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date: 02 December 2023


The Oxford Dictionary of American Art and Artists

Ann Lee Morgan

Term referring to enthusiasm for Greek and Roman forms and ideals. Although the classically oriented art of other post-antique eras can be described as neoclassical, the word usually refers to work from the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. At that time, interest in the reinterpretation of antiquity swept Europe and continued on to the United States. Signaling a rejection of Baroque and rococo styles, the more disciplined and morally didactic neoclassicism often approached the antique with a fresh appreciation for correctness, stimulated by Enlightenment rationalism as well as recent archeological discoveries. The links between democracy and ancient Greece, as well as between republicanism and Rome, enhanced the resonance of neoclassical art in the United States. Imitation of classical prototypes was most direct in architecture, sculpture, and the decorative arts, but related concerns emerged in painting. To suggest the classical qualities of restraint, harmony, rational order, and noble grandeur, neoclassical painting emphasized clarity, intelligibility, firm modeling of generalized three-dimensional forms, cool coloration, and polished paint surfaces devoid of visible brushstrokes. Narrative paintings in the neoclassical style often take subjects from classical literature. ... ...

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