorities. At the bottom of this painting, an old woman paralyzed in sorrow and despair; next to this woman, there’s a dead young woman, but her small baby is still alive,so the painting is very depressive at this point. Fear is in everyone’s eyes; they are about to be made an example of “killed”. There’s a Turk on the horse, putting sword back into its case because two women faces have just been slashed. The horse of the Turk is terrified because of the blood; we can see how terrified this work is. In the background, Delacroix drew a second plain which has also a battle on it. The village in the background is completely under the shadow of fire and death. This painting is very colourful at the time, but some people debated that this painting wasn’t art because it was too terrifying to the audience. This is how Romantic Art expresses its view. In the other hand, Classicism is more based on tradition. Classicists show objective, formal, physical and restraint subject matter. Jean Auguste Dominique Ingres (August 29, 1780 – January 14, 1867) was a French Neoclassical painter, he is also the “King of Classicism”. In his work “The vow of Louis xiii”, King Louis offering all his royal power to Mary for giving him a son. Mary and Jesus portrayed as very “snooty” at the top of the painting. There are some plaques on the wall. “The virgin mother of God though...royal vow...Louis xiii”. This painting can now be found in the small town where Ingres was born. So in Ingres’works, the view of nature is different compare to Delacroix’s works. In brief, Romanticism and Classicism have different views of the nature. Romanticists and Classicists differed in their views of the relationship between individual and society. Classicism emphasizes the qualities traditionally associated with ancient Greek and Roman art, that is, reason, objective, and restraint, as opposed to the individuality of expression typical of Romanticism. The work by Ingres which is “The Sistine Madonna” is also a representative work of him.It’s painted in 1813. Pope Julius is on the left side, looking at Mary and Jesus. On the right side, Saint Barbara is looking down. The clouds are made of babies’ heads. The other famous work by Ingres is “Napoléon on the Imperial Throne”. In this work, Ingres shows a lot of details,such as the gold tread, and it was criticized at the time that it shows too much details. At that time,Napoleon as the embodiment of the continuity of the French nation. This work is a typical work of Classicism by Ingres, which shows the view of Classicists of the relationship between individual and society. Toward the end of the eighteenth-century, Romanticism emerged as a response to Classicism. Even though this change was in fact gradual, it changed everything from art and philosophy to education and science. Joseph Wright (3 September 1734 - 29 August 1797), styled Wright of Derby, was an English landscape and portrait painter. He has been acclaimed as "the first professional painter to express the spirit of the Industrial Revolution . In Wright’s work “The Indian Widow”, he described a noble savage who is also an Indian woman grieving with restraint. She’s sitting with a posture that the head is resting is her hand. The tree in the back is a trophy to her dead husband, and the tree is somehow Romantic twisty. The sunset is golden in the sky; the nature is also grieving with the women: Lightning bolts in the sky, the Atlantic Ocean is now very turbulent and the volcano about to erupt. This work contains both Classic and Romantic qualities. In brief, Classicism and Romanticism are not easy to tell apart, they are different in their views of the relationship between individual and society. Romanticists and Classicists differed in their views of the relationship between reason and imagination. Classicism artists express what all know to be true; Romantic artists knows something that we don’t know. Giovanni Battista Piranesi (4 October 1720 - 9 November 1778) was an Italian artist famous for his etchings of Rome and of fictitious and atmospheric "prisons". In Piranesi’s work “The mole of Hadrian”, he shows a wall which is built to keep out water. Theirs is tour guide at the top; they are all made of stone. There’s also engraving at the bottom, people at the bottom look like ants. The columns are crumbled, with some shadow on it. In Piranesi’s another famous etching work “The Imaginary Prison”, he shows some romantic qualities as well. There are some instruments of torture in the prison; people are still very tiny like ants. In Piranesi’s works, imaginations are always used, which make his works more Romanticism. Oppositely, Jacques-Louis David (August 30, 1748 – December 29, 1825) was a highly influential French painter in the neoclassical style, considered to be the prominent painter of the era. In his famous work “Oath of the Horatii”, he shows some classical qualities. The painting shows in the atrium, the three brothers on the left, the Horatii father in the center, and the sister/wives on the right. The three brothers swearing an oath on their swords to their father, to show their loyalty and solidarity with Rome, they are going to do battles versus Alba brothers. They must come back with victory or not return at all. The mothers and sisters are shown clothed in silken garments seemingly melting into tender expressions of sorrow. This is a typical Classic style work by David with some classical qualities. So in brief, Romanticists and Classicists differed in their views of the relationship between reason and imagination. In conclusion, Romanticism and Classicism are two styles with different qualities, but at some points, they are also hard to tell apart. Some artists show in their works both romantic and classic qualities. Romanticism is subjective, macabre, fantastic, and transcendental; Classicism is objective, formal, physical and restraint.
Vaughan, William. “Romanticism and Art”, Thames&Hudson, London, 1994. Noon, Patrick, et al., Crossing the Channel: British and French Painting in the Age of Romanticism, p. 58, Tate Publishing, 2003.
F. D. Klingender; quoted in Ellis Waterhouse, Painting in Britain 1530 to 1790, Fourth Edition, New York, Viking Penguin, 1978; p. 285.