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Definition. Historical background and periodization.

Romanticism (from French romantisme) was a cultural phenomenon of the western world that emerged in the end of the 18th – beginning of the 19th cent. It was a reaction on rationalism and mechanism of classicistic aesthetics and philosophy of the Enlightenment. It was cultivated in the situation of revolutional enthusiasm and was opposed to utilitarianism and levelling of personality. One of its key ideas was striving for unlimited freedom (both personal and civic) and thirst for insight of the eternal.

Periodization of romanticism varies in different country but commonly includes three stages: early romanticism (in some countries called sentimentalism), high romanticism and late romanticism. First and second stage in France (1790s and 1800-1815 respectively) differs by its optimistic and patriotic atmosphere, extraversion, whether the third one witnessed disillusionment and escapism.

Classicism VS romanticism.

The time-lapse, we’re talking about, witnessed flourishing of two styles at one time, similar to the situation with baroque and classicism. The antinomy of classicism VS romanticism belongs to the authorship of German philosopher and writer Friedrich Schlegel. He characterized difference between classicism and romanticism in next way: classicism aspired to express undefined ideas and feelings in definite form, and romanticism wanted to express universal poetry, created by an author by his own laws. Goethe compared classicism with health and romanticism with disease.

The hero of Romanticism.

Each epochs produces its own hero – type of a character that embodies all its values, attitude to the Universe. Romantic hero is an individualist. He’s a sort of superhuman, who went through two stages: before facing the reality he see the world through rose-colored glasses, obsessed with the idea of a feat that would change the world; but after facing the reality he considers this world to be vulgar and dull. Nevertheless, he manages not to turn into sceptics and pessimist. Having a clear understanding that nothing can be transformed, he shifts from the will for deeds to the search for danger.

Artists of romanticism were able to give enduring value to each detail, each fact, everything unique. They believed they had to appeal not to Reason, but to Heart, as it’s the only way to perceive beauty and divine. So many attention was paid to landscapes because for the culture of the 19th cent. nature was a sample of perfectness, source of harmony and creative powers. Only pure souls of children, women and young men could conceive its beauty. And they were main characters in painting and literature of romanticism. The issue of upbringing of an individuality played a significant role in the art of that time. Like classicists, romantics claimed that our live had to corresponded morality and duties, as private endevours should be finally carried out in common causes. Without mixing up specifics of different genders, romanticism manifested equality in spiritual development of men and women.


The perception of the world in romanticism is based on the poignant break up between ideal and reality. It’s distinguished by proclaiming the self-sufficiency of the creative and spiritual life of a human, depicting intense passions, interest to the national history and synthesis of arts. And all that was combined with the inclination for understanding the dark, “night” side of a person’s soul, with famous irony of romanticism that allowed them confront high and low, tragic and comic, real and fantastical. Developing in different countries, romanticism everywhere got special national flavor, added by local cultural traditions and historical situation.

The most consecutive school of romanticism formed in France, where artists, reforming means of expression, made accent on dynamism of composition, uniting forms in impetuous movement, used vivid coloring and applied paint with broad brushstrokes. Prominent French artists of romanticism were Theodore Gericault and Eugene Delacroix. In Germany and Austria, early period of the style was orientated more on sharply individual and melancholically-contemplative atmosphere. Portraits and allegorical compositions of Philipp Otto Runge and landscapes of Caspar David Friedrich were radiating mysticism. The desire to revive the religious spirit of German and Italian painting of the 15th cent. united such masters as Peter von Cornelius, Johann Friedrich Overbeck, Ludwig Vogel and others into Nazarene group. Their were given this name because of the sneer at their affectation of a biblical manner of clothing and hair style. Another German artistic submovement was Biedermeier that was a peculiar merge of romantic principles and “burgher realism”. Painters like Ludwig Richter and Carl Spitzweg created calm scenes of private life, depicting minor things, which make up the joy of life. In Great Britain, worshipping of natural elements, typical for romanticism, stimulated developing of landscape painting. It progressed in two different way: realistic tendency, established by John Constable, and expressionistic, dramatic one – by William Turner.

Historical destiny of romanticism is complicated and ambiguous. Its feeling of color, vigorous manner formed ground for the oeuvre of doubtlessly influential artists of the 19th cent. – Barbizonians Camille Corot, Théodore Rousseau, Jean-François Millet and others. At the same time, elements of allegory and mysticism, characteristic for romanticism, were absorbed and elaborated in symbolism and partially in postimpressionism and other modernistic styles.


Unlike in painting, romantic principles were not so obviously embodied in sculpture. The influence of classicism was here more potent. Master, who combined features of both academism and romanticism was David d’Angers from France. His republican views forced him to spent part of his life in immigration in Great Britain. There he gained fame and came back to Paris. Despite his political principles, his talent and reputation prompted even the monarchic government to cooperate with d’Angers.

Romanticism brought to sculpture interest to the inner world of a person, his aspirations and emotions. Numerous statues of the outstanding compatriots of those and past days were installed in all European capitals. Nevertheless, monumental sculpture got through a crisis period, as the decay of artistic quality became obvious. The latter was connected, not in the last instance, with the dependence of sculpture on official tastes and state financing that didn’t stimulate its innovativeness and progress.


The question of relations between romanticism and architecture is highly discussable among specialists, as they didn’t come to agreement if romantic principles were clearly displayed in buildings in the end of the 18th – beginning of the 19th cent. Some experts believe that they weren’t, consequently romanticism can’t be considered a style (style includes all kinds of art); others regard Gothic revival as part of romantic heritage.

Gothic revival (or Neogothic) is an eclectic movement formed in Britain in the 1740s. Its development was connected with the interest to medieval studies, so architects referred to forms and sometimes even constructive traits of Gothic art. Parallel to it in various countries other offshoots of historicism appeared (like pseudorussian and Moorish revival), but none of them was as international as Gothic revival was. It was the style of catholic churches in New-York, Melbourne, San Paolo, Calcutta, Manial, Ganzhou and Kiev.

Englishmen, Frenchmen and Germans were arguing disclaimed the right to be named the birthplace of Gothic in the 19th cent., but it was Great Britain, who breathed new life into it. Both in metropolitan country and its colonies saw a tremendous scope of building in neogothic. And some of its results, like Big Ben and Tower Bridge, we admire even today. Apart from churches, so-called follies were designed with gothic motifs. Folly is a structure with extravagant appearance, mainly without particular function.

Random Romantic Artists

William Blake


Theodore Gericault

Théodore Géricault


Theodore Rousseau

Theodore Rousseau


Eugene Delacroix

Eugene Delacroix


Random Romantic Paintings

Autumn berries and flowers in brown pot
Torso of a Man
The Massacre at Chios
Study of the Sky at Sunset
Boat building near Flatford Mill
Still-Life with Lobster
The Small Perthes
View of Mountains Auvergne

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