Romanticism (also known as the Romantic era) was an artistic, literary, musical and intellectual movement that originated in Europe towards the end of the 18th century, and in most areas was at its peak in the approximate period from 1800 to 1850. Romanticism was characterized by its emphasis on emotion and individualism as well as glorification of all the past and nature, preferring the medieval rather than the classical. It was partly a reaction to the Industrial Revolution, the aristocratic social and political norms of the Age of Enlightenment, and the scientific rationalization of natureall components of modernity. It was embodied most strongly in the visual arts, music, and literature, but had a major impact on historiography, education, chess, social sciences, and the natural sciences. It had a significant and complex effect on politics, with romantic thinkers influencing liberalism, radicalism, conservatism, and nationalism.
The movement emphasized intense emotion as an authentic source of aesthetic experience, placing new emphasis on such emotions as apprehension, horror and terror, and aweespecially that experienced in confronting the new aesthetic categories of the sublimity and beauty of nature. It elevated folk art and ancient custom to something noble, but also spontaneity as a desirable characteristic (as in the musical impromptu). In contrast to the Rationalism and Classicism of the Enlightenment, Romanticism revived medievalism and elements of art and narrative perceived as authentically medieval in an attempt to escape population growth, early urban sprawl, and industrialism.
Although the movement was rooted in the German Sturm und Drang movement, which preferred intuition and emotion to the rationalism of the Enlightenment, the events and ideologies of the French Revolution were also proximate factors. Romanticism assigned a high value to the achievements of "heroic" individualists and artists, whose examples, it maintained, would raise the quality of society. It also promoted the individual imagination as a critical authority allowed of freedom from classical notions of form in art. There was a strong recourse to historical and natural inevitability, a Zeitgeist, in the representation of its ideas. In the second half of the 19th century, Realism was offered as a polar opposite to Romanticism. The decline of Romanticism during this time was associated with multiple processes, including social and political changes.
The nature of Romanticism may be approached from the primary importance of the free expression of the feelings of the artist. The importance the Romantics placed on emotion is summed up in the remark of the German painter Caspar David Friedrich, "the artist's feeling is his law". For William Wordsworth, poetry should begin as "the spontaneous overflow of powerful feelings", which the poet then "recollect[s] in tranquility", evoking a new but corresponding emotion the poet can then mold into art.
To express these feelings, it was considered that content of art had to come from the imagination of the artist, with as little interference as possible from "artificial" rules dictating what a work should consist of. Samuel Taylor Coleridge and others believed there were natural laws the imaginationat least of a good creative artistwould unconsciously follow through artistic inspiration if left alone. As well as rules, the influence of models from other works was considered to impede the creator's own imagination, so that originality was essential. The concept of the genius, or artist who was able to produce his own original work through this process of creation from nothingness, is key to Romanticism, and to be derivative was the worst sin. This idea is often called "romantic originality". Translator and prominent Romantic August Wilhelm Schlegel argued in his Lectures on Dramatic Arts and Letters that the most phenomenal power of human nature is its capacity to divide and diverge into opposite directions.
Not essential to Romanticism, but so widespread as to be normative, was a strong belief and interest in the importance of nature. This particularly in the effect of nature upon the artist when he is surrounded by it, preferably alone. In contrast to the usually very social art of the Enlightenment, Romantics were distrustful of the human world, and tended to believe a close connection with nature was mentally and morally healthy. Romantic art addressed its audiences with what was intended to be felt as the personal voice of the artist. So, in literature, "much of romantic poetry invited the reader to identify the protagonists with the poets themselves".
According to Isaiah Berlin, Romanticism embodied "a new and restless spirit, seeking violently to burst through old and cramping forms, a nervous preoccupation with perpetually changing inner states of consciousness, a longing for the unbounded and the indefinable, for perpetual movement and change, an effort to return to the forgotten sources of life, a passionate effort at self-assertion both individual and collective, a search after means of expressing an unappeasable yearning for unattainable goals".
The group of words with the root "Roman" in the various European languages, such as "romance" and "Romanesque", has a complicated history. By the 1700s, European languages notably German, French and Russian were using the term "Roman" in the sense of the English word "novel", i.e. a work of popular narrative fiction. This usage derived from the term "Romance languages", which referred to vernacular (or popular) language in contrast to formal Latin. Most such novels took the form of "chivalric romance", tales of adventure, devotion and honour.
The founders of Romanticism, critics August Wilhelm Schlegel and Friedrich Schlegel, began to speak of romantische Poesie ("romantic poetry") in the 1790s, contrasting it with "classic" but in terms of spirit rather than merely dating. Friedrich Schlegel wrote in his 1800 essay Gesprch ber die Poesie ("Dialogue on Poetry"): "I seek and find the romantic among the older moderns, in Shakespeare, in Cervantes, in Italian poetry, in that age of chivalry, love and fable, from which the phenomenon and the word itself are derived."
The modern sense of the term spread more widely in France by its persistent use by Germaine de Stal in her De l'Allemagne (1813), recounting her travels in Germany. In England Wordsworth wrote in a preface to his poems of 1815 of the "romantic harp" and "classic lyre", but in 1820 Byron could still write, perhaps slightly disingenuously, "I perceive that in Germany, as well as in Italy, there is a great struggle about what they call 'Classical' and 'Romantic', terms which were not subjects of classification in England, at least when I left it four or five years ago". It is only from the 1820s that Romanticism certainly knew itself by its name, and in 1824 the Acadmie franaise took the wholly ineffective step of issuing a decree condemning it in literature.
The period typically called Romantic varies greatly between different countries and different artistic media or areas of thought. Margaret Drabble described it in literature as taking place "roughly between 1770 and 1848", and few dates much earlier than 1770 will be found. In English literature, M. H. Abrams placed it between 1789, or 1798, this latter a very typical view, and about 1830, perhaps a little later than some other critics. Others have proposed 17801830. In other fields and other countries the period denominated as Romantic can be considerably different; musical Romanticism, for example, is generally regarded as only having ceased as a major artistic force as late as 1910, but in an extreme extension the Four Last Songs of Richard Strauss are described stylistically as "Late Romantic" and were composed in 194648. However, in most fields the Romantic period is said to be over by about 1850, or earlier.
The early period of the Romantic era was a time of war, with the French Revolution (17891799) followed by the Napoleonic Wars until 1815. These wars, along with the political and social turmoil that went along with them, served as the background for Romanticism. The key generation of French Romantics born between 1795 and 1805 had, in the words of one of their number, Alfred de Vigny, been "conceived between battles, attended school to the rolling of drums". According to Jacques Barzun, there were three generations of Romantic artists. The first emerged in the 1790s and 1800s, the second in the 1820s, and the third later in the century.
Context and place in history
The more precise characterization and specific definition of Romanticism has been the subject of debate in the fields of intellectual history and literary history throughout the 20th century, without any great measure of consensus emerging. That it was part of the Counter-Enlightenment, a reaction against the Age of Enlightenment, is generally accepted in current scholarship. Its relationship to the French Revolution, which began in 1789 in the very early stages of the period, is clearly important, but highly variable depending on geography and individual reactions. Most Romantics can be said to be broadly progressive in their views, but a considerable number always had, or developed, a wide range of conservative views, and nationalism was in many countries strongly associated with Romanticism, as discussed in detail below.
In philosophy and the history of ideas, Romanticism was seen by Isaiah Berlin as disrupting for over a century the classic Western traditions of rationality and the idea of moral absolutes and agreed values, leading "to something like the melting away of the very notion of objective truth", and hence not only to nationalism, but also fascism and totalitarianism, with a gradual recovery coming only after World War II. For the Romantics, Berlin says,
in the realm of ethics, politics, aesthetics it was the authenticity and sincerity of the pursuit of inner goals that mattered; this applied equally to individuals and groupsstates, nations, movements. This is most evident in the aesthetics of romanticism, where the notion of eternal models, a Platonic vision of ideal beauty, which the artist seeks to convey, however imperfectly, on canvas or in sound, is replaced by a passionate belief in spiritual freedom, individual creativity. The painter, the poet, the composer do not hold up a mirror to nature, however ideal, but invent; they do not imitate (the doctrine of mimesis), but create not merely the means but the goals that they pursue; these goals represent the self-expression of the artist's own unique, inner vision, to set aside which in response to the demands of some "external" voicechurch, state, public opinion, family friends, arbiters of tasteis an act of betrayal of what alone justifies their existence for those who are in any sense creative.
Arthur Lovejoy attempted to demonstrate the difficulty of defining Romanticism in his seminal article "On The Discrimination of Romanticisms" in his Essays in the History of Ideas (1948); some scholars see Romanticism as essentially continuous with the present, some like Robert Hughes see in it the inaugural moment of modernity, and some like Chateaubriand, Novalis and Samuel Taylor Coleridge see it as the beginning of a tradition of resistance to Enlightenment rationalisma "Counter-Enlightenment" to be associated most closely with German Romanticism. An earlier definition comes from Charles Baudelaire: "Romanticism is precisely situated neither in choice of subject nor exact truth, but in the way of feeling."
The end of the Romantic era is marked in some areas by a new style of Realism, which affected literature, especially the novel and drama, painting, and even music, through Verismo opera. This movement was led by France, with Balzac and Flaubert in literature and Courbet in painting; Stendhal and Goya were important precursors of Realism in their respective media. However, Romantic styles, now often representing the established and safe style against which Realists rebelled, continued to flourish in many fields for the rest of the century and beyond. In music such works from after about 1850 are referred to by some writers as "Late Romantic" and by others as "Neoromantic" or "Postromantic", but other fields do not usually use these terms; in English literature and painting the convenient term "Victorian" avoids having to characterise the period further.
In northern Europe, the Early Romantic visionary optimism and belief that the world was in the process of great change and improvement had largely vanished, and some art became more conventionally political and polemical as its creators engaged polemically with the world as it was. Elsewhere, including in very different ways the United States and Russia, feelings that great change was underway or just about to come were still possible. Displays of intense emotion in art remained prominent, as did the exotic and historical settings pioneered by the Romantics, but experimentation with form and technique was generally reduced, often replaced with meticulous technique, as in the poems of Tennyson or many paintings. If not realist, late 19th-century art was often extremely detailed, and pride was taken in adding authentic details in a way that earlier Romantics did not trouble with. Many Romantic ideas about the nature and purpose of art, above all the pre-eminent importance of originality, remained important for later generations, and often underlie modern views, despite opposition from theorists.
Romantic architecture appeared in the late 18th century in a reaction against the rigid forms of neoclassical architecture. Romantic architecture reached its peak in the mid-19th century, and continued to appear until the end of the 19th century. It was designed to evoke an emotional reaction, either respect for tradition or nostalgia for a bucolic past. It was frequently inspired by the architecture of the Middle Ages, especially Gothic architecture, It was strongly influenced by romanticism in literature, particularly the historical novels of Victor Hugo and Walter Scott. It sometimes moved into the domain of eclecticism, with features assembled from different historic periods and regions of the world.
Gothic Revival architecture was a popular variant of the romantic style, particularly in the construction of churches, Cathedrals, and university buildings. Notable examples include the completion of Cologne Cathedral in Germany, by Karl Friedrich Schinkel. The cathedral had been begun in 1248, but work was halted in 1473. The original plans for the faade were discovered in 1840, and it was decided to recommence. Schinkel followed the original design as much as possible, but used modern construction technology, including an iron frame for the roof. The building was finished in 1880.
In Britain, notable examples include the Royal Pavilion in Brighton, a romantic version of traditional Indian architecture by John Nash (18151823), and the Houses of Parliament in London, built in a Gothic revival style by Charles Barry between 1840 and 1876.
In France, one of the earliest examples of romantic architecture is the Hameau de la Reine, the small rustic hamlet created at the Palace of Versailles for Queen Marie Antoinette between 1783 and 1785 by the royal architect Richard Mique with the help of the romantic painter Hubert Robert. It consisted of twelve structures, ten of which still exist, in the style of villages in Normandy. It was designed for the Queen and her friends to amuse themselves by playing at being peasants, and included a farmhouse with a dairy, a mill, a boudoir, a pigeon loft, a tower in the form of a lighthouse from which one could fish in the pond, a belvedere, a cascade and grotto, and a luxuriously furnished cottage with a billiard room for the Queen.
French romantic architecture in the 19th century was strongly influenced by two writers; Victor Hugo, whose novel The Hunchback of Notre Dame inspired a resurgence in interest in the Middle Ages; and Prosper Mrime, who wrote celebrated romantic novels and short stories and was also the first head of the commission of Historic Monuments in France, responsible for publicizing and restoring (and sometimes romanticizing) many French cathedrals and monuments desecrated and ruined after the French Revolution. His projects were carried out by the architect Eugne Viollet-le-Duc. These included the restoration (sometimes creative) of the Cathedral of Notre Dame de Paris, the fortified city of Carcassonne, and the unfinished medieval Chteau de Pierrefonds.
The romantic style continued in the second half of the 19th century. The Palais Garnier, the Paris opera house designed by Charles Garnier was a highly romantic and eclectic combination of artistic styles. Another notable example of late 19th century romanticism is the Basilica of Sacr-Cur by Paul Abadie, who drew upon the model of Byzantine architecture for his elongated domes (1875-1914).
In the visual arts, Romanticism first showed itself in landscape painting, where from as early as the 1760s British artists began to turn to wilder landscapes and storms, and Gothic architecture, even if they had to make do with Wales as a setting. Caspar David Friedrich and J. M. W. Turner were born less than a year apart in 1774 and 1775 respectively and were to take German and English landscape painting to their extremes of Romanticism, but both their artistic sensibilities were formed when forms of Romanticism was already strongly present in art. John Constable, born in 1776, stayed closer to the English landscape tradition, but in his largest "six-footers" insisted on the heroic status of a patch of the working countryside where he had grown upchallenging the traditional hierarchy of genres, which relegated landscape painting to a low status. Turner also painted very large landscapes, and above all, seascapes. Some of these large paintings had contemporary settings and staffage, but others had small figures that turned the work into history painting in the manner of Claude Lorrain, like Salvator Rosa, a late Baroque artist whose landscapes had elements that Romantic painters repeatedly turned to. Friedrich often used single figures, or features like crosses, set alone amidst a huge landscape, "making them images of the transitoriness of human life and the premonition of death".
Other groups of artists expressed feelings that verged on the mystical, many largely abandoning classical drawing and proportions. These included William Blake and Samuel Palmer and the other members of the Ancients in England, and in Germany Philipp Otto Runge. Like Friedrich, none of these artists had significant influence after their deaths for the rest of the 19th century, and were 20th-century rediscoveries from obscurity, though Blake was always known as a poet, and Norway's leading painter Johan Christian Dahl was heavily influenced by Friedrich. The Rome-based Nazarene movement of German artists, active from 1810, took a very different path, concentrating on medievalizing history paintings with religious and nationalist themes.
The arrival of Romanticism in French art was delayed by the strong hold of Neoclassicism on the academies, but from the Napoleonic period it became increasingly popular, initially in the form of history paintings propagandising for the new regime, of which Girodet's Ossian receiving the Ghosts of the French Heroes, for Napoleon's Chteau de Malmaison, was one of the earliest. Girodet's old teacher David was puzzled and disappointed by his pupil's direction, saying: "Either Girodet is mad or I no longer know anything of the art of painting". A new generation of the French school, developed personal Romantic styles, though still concentrating on history painting with a political message. Thodore Gricault (17911824) had his first success with The Charging Chasseur, a heroic military figure derived from Rubens, at the Paris Salon of 1812 in the years of the Empire, but his next major completed work, The Raft of the Medusa of 1821, remains the greatest achievement of the Romantic history painting, which in its day had a powerful anti-government message.
Eugne Delacroix (17981863) made his first Salon hits with The Barque of Dante (1822), The Massacre at Chios (1824) and Death of Sardanapalus (1827). The second was a scene from the Greek War of Independence, completed the year Byron died there, and the last was a scene from one of Byron's plays. With Shakespeare, Byron was to provide the subject matter for many other works of Delacroix, who also spent long periods in North Africa, painting colourful scenes of mounted Arab warriors. His Liberty Leading the People (1830) remains, with the Medusa, one of the best-known works of French Romantic painting. Both reflected current events, and increasingly "history painting", literally "story painting", a phrase dating back to the Italian Renaissance meaning the painting of subjects with groups of figures, long considered the highest and most difficult form of art, did indeed become the painting of historical scenes, rather than those from religion or mythology.
Francisco Goya was called "the last great painter in whose art thought and observation were balanced and combined to form a faultless unity". But the extent to which he was a Romantic is a complex question. In Spain, there was still a struggle to introduce the values of the Enlightenment, in which Goya saw himself as a participant. The demonic and anti-rational monsters thrown up by his imagination are only superficially similar to those of the Gothic fantasies of northern Europe, and in many ways he remained wedded to the classicism and realism of his training, as well as looking forward to the Realism of the later 19th century. But he, more than any other artist of the period, exemplified the Romantic values of the expression of the artist's feelings and his personal imaginative world. He also shared with many of the Romantic painters a more free handling of paint, emphasized in the new prominence of the brushstroke and impasto, which tended to be repressed in neoclassicism under a self-effacing finish.
Sculpture remained largely impervious to Romanticism, probably partly for technical reasons, as the most prestigious material of the day, marble, does not lend itself to expansive gestures. The leading sculptors in Europe, Antonio Canova and Bertel Thorvaldsen, were both based in Rome and firm Neoclassicists, not at all tempted to allow influence from medieval sculpture, which would have been one possible approach to Romantic sculpture. When it did develop, true Romantic sculpturewith the exception of a few artists such as Rudolf Maison rather oddly was missing in Germany, and mainly found in France, with Franois Rude, best known from his group of the 1830s from the Arc de Triomphe in Paris, David d'Angers, and Auguste Prault. Prault's plaster relief entitled Slaughter, which represented the horrors of wars with exacerbated passion, caused so much scandal at the 1834 Salon that Prault was banned from this official annual exhibition for nearly twenty years. In Italy, the most important Romantic sculptor was Lorenzo Bartolini.
In France, historical painting on idealized medieval and Renaissance themes is known as the style Troubadour, a term with no equivalent for other countries, though the same trends occurred there. Delacroix, Ingres and Richard Parkes Bonington all worked in this style, as did lesser specialists such as Pierre-Henri Rvoil (1776-1842) and Fleury-Franois Richard (1777-1852). Their pictures are often small, and feature intimate private and anecdotal moments, as well as those of high drama. The lives of great artists such as Raphael were commemorated on equal terms with those of rulers, and fictional characters were also depicted. Fleury-Richard's Valentine of Milan weeping for the death of her husband, shown in the Paris Salon of 1802, marked the arrival of the style, which lasted until the mid-century, before being subsumed into the increasingly academic history painting of artists like Paul Delaroche.
Another trend was for very large apocalyptic history paintings, often combining extreme natural events, or divine wrath, with human disaster, attempting to outdo The Raft of the Medusa, and now often drawing comparisons with effects from Hollywood. The leading English artist in the style was John Martin, whose tiny figures were dwarfed by enormous earthquakes and storms, and worked his way through the biblical disasters, and those to come in the final days. Other works such as Delacroix's Death of Sardanapalus included larger figures, and these often drew heavily on earlier artists, especially Poussin and Rubens, with extra emotionalism and special effects.
Elsewhere in Europe, leading artists adopted Romantic styles: in Russia there were the portraitists Orest Kiprensky and Vasily Tropinin, with Ivan Aivazovsky specializing in marine painting, and in Norway Hans Gude painted scenes of fjords. In Italy Francesco Hayez (17911882) was the leading artist of Romanticism in mid-19th-century Milan. His long, prolific and extremely successful career saw him begin as a Neoclassical painter, pass right through the Romantic period, and emerge at the other end as a sentimental painter of young women. His Romantic period included many historical pieces of "Troubadour" tendencies, but on a very large scale, that are heavily influenced by Gian Battista Tiepolo and other late Baroque Italian masters.
Literary Romanticism had its counterpart in the American visual arts, most especially in the exaltation of an untamed American landscape found in the paintings of the Hudson River School. Painters like Thomas Cole, Albert Bierstadt and Frederic Edwin Church and others often expressed Romantic themes in their paintings. They sometimes depicted ancient ruins of the old world, such as in Fredric Edwin Church's piece Sunrise in Syria. These works reflected the Gothic feelings of death and decay. They also show the Romantic ideal that Nature is powerful and will eventually overcome the transient creations of men. More often, they worked to distinguish themselves from their European counterparts by depicting uniquely American scenes and landscapes. This idea of an American identity in the art world is reflected in W. C. Bryant's poem To Cole, the Painter, Departing for Europe, where Bryant encourages Cole to remember the powerful scenes that can only be found in America.
Some American paintings (such as Albert Bierstadt's The Rocky Mountains, Lander's Peak) promote the literary idea of the "noble savage" by portraying idealized Native Americans living in harmony with the natural world. Thomas Cole's paintings tend towards allegory, explicit in The Voyage of Life series painted in the early 1840s, showing the stages of life set amidst an awesome and immense nature.
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- Romantic CirclesElectronic editions, histories, and scholarly articles related to the Romantic era
- Romantic Rebellion
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