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Introduction to Romanticism and Romantic Era Painting


Romantic art embraced more than traditional romance. It expressed the full range of human emotions with melodramatic, epic scale canvases, images that stir the emotions, and an almost religious embrace of nature.

Complete Video Script

[5] In the early 1800s, in the wake of the French Revolution, Europe's masses were hungry for freedom, both political and personal. That urge expressed itself in art that was not cerebral, but about letting hearts run wild. It was called Romanticism.

[6] Sure, Romantic art embraced traditional romance. But it was much more. It expressed the full range of human emotions: from the highest of highs…to the lowest of lows…the awe-inspiring grandeur of nature…a dreamy nostalgia for times past…and a fascination with the exotic. The Romantic style is melodramatic, with epic scale canvases, and images that stir the emotions.

[12, Pantheon, Paris] To appreciate Romantic art, it helps to understand what preceded it. Back in the 1700s, in the Age of Enlightenment, so much — including art — was subjected to "the test of reason." Art and architecture was Neoclassical--clean, simple, and logical…like this.

[13, Oath of Horatii, David; Death of Socrates, David; Pauline Bonaparte, Canova] In Neoclassical paintings, heroes were posed…death scenes were stoic…and idealized nudes sat calmly while deep in thought.

[14, The Death of Sardanapalus, 1826, Delacroix, Louvre Museum, Paris] But, the Romantic-style art which followed — like this super-charged orgy of drama and violence — was an unruly explosion of emotions.

[15, Liberty Leading the People, 1830, Delacroix, Louvre Museum, Paris] This fearless Romantic heroine, storms the barricades in the cause of liberty as guns blaze, smoke billows, and bodies fall…as she leads the common people to victory.

[16, Raft of the Medusa, 1819, Géricault, Louvre Museum, Paris] And what could be more stirring than shipwrecked souls lost at sea. It's a human pyramid of emotion, from the depths of despair…to a hope-filled pinnacle of ecstasy as they spot the rescue ship. If Romantic art controls your heartbeat, this is a masterpiece.

[17] The Neoclassical and Romantic styles seem like opposites. Yet, both styles coexisted for decades, mirroring the conflicting social trends of the times.