What Is the Difference between Classicism and Romanticism?

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  • Written By: Emily Daw
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  • Last Modified Date: 23 February 2019
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Classicism and Romanticism are artistic movements that have influenced the literature, visual art, music, and architecture of the Western world over many centuries. With its origins in the ancient Greek and Roman societies, Classicism defines beauty as that which demonstrates balance and order. Romanticism developed in the 18th century — partially as a reaction against the ideals of Classicism — and expresses beauty through imagination and powerful emotions. Although the characteristics of these movements are frequently at odds, both schools of thought continued to influence Western art into the 21st century.

The name "Classical" was given to the Greeks and Romans retroactively by Renaissance writers. Artists and thinkers of the Renaissance, which literally means "rebirth," saw themselves as the heirs of that world following the Middle Ages. Its ideals continued to exert strong influence into the Age of Enlightenment in the 17th and 18th centuries.

In literature, Classicism values traditional forms and structures. According to legend, the Roman poet Virgil left orders for his masterpiece The Aeneid to be burned at his death, because a few of its lines were still metrically imperfect. This rather extreme example demonstrates the importance placed on excellence in formal execution. Such attention to detail can also be seen in the work of the Italian poet Dante Alighieri, whose Divine Comedy contains over 14,000 lines written in a strict rhyming pattern known as terza rima. Other characteristics of the movement include balance, order, and emotional restraint.


Romanticism may be a somewhat confusing term, since modern English speakers tend to associate the word "romance" with a particular variety of love. As an artistic movement, however, it celebrates all strong emotions, not just feelings of love. In addition to emotion, Romantic artists valued the search for beauty and meaning in all aspects of life. They saw imagination, rather than reason, as the route to truth.

The treatment of emotion is one of the primary ways in which Classicism and Romanticism differ. The Romantics placed a higher value on the expression of strong emotion than on technical perfection. Classicists did not shy away from describing emotionally charged scenes, but typically did so in a more distant manner. Romantics, however, were more likely to indulge in effusive emotional statements, as John Keats did in "Ode on a Grecian Urn": "More love! More happy, happy love!"

Furthermore, these movements have different attitudes toward the grotesque. William Shakespeare, writing before the onset of Romanticism, occasionally used deformed characters in his plays, such as Caliban in The Tempest; they are used primarily for comedic effect or as a foil to the physical perfections of another character. Romantics, however, celebrated the grotesque and the outcast through the form of a Byronic hero, named after the English poet Lord Byron. One well-known example of this character type is Edward Rochester, the love interest in Charlotte Brontë's novel Jane Eyre, who reaches spiritual perfection only after undergoing physical deformation.


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Post 3

I think that the ideals of both of these movements were unrealistic and far-fetched. Classicism thought that anything could be explained with logic, including all aspects of human behavior. Romanticism on the other hand thought that trying to explain everything through logic would make us inhuman and we should rely on our feelings instead.

I think most of us agree today that neither is true. Neither is logic and science evil, nor do we need to disregard our emotions when trying to find an answer. These movements were in competition for a long time and adherents to both contributed immensely to the sciences and arts. But I don't consider them to be very applicable any longer.

Post 2

@bluedolphin-- No, they really can't be combined because they are opposites of one another in most ways. If we were to be under the influence of one of these, I would say that romanticism is more prevalent although both do not apply exclusively to our current era in my opinion.

If we are to think about the basics, classicism is basically about a set social structure whereas romanticism is about individuality. Although we live in social structures now, there is a lot of emphasis on individuality. We think and make our own decisions on all matters of our lives.

Post 1

Has there ever been a movement that combined elements of both of these?

I actually think that, in 2015, we live in an era where the ideals of both classicism and romanticism exist together. We appreciate logic, intellectual progress, order, but we also appreciate imagination, emotion and human nature.

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