Neoclassicism (from Greek νέος ''nèos'' and κλασσικός ''klassikòs'' ''classicus'') is the name given to Western movements in the decorative and visual arts, literature, theatre, music, and architecture that draw inspiration from the "classical" art and culture of Ancient Greece or Ancient Rome. Neoclassicism was born in Rome in the mid-18th century, but its popularity spread all over Europe, as a generation of European art students finished their Grand Tour and returned from Italy to their home countries with newly rediscovered Greco-Roman ideals.〔(The road from Rome to Paris. The birth of a modern Neoclassicism )〕 The main Neoclassical movement coincided with the 18th century Age of Enlightenment, and continued into the early 19th century, latterly competing with Romanticism. In architecture, the style continued throughout the 19th, 20th and up to the 21st century.
Neoclassicism is a revival of the styles and spirit of classic antiquity inspired directly from the classical period, which coincided and reflected the developments in philosophy and other areas of the Age of Enlightenment, and was initially a reaction against the excesses of the preceding Rococo style.〔Honour, 17-25; Novotny, 21〕 While the movement is often described as the opposed counterpart of Romanticism, this is a great over-simplification that tends not to be sustainable when specific artists or works are considered. The case of the supposed main champion of late Neoclassicism, Ingres, demonstrates this especially well.〔A recurring theme in Clark: 19-23, 58-62, 69, 97-98 (on Ingres); Honour, 187-190; Novotny, 86-87〕 The revival can be traced to the establishment of formal archaeology.
The writings of Johann Joachim Winckelmann were important in shaping this movement in both architecture and the visual arts. His books, ''Thoughts on the Imitation of Greek Works in Painting and Sculpture'' (1750) and ''Geschichte der Kunst des Alterthums'' ("History of Ancient Art", 1764) were the first to distinguish sharply between Ancient Greek and Roman art, and define periods within Greek art, tracing a trajectory from growth to maturity and then imitation or decadence that continues to have influence to the present day. Winckelmann believed that art should aim at "noble simplicity and calm grandeur",〔Honour, 57-62, 61 quoted〕 and praised the idealism of Greek art, in which he said we find: "not only nature at its most beautiful but also something beyond nature, namely certain ideal forms of its beauty, which, as an ancient interpreter of Plato teaches us, come from images created by the mind alone." The theory was very far from new in Western art, but his emphasis on close copying of Greek models was: "The only way for us to become great or if this be possible, inimitable, is to imitate the ancients".〔Both quotes from the first pages of "Thoughts on the Imitation of Greek Works in Painting and Sculpture"〕
With the advent of the Grand Tour, a fad of collecting antiquities began that laid the foundations of many great collections spreading a Neoclassical revival throughout Europe. "Neoclassicism" in each art implies a particular canon of a "classical" model.
In English, the term "Neoclassicism" is used primarily of the visual arts; the similar movement in English literature, which began considerably earlier, is called Augustan literature, which had been dominant for several decades, and was beginning to decline, by the time Neoclassicism in the visual arts became fashionable. Though terms differ, the situation in French literature was similar. In music, the period saw the rise of classical music, and "neoclassicism" is used of 20th century developments. However the operas of Christoph Willibald Gluck, represented a specifically neo-classical approach, spelt out in his preface to the published score of ''Alceste'' (1769), which aimed to reform opera by removing ornamentation, increasing the role of the chorus in line with Greek tragedy, and using simpler unadorned melodic lines.〔Honour, 21〕
The term "Neoclassical" was not invented until the mid-19th century, and at the time the style was described by such terms as "the true style", "reformed" and "revival"; what was regarded as being revived varying considerably. Ancient models were certainly very much involved, but the style could also be regarded as a revival of the Renaissance, and especially in France as a return to the more austere and noble Baroque of the age of Louis XIV, for which a considerable nostalgia had developed as France's dominant military and political position started a serious decline.〔Honour, 11, 23-25〕 Ingres's coronation portrait of Napoleon even borrowed from Late Antique consular diptychs and their Carolingian revival, to the disapproval of critics.
Neoclassicism was strongest in architecture, sculpture and the decorative arts, where classical models in the same medium were relatively numerous and accessible; examples from ancient painting that demonstrated the qualities that Winckelmann's writing found in sculpture were and are lacking. Winckelmann was involved in the dissemination of knowledge of the first large Roman paintings to be discovered, at Pompeii and Herculaneum and, like most contemporaries except for Gavin Hamilton, was unimpressed by them, citing Pliny the Younger's comments on the decline of painting in his period.〔Honour, 44-46; Novotny, 21〕
European Neoclassicism in the visual arts began c. 1760 in opposition to the then-dominant Baroque and Rococo styles. Rococo architecture emphasizes grace, ornamentation and asymmetry; Neoclassical architecture is based on the principles of simplicity and symmetry, which were seen as virtues of the arts of Rome and Ancient Greece, and were more immediately drawn from 16th century Renaissance Classicism. Each "neo"- classicism selects some models among the range of possible classics that are available to it, and ignores others. The neoclassical writers and talkers, patrons and collectors, artists and sculptors of 1765–1830 paid homage to an ''idea'' of the generation of Pheidias, but the sculpture examples they actually embraced were more likely to be Roman copies of Hellenistic sculptures. They ignored both Archaic Greek art and the works of Late Antiquity. The "Rococo" art of ancient Palmyra came as a revelation, through engravings in Wood's ''The Ruins of Palmyra''. Even Greece was all-but-unvisited, a rough backwater of the Ottoman Empire, dangerous to explore, so neoclassicists' appreciation of Greek architecture was mediated through drawings and engravings, which subtly smoothed and regularized, "corrected' and "restored" the monuments of Greece, not always consciously.
As for painting, Greek painting was utterly lost: neoclassicist painters imaginatively revived it, partly through bas-relief friezes, mosaics, and pottery painting and partly through the examples of painting and decoration of the High Renaissance of Raphael's generation, frescos in Nero's ''Domus Aurea'', Pompeii and Herculaneum and through renewed admiration of Nicholas Poussin. Much "neoclassical" painting is more classicizing in subject matter than in anything else. A fierce, but often very badly informed, dispute raged for decades over the relative merits of Greek and Roman art, with Winckelmann and his fellow Hellenists generally the winning side.〔Honour, 43-62〕
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