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The Glyptothek in Munich

Classicism describes the period between 1770 and 1840 as an art historical epoch. Classicism replaced the Baroque and Rococo . The styles Louis-seize (1760–1790), Empire (1799–1815) and Biedermeier (1815–1848) belong to classicism . The epoch was also accompanied by Romanticism in painting, literature and (to some extent) music and replaced by Historicism in architecture . For the music of the epoch (up to the 1820s) the term classical or Viennese classical is common.

In relation to the baroque, classicism can be seen as an artistic counter-program. Towards the end of the 18th century, after an initial phase of coexistence, it came to dominance through ongoing discussions about the aesthetic models of the Baroque. Classicism in architecture is based on the form canon of Greek temple construction , but is also based in part on the Italian early Renaissance .

Classicism spread globally from Europe and is still used today, based on the classicist era, as a universally fitting and harmonious classical architectural language.


The term is also used in the sense of an artistic recourse to ancient Greek or Roman models. Since the 17th century it has appeared in the European arts in various currents, themes and different regional manifestations in architecture , painting and sculpture (see Classicisme ).

In the Romance-speaking area (French, Italian, Spanish, Portuguese ...) and in English, classicism is referred to as "neoclassicism", while in the German-speaking area neoclassicism is understood to be a trend in historicism in the early 20th century.

The term is ambiguous in the European language area and mostly does not refer to one and the same artistic epoch. Classicist undercurrents arose since the Renaissance and were always effective in the Baroque era. For example, the architecture of Palladio (1508–1580) and his successors is called classicism (see Palladianism ), as well as a certain trend in painting of the 17th century, which mainly referred to antiquity and Raphael as an ideal, and to those as most important representatives included Guido Reni , Domenichino , Albani , Claude Lorrain and Nicolas Poussin . The art of France and England in the 17th century is also called classicism (see classicist baroque ). For example, the term neo-classicism is used in the German-speaking countries as classicism in England, France, Spain and Italy, but also in Poland, Turkey and Greece , which was partly adopted in German.

historical development

Early classicism

In the 18th century, the new style was seen as a counter-model to the art of the Baroque with a purifying simplification of forms. Compared to the previous Rococo, classicism is characterized by a return to linear, simpler, clear forms and a stronger reference to classic-ancient models, but not infrequently also by a certain rational coolness.

Classicism was triggered in particular by the archaeological excavations in Pompeii and Herculaneum and the publications and copperplate engravings circulating about them. Johann Joachim Winckelmann , who worked for Cardinal Alessandro Albani in Rome, is considered the spiritual founder in German-speaking countries .

"The only way for us, great, yes, if it is possible to become inimitable, is to imitate the ancients."

“The general excellent characteristic of the Greek masterpieces is finally a noble simplicity and a quiet greatness, both in position and in expression. Just as the depths of the sea remain calm at all times, no matter how raging the surface, the expression in the figures of the Greeks shows a great and sedate soul for all passions. "

Ceiling decoration “Dance of the Bacches” in the Galleria Borghese , Rome. The dancing figures and other elements are influenced by ancient wall paintings and became a popular motif in classical decoration
Egyptian decor in the Borghese Gallery, Rome

In Italy, the close proximity to the ancient sites alone created significant interior decoration. From around 1750, Cardinal Albani had his villa of the same name in Rome designed in the classicistic sense, with the participation of Carlo Marchionni , Winckelmann, Anton Raphael Mengs , Paolo Anesi and the sculptor Bertel Thorvaldsen . Typical was the extensive use of marble and u. a. the inclusion of entire collections of antiquities with busts , statues , reliefs and even mosaics , which were integrated into the building as decoration (which, however, was a Roman tradition since the Renaissance). A similar and even more famous example of this is the redesign of Villa Borghese under Marcantonio IV. Borghese (1730–1800) in the last third of the 18th century, in which numerous artists were involved, u. a. the architect Antonio Asprucci , Domenico Corvi , Mariano Rossi , Giuseppe Cades , Felice Giani , Anton von Maron , Gavin Hamilton , Vincenzo Camuccini and Luigi Valadier . In the decoration elements of the ancient wall paintings in Pompeii and elsewhere were used, as well as grotesques in the Pompeian style and ancient Egyptian elements ( sphinxes , ibises , hieroglyphs, etc.; see illustration).
The buildings by Luigi Vanvitelli and others are connected in a less direct way to the ancient model . a. the new building of the church Santissima Annunziata Maggiore in Naples (from 1757), and the monumental Royal Palace of Caserta , the interior decoration of which continued into the Empire and late Classicism, and was continued by his son Carlo . An important major work by Carlo Vanvitelli is the classicistic redesign of the church Santissima Trinità dei Pellegrini in Naples.

The Panthéon in Paris

In France, the era known there as neo-classicisme begins as early as the reign of Louis XV. During a transition period from around 1750 to 1760, known as the style transition , elements of the Rococo , the goût pittoresque and classical forms were used. Early Classicism is also known as goût grec in France and, after 1770, goes into the goût étrusque des Louis-seize from the reign of Louis XVI. over. The architecture academy founded by Jacques-François Blondel in 1743, which elevated Greek antiquity to an ideal, exerted an important influence . One of the first buildings in the new style was the church of Sainte-Geneviève (today's Panthéon ) in Paris, which was built between 1764 and 1790 according to plans by Germain Soufflot and was later u. a. became the model for the Capitol in Washington . Perhaps the best-known French architect of early French neoclassicism is Jacques Louis Gabriel , who designed the Place de la Concorde in Paris , built the Petit Trianon from 1761 and was also entrusted with the renovation of the city facade of the Palace of Versailles , of which only the right Gabriel Wing was built (in the 19th century, for symmetrical reasons, the identical "Defour wing" on the left).

In Great Britain there was already a thoroughly classical tradition with Palladianism , to which a new inspiration from ancient Greek monuments was added in “Neo” classicalism. The first early classical phase falls under the term of the Late Georgian . The most important representatives of early English classicism were Robert and James Adam, who created their own Adam style, which, thanks to publications, also exerted a certain influence internationally, especially in interior decoration. Other representatives were William Chambers and John Soane .

In older German art history, the transition from late baroque forms to classicism is sometimes referred to as the braid style . It is named after the braid in which the baroque flower garland is reduced to a thin ribbon.
The Hofoper
Unter den Linden was built in Berlin as early as 1741–1743 as one of the first buildings in Germany with a classicist influence (inside, however, it was still rococo at the time), and the New Palace in Potsdam was also built for Frederick the Great in 1763–1769 (partly after Palladio and English models), which has a mixture of Rococo and Classical decorations inside; one of the architects was u. a. Carl von Gontard . One of the most famous buildings of classicism is the Brandenburg Gate (1789–1793) by Carl Gotthard Langhans .

The Palais Vischer in Calw is an example of Swabian classicism . The warm tinted and soft pink sandstone makes it look almost baroque and completely untypical for classicism

Important early classical palace complexes are also Ludwigslust Palace near Schwerin (Mecklenburg) and Wilhelmshöhe Palace (1786–1798) built by Simon Louis du Rhy in Kassel (Hesse), the interior of which by and large already belongs to the following Empire style. The Kassel Fridericianum (1769–1779), the first public museum building in Europe , also belongs to du Rhy's main works . In Stuttgart and the surrounding area there was also a bloom of the classicistic style from around 1770 in the form of so-called Swabian classicism , to which u. a. the painters Friedrich Heinrich Füger , Eberhard Wächter and Alexander Bruckmann are counted.

In Austria, early classicism coincides with the reign of Joseph II , which also initiated new building projects: churches for new parish districts, hospitals, public schools and parks (see Josephinism ).

There is an unusually large number of classicist buildings from the second half of the 18th and early 19th centuries in Portugal , especially in Lisbon (and the surrounding area), which was almost completely destroyed in the devastating earthquake of 1755 , and then in the new styles and with a chessboard-like floor plan in the city center (the so-called Baixa ) under the Marquês de Pombal was rebuilt. The most important buildings include the Teatro São Carlos , the ensemble around the Praça do Comércio and the Teatro Dona Maria II, which was only built in the 1840s .

In Russia, too, numerous buildings were built in the classicism style, especially in and around Saint Petersburg . One of the most important architects was the Scot Charles Cameron , who u. a. built the Pavlovsk residence .

The classicism of the revolution and the empire

From the 1790s onwards, the style of " revolutionary architecture" emerged in France , where more and more massive forms are preferred. With the capture of the revolution by Napoleon Bonaparte , the particularly monumental Empire style emerged , which with the reign of the emperor spread across Western Europe and as far as Russia ( Saint Petersburg ). The best-known buildings are the Sainte Madeleine church in Paris, which was expanded from 1807 by Pierre-Alexandre Vignon in the style of a Greek temple of glory, and the Arc de Triomphe built by Chalgrin (from 1806). In painting, Jacques-Louis David was the main exponent and founder of classicism and also became a supporter of the revolution and later Napoleon's court painter.

In Great Britain this period is summarized as Regency (after the reign of the Prince Regent and future King George IV ). The most important representatives of the architecture of the so-called Greek Revival were John Nash and Robert Smirke , who built the British Museum from 1823 .

The leading classicist architects of the 19th century in Germany were Karl Friedrich Schinkel , who created numerous buildings in Berlin and the surrounding area (including the Schauspielhaus (1819-1821) and Altes Museum (1824-1828)), and Leo von Klenze , who together with Karl von Fischer and Friedrich von Gärtner was primarily responsible for the classicistic redesign of Munich under Maximilian I and Ludwig I (including Glyptothek (1816–1830), Ludwigstrasse , Hall of Fame (1843–1853)). Klenze also supplied the designs for the Walhalla (1830–1842) near Regensburg.

Time of restoration

The classicist planned town Putbus on the island of Rügen , which was built from 1810 onwards , was a circus

The architecture and painting of the Biedermeier era represent a turn into the simpler and 'cozy' (interior decoration), which nevertheless does not mean a fundamental aesthetic departure from classicism. In painting, this aesthetic persisted into the 1870s; in architecture, it was already called into question in the first half of the century by alternative construction forms, at the earliest by the neo-Gothic . Socially, the new building forms are associated with the aspiring bourgeoisie and its desire for representation. Paul Sprenger , an important representative of late classicist architecture in Austria, was called the “ Metternich of architecture”.

Transition to historicism

Around the middle of the 19th century a development from classicism to historicism began. A defining style of this transition is the round arch style , which from around 1828, underpinned by the text “In which style should we build?” By Heinrich Hübsch , initiated the first stylistic transformation of classicism.

Demarcation from historicism

The distinction between classicism and historicism is neither chronologically nor stylistically easy. On the one hand, classicism itself is a "historicizing" style that is based on antiquity and its interpretation in the Renaissance . On the other hand, historicism partly shares the same repertoire of forms, particularly clearly in the Neo-Renaissance . In addition, late Classicism showed a preference for certain forms of decoration, for example from Byzantine or Arab art. The main feature of historicism is then not so much the “detachment” from classicism, but its insertion into a pluralistic canon of styles - hence the alternative term eclecticism . The most striking difference is the much greater decorativeness of the historicist buildings and furnishings, which appealed to the bourgeoisie , who became rich in the early days, more than the Spartan style of the first half of the century.

The Altlerchenfeld parish church is considered to be a transitional structure between classicism and historicism in Austria, the construction of which led to a debate about the “right style”, which already heralds the historicist spirit.

Differences from historicism

Historicism, classifying: Parliament in Vienna

The programmatic focus on classical antiquity distinguishes classicism from historicism .

In contrast to classicism, historicism falls back on numerous other currents: neo-Romanesque , neo-Gothic , neo-renaissance , neo-baroque , neo-rococo . There is also a reinterpretation of oneself in neo-historicism . Furthermore, at the turn of the 19th and 20th centuries, classicism was reborn as neoclassicism .

In historicism there is no reference to the theoretical concepts such as those developed by Vitruvius and other Roman building researchers, and which are used as a canon in classicism . Historicism's access to the classical, antiquing formal language is eclectic and limited to formal aspects.

Classicism Sculpture

Christ and Angels by Bertel Thorvaldsen , main altar of Vor Frue Kirke , Copenhagen

Probably the greatest and most admired sculptor of the era was the Italian Antonio Canova , who created one masterpiece after another from the 1770s to around 1820. On the one hand, his style is strongly based on antiquity, but tends towards great grace and elegance; a very smooth, perfect surface treatment of the marble is also typical. He is considered to be a "pioneer" of the classical style, his works had a great influence not only on other sculptors, but also on painting (e.g. on Ingres ). Bertel Thorvaldsen , a Dane who spent many years in Rome and who was the only one who could compete with Canova's art in terms of artistic quality,
worked in a very similar style ; he also had many students, especially from north of the Alps. In France,
Jean-Antoine Houdon worked in the early period , whose work also had a certain international influence (including portrait busts of Voltaire (1779–1781, Comédie-Française , Paris) and George Washington (1785, Capitol, Richmond)). The most important German sculptors of the time were Johann Heinrich von Dannecker and Johann Gottfried Schadow , who both came into contact with Canova in Rome. Schadow's most famous work is his very lifelike double portrait Die Prinzessinnen Luise and Friederike von Preußen (see illustration at the top), created between 1795 and 1797 , in which, however, he pays homage to a far less smooth ideal than Canova and Thorvaldsen, and in one still almost Rococo grace and three-dimensional folds.

Classicism painting

In painting, the artists broke away from the allegorical program of the Baroque period and painted scenes from Greek and Roman antiquity, which often have a "patriotic" connotation. The contours become clearer and the pastose coloring disappears in favor of a two-dimensional application of paint. The coloristic aspects of painting took a back seat. A strict classicist could in principle do without color. Therefore, the color scheme looks rather cool. Body boundaries are sharply delineated in the drawing. A clearly manageable and harmonious composition of the figures, a calm measure of time prevails in all gestures.

Outline etchings are characteristic of classicism in illustrations.

Classicism architecture

Reconstruction of the chancel of the church am Hof in classical style (1789)

The architecture of classicism is based more strongly than previous styles on ancient buildings, primarily Greek models. Portico and column arrangement are now more common. The style is used in princely and bourgeois representative buildings, but also in buildings using traditional construction techniques such as half-timbered construction. Classical churches are rarer, here the octagonal tower of the winds or the Pantheon serve as models.

Classicist artist

Artists assigned to classicism see:


Web links

Commons : Classicism  - collection of images, videos and audio files
Wiktionary: Classicism  - explanations of meanings, word origins, synonyms, translations

Individual evidence

  1. Basic knowledge of art . Secondary level II. Cornelsen, S. 10 .
  2. Johann Joachim Winckelmann: Thoughts on the imitation of Greek works in painting and sculpture . 2nd increased edition. Waltherische Handlung, Dresden and Leipzig 1756, p. 2
  3. ^ Johann Joachim Winckelmann : Thoughts on the imitation of Greek works in painting and sculpture . Quoted from
  4. ^ "Villa Albani", in: Caroline Vincenti & Roberto Schezen: Römische Paläste , Bechtermünz (Weltbild) Verlag, Augsburg, 1997/98, pp. 306–315, here: pp. 308, 310 and 312
  5. ^ "Villa Albani", in: Caroline Vincenti & Roberto Schezen: Römische Paläste , Bechtermünz (Weltbild) Verlag, Augsburg, 1997/98, pp. 306–315 (see in particular the images)
  6. Paolo Moreno & Chiara Stefani: Galleria Borghese , Touring Club Italiano, pp. 7–9
  7. Paolo Moreno & Chiara Stefani: Galleria Borghese , Touring Club Italiano, pp. 8–9
  8. ^ "Classicism", in: Lexikon der Kunst, Vol. 7 , Karl Müller Verlag, Erlangen 1994, p. 7
  9. ^ "Classicism", in: Lexikon der Kunst, Vol. 7 , Karl Müller Verlag, Erlangen 1994, pp. 7–8
  10. ^ Gérald van der Kamp: Versailles , Electa / Klett-Cotta, Stuttgart / Milan, 1977/1979, p. 224
  11. ^ Paul Barz: "Versailles", in: Paläste, Schlösser, Residences , Georg Westermann Verlag, 1971, p. 93
  12. ^ "Classicism", in: Lexikon der Kunst, Vol. 7 , Karl Müller Verlag, Erlangen 1994, p. 7
  13. ^ "Classicism", in: Lexikon der Kunst, Vol. 7 , Karl Müller Verlag, Erlangen 1994, p. 7
  14. ^ "Classicism", in: Lexikon der Kunst, Vol. 7 , Karl Müller Verlag, Erlangen 1994, pp. 8–9
  15. Potsdam architecture: The Palladian classicism of Frederick II. Author: Kania, Hans Dr. (1878–1947), year of publication: 1915 (online at , accessed on January 6, 2014).
  16. ^ "Classicism", in: Lexikon der Kunst, Vol. 7 , Karl Müller Verlag, Erlangen 1994, p. 9
  17. ^ "Classicism", in: Lexikon der Kunst, Vol. 7 , Karl Müller Verlag, Erlangen 1994, p. 9
  18. Ewald Behrens: "Peterhof, Tsarskoje Selo, Pawlowsk", in: Paläste, Schlösser, Residences , Georg Westermann Verlag, 1971, pp. 262–267
  19. ^ "Classicism", in: Lexikon der Kunst, Vol. 7 , Karl Müller Verlag, Erlangen 1994, p. 7
  20. ^ "Classicism", in: Lexikon der Kunst, Vol. 7 , Karl Müller Verlag, Erlangen 1994, p. 10
  21. ^ "Classicism", in: Lexikon der Kunst, Vol. 7 , Karl Müller Verlag, Erlangen 1994, p. 10
  22. ^ "Classicism", in: Lexikon der Kunst, Vol. 7 , Karl Müller Verlag, Erlangen 1994, p. 10
  23. ^ "Classicism", in: Lexikon der Kunst, Vol. 7 , Karl Müller Verlag, Erlangen 1994, p. 11
  24. ^ "Classicism", in: Lexikon der Kunst, Vol. 7 , Karl Müller Verlag, Erlangen 1994, p. 11
  25. ^ "Classicism", in: Lexikon der Kunst, Vol. 7 , Karl Müller Verlag, Erlangen 1994, p. 12
  26. ^ "Classicism", in: Lexikon der Kunst, Vol. 7 , Karl Müller Verlag, Erlangen 1994, pp. 11, 12, 13
  27. ^ "Classicism", in: Lexikon der Kunst, Vol. 7 , Karl Müller Verlag, Erlangen 1994, p. 13
  28. ^ Peter H. Feist : French Impressionism. 1860-1920. Taschen, Cologne 1995, ISBN 3-8228-8702-1 , pp. 15-17.