Wednesday, 9 March 2016

The Neoclassical Period 1780-1820


by Chanel

 As the elaborate age of Baroque and Rococo drew to a close, appreciation for classical restraint resurfaced. It signalled a return to order and rationality but it was the discovery of lost civilisations and ancient ruins of Greece and Rome (more specifically, Pompeii and Herculaneum) which inspired the neoclassical period of the 18th century. Designers drew inspiration from classical architecture and looked to the future, creating a modern and more refined version of the past. The style includes features like classical symmetry, columns and temple-like structural shapes depicted in previous periods. It was a ‘simpler’ version of the past. There was an emphasis on reason and logic, harmony, stability, wisdom, philosophy, economics, social ethics, trade and mortality.

The Neoclassical period first gained influence in England and France. It is characterised by its clarity and refinement using subtle colours, strong horizontal and vertical forms, clean elegant lines, uncluttered appearance and a timeless antique charm.

Early Neoclassical design in the Palace of Caserta, constructed in 1952.

The excavation and archaeological discoveries of Pompeii and Herculaneum resulted in a folio collection, Le Antichità di Ercolano, an illustrated compendium of archeological finds from Ancient Rome. The books illustrations helped popularise classic design and spark the imagination of European and American designers who used them as models for modern design.




A temple style building

The Pantheon in Paris, designed by Jacques-Germain Soufflot and built between 1758-1790. 

A Palladian building

  The Glyptothek in Munich, designed by architect Leon von Klenze and built 1816–1830.


A classical block or square building

The Library of Sainte-Genevièv in France by Henri Labrouste between 1838-1850.


Often called the age of reason (The Enlightenment), the neoclassical period was a symbol of change and question. Its goal was to use reason to reform science and advance knowledge, replacing religion with natural philosophy. Science was relied on heavily to answer questions and give reason to civilisation. "This was a period of political and military unrest, economic growth, the rise of the middle class, the rise of literacy, the invention of marketing, the rise of the Prime Minister, and social reforms." - Dr Fike

 The society was becoming more educated, books were becoming more affordable and knowledge became more accessible to a wider audience. Anyone could become a published author.


Mary Wollstonecraft, 1759-1797

An intellectual, writer and feminist, Mary Wollstonecraft was born in London and was the second of six children. She was raised in an abusive household and was taught sexist and inhuman values –none of which she agreed with. At the age of nineteen Mary went out to earn her own livelihood and in 1783, she helped her sister Eliza escape a miserable marriage by hiding her from an husband until legal separation was arranged. In 1792, Mary published a book about the Vindication on the Rights of Woman, standing up for the equality of the sexes. She believed education held the key to achieving a sense of self-respect and would enable women to put their capacities to good use. Mary undertook the task of helping women to achieve a better life but, of course, it took more than a century before society began to put her views into action.


If it wasn’t for the revolution of science and the desire for philosophical, political, social and ethical knowledge in the neoclassical society, we may not have been introduced to the idea of morals and reason. The development of human rights and the independence of individuals can be linked to neoclassical intellectuals and the change they have created for us all.


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