What Are the Characteristics of Romanticism?

Daniel Liden

Romanticism describes an artistic and intellectual movement that started in the latter part of the 18th century and had a powerful effect on many areas of art, literature, music, and thought. The characteristics of Romanticism include a focus on strong emotion, awe of nature, and a break from following rigid structure. These and other characteristics arose, to an extent, from a desire to rebel against the scientific rationalization of the natural world that was occurring due to rapid increases in scientific progress. As such, emphasis was placed on the power of nature, the importance of imagination, and the use of mythical and religious symbolism.

The Romantic poet Lord Byron set many of his narrative love poems in turbulent medieval settings.
The Romantic poet Lord Byron set many of his narrative love poems in turbulent medieval settings.

Some of the characteristics of Romanticism are based in thematic rather than stylistic concerns. Much romantic literature, for instance, focused on isolated and heroic artist figures in unpleasant or difficult situations. Romantic literature also addressed the human psyche in new ways, placing importance on the unconscious and the imagination that was generally lacking in classical literature. Some literature from the Romantic movement took on supernatural or occult subjects, and many early important works in the horror genre originated from this movement. The vast power of nature and the powerlessness of man against nature was another of the prominent thematic.

Samuel Coleridge's Ancient Mariner drew the supernatural wrath of nature for killing an albatross.
Samuel Coleridge's Ancient Mariner drew the supernatural wrath of nature for killing an albatross.

Romanticism also has several stylistic characteristics that contrast with the structure, formality, and restraint common in classicism. These writers held imagination and creativity above formality and structure, so many defied literary conventions of the time. They practiced less restraint than their classical counterparts and were more likely to use words and phrases highly evocative of emotion and less based in precise concrete meaning. Classical writers tended to follow very explicit rules that specified what they should and should not do in their literary work, which was starkly different from Romanticism.

Artist and poet William Blake drew heavily from mythology and inner visions to create unique illustrated books.
Artist and poet William Blake drew heavily from mythology and inner visions to create unique illustrated books.

Another of the characteristics of Romanticism is a focus on mythology and religion. The focus was not, however, always full of humble awe and respect — many romantic writers provided reinterpretations of myths that varied substantially from the source material. Religion in particular was treated with much less respect and awe than in past literary practices. Writers were likely to use religious imagery because of its beauty and effectiveness in conveying emotionally-charged meaning. Romanticism is not, however, defined by pious and deferential respect for the religious themes addressed, and writers freely used religious ideas for their own purposes.

Wordsworth's poetry emphasized emotion and man's connection to nature.
Wordsworth's poetry emphasized emotion and man's connection to nature.
John Keats was a notable Romantic poet.
John Keats was a notable Romantic poet.

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Discussion Comments


I am very much a thinker, and one of the things that I often think about is the direction our world is taking. We, as humans, change from generation to generation, and we are constantly seeking that which we do not have. In that way, we very much stay the same.

Those of the Romantic Era, in effect, rebelled against the scientific discoveries of that time. This process was a great example of how we human beings react to too much change that happens too quickly.

It makes me wonder, being the thinker that I am, if we are about to see the same kind of revolutionary changes across our society, and the whole world, actually.

Technology and science are constantly evolving in their knowledge and capabilities. How long before we rebel against what we cannot keep up with?

Or, has that rebellion already begun? It is very difficult to say, and probably only able to be answered by future generations studying us as history.


Most people make the immediate assumption that this era was actually full of romantic love. That wasn’t necessarily the case at all. However, it did open doors to some great artistic endeavors.

I actually tend to think of the Romantic Era as very dramatic. In a way, it was almost like a child throwing a temper tantrum. The artists and great thinkers of the time decided to act out against the oppression they felt was being place on them through the advance of science.

The plays, literature, music and visual art were far less lovey-dovey than one might envision, but it is also a very striking example of human nature turning on what it feels is suffocating its imagination.


We are studying the characteristics of Romanticism art in my art class and we have already studied the Classical era before this.

I agree with all of the comments here. The Romantic era paintings we saw pictures of in class had so many different colors in them than Classic era paintings. In the Class era, the painters used several basic colors the most- black, white and red. In the Romantic era paintings, I can see, reds, blues, greens and yellow more.

The Romantic era paintings also look very natural, as if someone took a picture of people while they were minding their own business. In Classic era paintings, it was not like that. It was very rigid. The people in the paintings looked like they were posing for a camera.


@turquoise-- It's possible that some Classical era artists made very different works of art in the Romantic era. Technically the Romantic era started fifteen years before the Classical era ended, so the opportunity to shift over was there.

But I do think that Romantic era artists are a whole separate group. The reason is because the rise of the Romantic era also had a lot to do with the social changes that were taking place at that time. The Middle Class was rising in Europe and becoming more powerful and they found the art of the aristocrats (the Classical era art) to be kind of fake, uptight and insincere.

That's why among Romantic era characteristics, we see more colors, sincerity, spontaneity and imagination. I think the Classical period's art and literature is that of the aristocrats, the European bourgeoisie. The Romantic era's art and literature is that of the middle class, the common people.


It's so interesting how humans tend to go in the opposite direction when they feel forced to act in a certain way. The frustration that artists felt with the rules and structure of the Classical era made them go in the complete opposite direction during the Romanticism era. In fact, they even went overboard with some of the concepts they used because of the liberty that Romanticism gave them.

I wonder if there were any Classical era artists that made a complete turnaround during the Romantic era? Or were the Romantic era artists a separate bunch from the Classical?

I personally like the characteristics of Romantic literature and art much more than Classic. Like the article said, there is much more emotion and feeling in there. I think art and literature is most beautiful when people are able to express themselves fully and freely. And you can see that in the Romantic era.

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