Classicism

In regard to the arts, classicism is an emulation of the arts of the ancient world, particularly of Greece and Rome. It is an artistic genre that has been popular through many periods such as the Renaissance and Enlightenment eras. Classicism, as an artistic influence, typically presents its classic ideals in art, literature, architecture, and music. Study of Greek and Latin and the arts of antiquity also became prime components of education for many centuries. Some definitions of the term discuss artistic excellence and conservatism as components of classicism.



Classicism was first seen after the fall of Byzantium during the Italian Renaissance. As education began to blossom after the medieval period and information about Europe’s ancient past came to light, people began to emulate its forms and ideals. Artists began to emulate classical art in form, symmetry, balance, and an overall sense of order. Leading artists of Renaissance classicism include Michelangelo, Raphael, and Correggio. Classical ideals were especially expressed during the Renaissance in sculpture, drawing, and painting.

During the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries classicism was viewed more formally and endowed with a greater sense of artistic discipline. Institutions of art and music, for example, developed pedagogies for expounding the ideals of classicism. While order and elegance were still hallmarks of classically-inspired works, an air of predictability also surrounded many works of the period. The court of Louis XIV is particularly symbolic of classicism during the latter part of this period.

During the eighteenth century and its Age of Enlightenment, classicism was an essential component of a formal education. The period’s major ideals such as freedom and democracy were rooted in antiquity, particularly the democratic governance of classical Athens, Greece. Classicism gave rise to neo-classicism in art which had greater emphasis on the Western cannon of accepted classic works. The terms, while often used interchangeably, are attached to particular centuries, but both movements represent the artistic influence of ancient Greece and Rome. Classicism was also an influence on the arts of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.

While works of classicism present the characteristics of order and balance, they also often embody classical subject matter. Many works of classicism depict classical scenes of antiquity such as the School of Athens (1509-1510) by Raphael or the Death of Socrates (1787) by Jacques Louis-David. Many works of classicism depicted scenes from mythology as well as ancient history. Other well-known classically-inspired artists include Nicolas Poussin, Gian Lorenzo Bernini, and Leon Battista Alberti.