a history of western art

from the renaissance to the present

history painting, 1780-1830


people, terms, and concepts: Neo-classicism (also known just as Classicism), history painting, didactic, contemporary, realism, idealization, expression, upper classes (aristocracy), middle classes (bourgeoisie), lower classes (peasants and proletariat)

In the late-eighteenth century a there was a movement to revive the sylistic characteristic of the High Renaissance:  Neo-classicism.  Be able to recognize and discuss the characteristics of Neo-classicism in subject matter, form, and purpose:

•its subject matter is almost inevitably taken from classical (Greco-Roman) history or mythology

•its purpose tends to be didactic, that is, it tries to teach proper behavior

•its form tends to be simple, austere, and idealized; its composition clear, central, closed, balanced, and orderly.

How are David's Oath of the Horatii and Kauffmann’s Cornelia and her Children, below, perfect examples of Classicism?

Eighteenth-century Neo-classicism is closely associated with the rise of democracy and the middle classes (bourgeoisie), who effectively replaced the old powers of the aristocracy and the church during the late-eighteenth and nineteenth centuries -- think of the American Revolution of 1776 and the French Revolution of 1789.  Hence Neo-classicism becomes the 'official' style of art for about a century in Europe -- but emphatically not the only style.  Many artists reacted against its rules and indeed its very premises. Know the two basic forms of reaction against Classicism during the late-eighteenth and early-nineteenth centuries:

•Realism -- generally characterized by an insistence on depicting contemporary life and events, the here-and-now, rather than Ancient history and mythology; and by a tendency toward gritty realism, rather than idealization, in style.

•Romanticism -- generally characterized by a preference for emotion over reason; the purpose of art is seen as expressive rather than didactic, conveying intense emotional experiences rather teaching moral/social lessons.

In what way(s) do the West, the Goya, and the Delacroix below differ from the Classical norms of the time in terms of subject matter, the use of form (composition, color, etc.), and overall meaning?

Delacroix, The Massacre at Chios, French Romanticism, c. 1825

EntBenjamin West, The Death of General Wolfe, c. 1770er Text

Angelica Kauffmann, Cornelia and her children, British Neo-classicism, c. 1785

David, The Oath of the Horatii, French Neo-classicism, c. 1785

Goya, The Third of May, 1808, Spanish Romanticism, c. 1815