What Is the Difference Between Classicism and Neoclassicism?

Neoclassicism has a romantic element that was grounded in a fascination with ancient ruins.
The neoclassical Statue of Liberty was inspired by classical sculpture.
Both Classicism and Neoclassicism reflect Roman and Greek ideals.
The Jefferson Memorial in Washington DC is an example of neoclassical architecture.
Monticello, the home of Thomas Jefferson, is in the neoclassical style.
Article Details
  • Written By: Debra Barnhart
  • Edited By: Kaci Lane Hindman
  • Last Modified Date: 07 February 2015
  • Copyright Protected:
    Conjecture Corporation
  • Print this Article
Free Widgets for your Site/Blog
Urban areas contain over 50% of the world’s population but cover just 1.5% of the Earth’s land area.  more...

February 28 ,  1953 :  Watson and Crick announced the discovery of the structure of DNA.  more...

Classicism and Neoclassicism are two art movements that have the same roots in Greek and Roman antiquity, but they differ conceptually. Neoclassicism did not blindly imitate Greek and Roman art and architecture. In Neoclassicism, the principles of antiquity were combined with other artistic elements to reflect the noble ideals of ancient Greece and Rome. Classicism and Neoclassicism also differed in their philosophies on artistic expression. Much of Classicism is based on theory and the search for perfection, and despite its attention to these ideals, Neoclassicism still had a romantic element that was partially grounded in a fascination with ancient ruins.

Neoclassicism is a specific art movement that started in the 18th century and was based on the belief that there are timeless ideals in art that transcend changing styles. It lasted until the end of the 19th century. During this period western architecture in Europe reflected a renewed interest in the antiquities and in Roman and Greek ruins. Roman history became the subject matter of many paintings, and interest in antiquities was also reflected in the book Thoughts on the Imitation of Greek Art in Painting and Sculpture, which was published in 1755 by Johan Winckelmann.


Classicism continued to influence Western art after the Renaissance and the classic influence in both the visual arts and architecture is still evident. An understanding of human anatomy and realistic portrayal of the human form dominated Greek and Roman art. After the Renaissance, realistic depiction of the human form continued to have its place in the visual arts. Classic architectural elements are still visible today and are often seen in government buildings.

A return to Greek and Roman values spawned the Renaissance in Europe. Man’s place in the world and the role of art in human expression were concepts that were reevaluated during the Renaissance due to classic ideals. In particular, Greek architecture and sculpture were both imitated and used as a platform for creating new kinds of art during the Renaissance.

Greek and Roman art and architecture have inspired Western art for centuries, beginning in the Renaissance period. Both Classicism and Neoclassicism reflect Greek and Roman ideals. Western art has been profoundly influenced by Greek and Roman aesthetics, or ideas about artistic beauty. The Greek and Roman cultures developed aesthetic principles in sculpture and architecture that still have an impact today.



You might also Like

Discuss this Article

Post 2

That may be so, Ruggercat, but artistic movements in general tend to cycle through three distinct phases. The first is a simple, straightforward period where realism is appreciated, but perfection is not a goal. Creative work coming from this period tends to be unremarkable, but at least has respect for the history of the craft.

The second phase is the classical period discussed in the article. Artists strive for perfection in every aspect of their work, and for a while they come very close to achieving it. We consider Mozart to be a classical composer because his music is technically flawless. A visual artist working during a classical period creates ideal images and balanced compositions. But it is nearly impossible to maintain perfection for more than a few years.

That's where the third phase comes in. Artists are allowed to indulge in their passions and not worry so much about perfection. This is where romance and experimentation take over. Neoclassicism is sometimes seen as an attempt to re-establish classical values during an otherwise romantic or baroque period.

Post 1

One thing to keep in mind when discussing artistic periods is that many of the artists or composers or writers weren't aware they were working during a specific period or movement. They were often moving away from a previous philosophy or experimenting with a new one. There was no supreme artistic council that decided all artists would now seek perfection in their work or copy the Greeks or Romans. It simply became the popular thing to do, as with any other trend.

Post your comments

Post Anonymously


forgot password?