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Neoclassicism (new classicism) was an artistic movement (painting, literature, sculpture and architecture), emerged in Europe around 1750, lasting until the middle of the 19th century.

The main objective of this movement was to rescue the aesthetic and cultural values ​​of the civilizations of Classical Antiquity (Greece and Rome). It arose in the 18th century in Europe spreading throughout the world, remaining until the middle of the 19th century.

It receives that name once it was based on classical ideals. It is a movement in opposition to the exaggerations, elaboration and complexities of the Baroque.


The origin of Neoclassicism is fundamentally attributed to the excavations carried out in the 18th century in Rome, Italy. After a series of archaeological procedures, the professionals found the ruins of the ancient cities of Pompeii and Herculaneum.

With the eruption of the volcano Vesuvius, both Pompeii and Herculaneum were buried by ashes. The interest in the classic came to the fore when the old streets, villas and houses of these lost cities were discovered.

On the other hand, from the seventeenth century, various people with great economic capacities began to travel throughout Europe. Travelers looked forward to admiring the city of Rome and its artistic riches.

Characteristics of Neoclassicism:

Here we mention the main Characteristics of Neoclassicism:

  • Appreciation of the historical past: Appreciation of aesthetic themes and patterns of ancient classical art. Heroes and beings from Greek mythology, for example, were recurring themes in neoclassical paintings and sculptures.
  • Influence of classical art (Greco-Roman): Neoclassicism was strongly influenced by Greco-Roman art.
  • Based on the Illuminist ideals: Strong influence of the philosophical ideas of the Enlightenment, mainly those linked to reason.
  • Opposition to Baroque and Rococo: Valorization of simplicity and aesthetic purity (mainly in painting) in contrast to the gimmicks, drama and complexities of the Baroque and Rococo.
  • Simplicity and balance of forms
  • Mythological and everyday themes
  • Rationalism, academicism and idealism
  • Harmony and aesthetic beauty
  • Use of proportion and clarity
  • Imitation of nature
  • In painting, the use of cold colors and the enhancement of perspective were widely used resources.
  • In Literature, the texts present as main characteristics the synthesis, clarity and grammar perfection.
  • In sculpture, strong influence of the classical forms of the Renaissance. Unlike the Baroque sculptors, who painted their works, the characteristics of Neoclassicism in art opted for the natural white color of marble (like the Greek and Roman sculptors).

Architecture in Neoclassicism:

Neoclassical architecture was based on classical ideals and on buildings erected during the Renaissance period.

Neoclassical architecture follows the line of the temples also in the Greco-Roman style, both for civil constructions or for religious purposes.

Neoclassic Literature:

The main literary movement aligned with neoclassical ideals was Arcadianism.

Literature in that period is revealed by simplicity in language. This happens through the use of a simple vocabulary, as well as the choice of topics associated with everyday life, nature and mythology.

Neoclassical Paintings:

The Neoclassical Paintings presents various characteristics of that period, which sought purity and harmony of forms.

Inspired by the Greco-Roman arts, realism, the rationalism of the works and the balance of colors, were essential to disseminate that style in the plastic arts.

The epicenter of Neoclassical Paintings moves towards France. In the French Revolution, the classical model acquired ethical and moral meaning, being associated with changes in the vision of the social world, flagrant in everyday life, in the simplification of decorative patterns and in the stripped-down form of costumes. The search for an aesthetic ideal of antiquity is accompanied by the resumption of ideals of justice and civility, as shown in the paintings of the painter Jacques-Louis David (1748-1825).

The French neoclassical painters are worth highlighting: Jacques-Louis David (1748-1825) and Jean Auguste Dominique Ingres (1780-1867).

Neoclassicist Sculpture:

Neoclassical Sculpture comes to unite various elements based on classical sculpture, where the use of marble is its strongest characteristic.

The harmony of proportions and forms is sought with the exploration of themes related to mythology and heroic characters.

Neoclassical sculptors were marked by rigor and passivity and their academic production is considered cold. Statues of uniformed heroes, women wrapped in Aphrodite’s robes, or children conversing with philosophers, were the protagonists of the initial phase of neoclassical sculpture.


Neoclassical music developed in the 20th century, particularly in the period between the two world wars. Neoclassical composers were inspired by the music of the 18th century, which is also referred to as baroque music.

Musical Neoclassicism presented a tendency to return to the aesthetic precepts associated with the classicist concepts of order, balance, clarity, economy and emotional restriction. It was a reaction against the unbridled emotionalism and formlessness of romanticism.

Neoclassicism in America:

The neoclassical style arrived in the American empires of Spain and Portugal through projects designed in Europe or carried out locally by European or Creole architects trained in the academies of the metropolis.

There are also examples of the adaptation to the local architectural language, which during previous centuries had made a synthesis or syncretism of European and pre-Columbian elements in the so-called colonial baroque. An example of this is the Cathedral of Tulancingo, Mexico (1788, José Damián Ortiz de Castro).

To more classical criteria belong, in Chile, the Palacio de La Moneda (1784-1805) and the Metropolitan Cathedral of Santiago (1748-1800), both works by the Italian architect Joaquín Toesca.

In Mexico, the Palacio de Minería (1797-1813, Manuel Tolsá) and the Hospicio Cabañas de Guadalajara (1804-1810, by the same architect).

In Ecuador, the Government Palace of Quito (also called de Carondelet, 1790 or 1801, Antonio García).

After the independence of Spanish America, constructive programs were developed for the new republics. In Colombia, the National Capitol of Colombia was built in Bogotá (1847, Thomas Reed, trained at the Berlin Academy), the Cathedral Primada de Colombia in Bogotá (1807-1823) under the plans of Fray Domingo de Petrés; in Peru the Cathedral of Arequipa (1844, Lucas Poblete).

Brazil, which became the seat of the court of the Portuguese monarchy, becoming independent from its metropolis as the Empire of Brazil, also used the resources of architecture for the glorification of political power, and it was decided to resort to architects trained in the Royal Academy of Paris. The façade of the Rio de Janeiro Academy of Fine Arts or Imperial Academy (1822) and the Imperial Palace of Petrópolis (1840s) belong to this period.

Argentina is another country that seeks to shed its colonial past, but in the context of the reorganization of the country after independence in 1810, an aspect of power is sought that transmits the presence of the State inspiring respect and devotion, including of course the architecture. However, an own image is not conceived, but the classical canon is introduced, not in the form of a replica of buildings from Antiquity, but with a classical predominance and much influence of French classicism; that will last until the twentieth century.

On the cultural front, there is a rush to import European cultural models to replace the colonial tradition. It was a matter of denying everything that could remember the stage of subordination to Spain. It is logical that with this ideological basis the image offered by the cities turned out to be negative and it would be necessary to transform them

Neoclassical Architecture in America:

There are four main types of Neoclassical Architecture in America:

Federalist: The stylistic characteristics of that to change the Federal style are also numerous and include: a low, sharp or flat ceiling that was usually hidden behind a railing, low relief moldings and delicate ornamentation. When a classical order is present (ie Doric, Ionic, etc.) the capital is very small and the columns are thin. Emphasis is placed on the central entrance, which is often distinguished by a small one-story portico, a coronation skylight, and narrow side lights. Other ornamentation is based primarily on curved lines, as well as a diana palla window located within an arched recessed wall, and circular or elliptical windows. The interior space is distinguished from colonial architecture by the use of asymmetry, the oval is presented as a room form and the century-old design of four square rooms arranged around a central hallway was shelved.

Idealists: The idealistic style during the neoclassical era is to improve through the leadership of Thomas Jefferson, the main style is based on the intellectual and moral approach to classicism, at first linked to Roman models. Symbolic and associative values ​​underlined, with the aim of creating an expressive, “talking architecture”. Best example: Thomas Jefferson.

Rationalist: This style of Neoclassical Architecture in America is a practice much less through the neoclassical era, the main style is where emphasis was placed on the structure and classical construction techniques, such as the stone vault and vaults.

Greek Renaissance (1818-1850): This style is the most popular during the neoclassical period, from 1850 to 1950. The main characteristic of this style is based on the use of forms and classical antiquity. The style is further improved through the exhibition at Chicago’s World’s Fair, where many architects present and exchange their idea of ​​making neoclassical architecture better.

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