In the mid-to-late 18th century, the world witnessed the emergence of two very different artistic movements with two entirely opposing points of view. By comparing romanticism with neoclassicism, a number of striking differences can be identified and the evident contrast between the two is made clear.
Neoclassicism was a cultural, artistic and architectural movement which arose in reaction to rococo, possessing similar characteristics to those of the renaissance, placing reason above imagination and emotion. Romanticism is defined as a literary, artistic and intellectual movement that emerged in reaction against the social and political norms of the enlightenment and the rationalization of nature.
The rational nature of neoclassicism promoted ideas of order, limited aspirations and sensibility, the concept that reason should be used to guide artistic creation. According to the neoclassicist, art cannot be a spontaneous eruption of imagination and emotion. Emotion is present, but it must be directed and controlled. The romanticist emphasizes intuition, emotion and imagination over logic and reason, to the point where he may be considered irrational.
Neoclassicism works within the established social norms of society. Neoclassical artists believe that the individual should follow and conform to the common consensus that society offers, leading them to the common truth, rather than the opinion of a single person. Romanticism places a strong emphasis on the individual, the belief that true artistic inspiration is born out of the individual genius. According to Umberto Eco, Romantic thinkers title the artist as he who performs a "creation from nothingness."
Neoclassical art attempts to express common and shared human traits and characteristics, valuing the individual only because he represents a common human truth. Art is seen as an expression of a universal truth regarding human nature, communicating to others. Romantic artists strive to be utterly original, expressing a unique and unseen vision, by expressing themselves.
Famous neoclassicist architects were the French Jacques Germain Soufflot and Jean Chalgrin, who were the designers of the Parisian Pantheon and the Arc de Triomphe, respectively. Other well-known neoclassicist architects were the British Sir William Chambers and the American Stephen Hallet and Benjamin Henry Latrobe, who designed the U.S. Capitol Building in Washington. Famous Neoclassical painters include the English Sir Joshua Reynolds, James Barry and the French Jacques-Louis David. On the other hand, the most famous romantic artists came from the literary field, with Edgar Allan Poe, William Blake, Nathaniel Hawthorne, Emily Dickinson and Herman Melville being the most well known. Romantic musicians of the time included Ludwig Van Beethoven, Frederic Chopin, Niccolo Paganini, Richard Wagner and Pyotr Tchaikovsky.