Neoclassical and Romantic Sculpture


Table Summary

Summary of Neoclassical and Romantic Sculpture
Neoclassical/Romantic period
ca. 1750-1900
Neoclassical Canova, Thorvaldsen
Romantic human world Rude
natural world Barye

General Features

The ages of Neoclassicism and Romanticism both span approximately the late eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.4,5 These movements flourished across Western Europe (especially in the north) and the United States, and to a lesser extent in Eastern Europe.

Two major forces contributed to the rise of Neoclassicism: reaction against the extravagance of Baroque and Rococo, and renewed interest in antiquity due to the excavation of several important classical sites (including Pompeii and Athens). These forces compelled artists from across Europe to collaborate in a classical revival.

On the other hand, many artists grew impatient with the constraints of classicism and Baroque. Instead of starting with a preconceived aesthetic structure (the stability of classicism or the dynamism of Baroque), these artists were guided by emotion: an approach known as Romanticism (see Western Aesthetics). The aesthetic structure of a Romantic work is not predetermined, but rather emerges naturally as the artist strives to capture particular feelings. Romantic art is also distinctive for a number of typical themes, including nature, historic nostalgia, and social struggle.

Main Article


ca. 1750-1900

The foremost Neoclassical sculptors were the Italian Antonio Canova and the Dane Bertel Thorvaldsen.3 Canova's most famous work may be Psyche Awakened by Cupid's Kiss; he also produced heroic statues of Napoleon. Thorvaldsen's foremost works may be Christ and Lion of Lucerne.

<em>Psyche Awakened by Cupid's Kiss</em>, Canova
Bronze of Napoleon, Canova
<em>Christ</em>, Thorvaldsen
<em>Lion of Lucerne</em>, Thorvaldsen


ca. 1750-1900

Just as Romantic painting can be divided into figure and landscape works, so can Romantic sculpture be divided into works that concern the human world and natural world. The leading sculptors of each type were Rude and Barye, respectively.

The masterpiece of François Rude is Departure of the Volunteers, a group sculpture gracing the Arc de Triomphe (a triumphal arch erected in Paris to commemorate the fallen of the French Revolutionary Wars and Napoleonic Wars). This work portrays the goddess liberty urging the forces of the French Revolution onward.1 Rude's masterpiece is the sculptural counterpart to Delacroix's painting Liberty Leading the People (the most renowned figure painting of the Romantic period).

Departure of the Volunteers, Rude
Joan of Arc Listening to her Voices, Rude

Antoine-Louis Barye, the most famous animal sculptor of all time, studied the anatomy of his subjects by sketching residents of the Paris zoo.1 Most of his works consist of single animals or predator/prey duos. The scale of Barye's work ranges from monuments to figurines.

Gnu, Barye
African Elephant Running, Barye
Rabbit, Ears Lowered, Barye
Rearing Bull, Barye
Tiger Attacking a Stag, Barye
Lion Crushing a Serpent, Barye
Theseus and the Minotaur, Barye
Tiger Hunt, Barye
1 - "Sculpture", Encarta 2004.
3 - "Antonio Canova", Encarta 2004.
4 - "Romanticism", Columbia Encyclopedia. Accessed May 2009.
5 - "Classicism", Columbia Encyclopedia. Accessed May 2009.