Tales of Troy and Greece
(Longmans, Green, and Company, 1907)
Europe has a long history of a fascination
with ancient Greek and Roman culture. The most well known
revival was the Renaissance, a flowering of interest in
classical philosophy and culture that inspired
artists such as Michelangelo and Leonardo da Vinci in their
pursuit of an idealized realism. Another period of Neoclassicism
happened as a part of the historical revivalism of the
18th and 19th centuries (also called Greek Revival). Artists,
architects and designers looked back to Greece, Rome and
the Renaissance era and used these styles to meet current
goals and needs. Though Renaissance Revival and Neoclassicism
are separate styles (with more specific divisions within
them as well), for the sake of simplicity, they are joined
together under the heading "Neoclassical" within
this database because of their similar classical roots.
Neoclassical style began with a renewed exposure to and interest in ancient Greek and Roman culture. The archaeological sites of Pompeii and Herculaneum opened in the 1830s and 40s, reviving an interest in classical antiques and artifacts. Johann Joachim Winckelmann, an influential German historian wrote on Greek art and theory in such works as Reflections on the Imitation of the Painting and Sculpture of the Greeks (1755). The Society of Dilettanti formed in 1732, and this group of connoisseurs supported the Neoclassical movement by sponsoring archaeological expeditions to Greece and publishing the resulting finds.
Monument to the Memory of Henry Clay W. A. Clarke
Behind this exploration of
Greek art and culture were certain moral undertones. There
was a long tradition of admiration for ancient philosophers
like Plato and Aristotle, and Greek art and architecture
were held up as ideals for their refinement and realism.
Revivalists felt that the exploration of this era and its
work would in turn help the moral and intellectual fiber
of the nation who examined it. In the words of English
artist Henry Moses, "the study of the unrivalled works
of the ancients is essential to the establishment of good
taste and correct judgment," (quoted in Classical
Taste, 9). During the 19th century, the advocates for classical
style sometimes entered into debate with the supporters
of Gothic Revival, another movement that had moral
justifications for its existence.
Often leaders used classical
style to make a specific political statement. Napoleon
was instrumental in the classical revival in the early
19th century because he designed his court in this style.
He did this in order to give foundation and credence to
his power by aligning himself with the ancients. America
began its search for a national identity and culture during
the time when Neoclassical style was particularly popular.
They appreciated it because of its associations with ideal
beauty and patriotism and because its roots were not as
strongly tied to European aristocracy or ecclesia. As a
result, they adopted classical architectural and decorative
styles for many buildings, particularly public ones in
the national and state capitals. It was also popular to
depict national leaders and heroes in classical garb and
The Token and Atlantic Souvenir :An Offering for Christmas and the New Year
G. Goodrich, 1833)
Revival had similar roots to many revival styles of the
19th century. It first began in France in the early 1800s
with the publication of architectural manuals of historical
styles, which inspired copies in architecture and the decorative
arts. In the beginning it focused mainly on the architecture
of the Italian Renaissance but later spread to include
Northern Renaissance designs as well. It was primarily
a secular style, popular for clubs, offices, town halls
and hotels and not used much on ecclesiastical buildings.
Designers appreciated Renaissance Revival style because
of the many ornamental options it gave them, though they
usually did not apply them in a particularly accurate manner.
covers during this period sometimes employed the ornaments
of these two styles. Neoclassical style was more restrained
and austere, without a lot of superfluous ornamentation.
The Empire style under Napoleon used covers with simple
laurel leaf borders in gold stamping. Classical forms
like vases, lyres and mythological figures sometimes
appeared on publishers' bindings, as well as various
types of classical ornaments; Greek keying was particularly
popular. Examples of these ornaments could be found in
handbooks of design like Owen Jones's The Grammar
of Ornament (1856). The inclusion of bust style or medallion
portraits was also reminiscent of the classical era.
In the early 20th century, designers began to include
more architectural forms; classical style columns, friezes
and pediments found a place on book covers, particularly
of works that the publisher wanted to give a "classic" feel,
like literature or drama.
from pba00395 (festoon)
A Son of the Old Dominion
(Lamson, Wolffe, 1897)
from pbw00008 (Greek Keying)
(Roberts Brothers, 1868)
contained motifs similar to those of Neoclassicism, but
they were used more generously, as can be seen in the
increased use of acanthus leaf arabesques and scrolls.
A form of garland called a festoon (also known as swag)
is found in both styles and originated from Roman carvings.
Masks were also a popular ornament in Renaissance Revival
art. Binders also sometimes imitated strapwork patterns
found on original Renaissance bindings and documented
in works like Henry Shaw's Encyclopedia of Ornament (1842).
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Cooper, Wendy A. Classical Taste
in America 1800-1840. Baltimore: The Baltimore
Museum of Art; New York: Abbeville Press, 1993.
Jervis, Simon. High Victorian Design. Ottawa: National
Gallery of Canada, c1974.
Sutton, Robert K. Americans Interpret the Parthenon.
The Progression of Greek Revival
Architecture from the East Coast to Oregon. 1800-1860. Niwot, CO: University
of Colorado, 1992.
Watkin, David. "Greek Revival." Dictionary
of Art. Edited by Jane Turner. New York:
Grove, 1996. (online version is available at some colleges and universities)