Week 24

During the 17th and 18th Centuries, Europe was swept by a rage for the Classical—classical temples, classical salt and pepper, classical clothes—anything that hinted of ancient Rome. It was more about Rome than Greece because the monarchs liked the idea of Roman emperors. Many wanted to be "emperors." And none wanted this more than did King Louis XIV of France. Louis had one of the longest reigns in history—72 years (from 1643 to 1715). And in that long reign Louis managed to grab almost all the power in France into his own hands. There were no representative assemblies, little power in the councils, little power even in the towns and cities. Everything revolved around the Sun King as does the universe revolve around the sun. (Yes, this was a Copernican universe.) And with all this power, there was no better art style for him than the style of the Roman emperors. And so voila!—Versailles. The great palatial complex that Louis built outside of Paris summed up every single classical architectural theme available. But it wasn't only Louis and the French aristocracy that embraced Classicism. Germany loved it. England loved it. Spain loved it. And it wasn't only in architecture that the mania for the classical style was evident. It was also a new subject in the universities, among the intellectuals, in new published books. Among the stars of this whole new field of study was Johann Joachim Winkelmann (1717–1768), a German art historian and archaeologist. He was a pioneering Hellenist who first articulated the difference between Greek, Greco-Roman and Roman art. "The prophet and founding hero of modern archaeology," Winckelmann was one of the founders of scientific archaeology and first applied the categories of style on a large, systematic basis to the history of art. Many consider him the father of the discipline of art history. He was one of the first to separate Greek Art into periods and time classifications. His would be the decisive influence on the rise of the Neoclassical movement during the late 18th Century. His writings influenced not only a new science of archaeology and art history but Western painting, sculpture, literature, and even philosophy. Winckelmann's History of Ancient Art (1764) was one of the first books written in German to become a classic of European literature. His subsequent influence on Lessing, Herder, Goethe, Hölderlin, Heine, Nietzsche, George, and Spengler has been provocatively called The Tyranny of Greece over Germany. Today Humboldt University of Berlin's Winckelmann Institute is dedicated to the study of classical archaeology. Winckelmann was homosexual, and open homoeroticism formed his writings on aesthetics. This was recognized by his contemporaries such as Goethe.


Hugh Honour,

The Visual Arts: A History,

Laurence King Publishing,

ISBN 1780671172

Pages 585-588, Poussin and Claude
Pages 603-606, England and France
Pages 627-633, Neoclassicism, or the "True Style"

Hugh Honour,

Neo-Classicism ,

Penguin Books (November 21, 1991),

ISBN 0140137602

As you can see, our art historian Hugh Honour is also the author of the best book on Neoclassicism in English. "Neoclassicism" is the word we use to indicate all the later appearances of Classicism in architecture, etc., and Classicism is essentially Greek in origin with some important additions from Rome.