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a term that, when applied generally, means clearness, elegance, symmetry, and repose produced by attention to traditional forms. It is sometimes synonymous with excellence or artistic quality of high distinction. More precisely, the term refers to the admiration and imitation of Greek and Roman literature, art, and architecture. Because the principles of classicism were derived from the rules and practices of the ancients, the term came to mean the adherence to specific academic canons.

The Renaissance and Thereafter

The first major revival of classicism occurred during the Renaissance (c.1400–1600). As a result of the intensified interest in Greek and Roman culture, especially the works of Plato and Cicero, classical standards were reinstated as the ideal norm in literature. In Florence, the early center of Renaissance learning, Cosimo de' Medici gathered a circle of humanists (see humanismhumanism,
philosophical and literary movement in which man and his capabilities are the central concern. The term was originally restricted to a point of view prevalent among thinkers in the Renaissance.
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) who collected, studied, expounded, and imitated the classics. Outside Italy writers affected by the revival of classical conventions included Francis Bacon and Ben Jonson in England and Pierre Corneille and Jean Racine in France.

Renaissance painters and sculptors whose works reflect the classical influence include Andrea Mantegna, Raphael, and Michelangelo. The Greek and Roman orders of architecture were also revived during the Renaissance and applied to ecclesiastical designs. Leone Battista Alberti wrote the first of several Renaissance treatises on architecture (1485), based on his reading of Vitruvius. The writers and artists of the baroque and rococo periods (c.1600–1750) that followed the Renaissance elaborated on many of the same classical themes, although their work is often characterized by a new exuberance of form and complexity of subject matter.

The Eighteenth and Nineteenth Centuries

Following the archaeological rediscovery of HerculaneumHerculaneum
, ancient city of S Italy, on the gulf of Naples at the foot of Mt. Vesuvius. Damaged by an earthquake in A.D. 63, it was completely buried, along with Pompeii, by the volcanic eruption of Mt. Vesuvius in A.D. 79.
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 and PompeiiPompeii
, ancient city of S Italy, a port near Naples and at the foot of Mt. Vesuvius. Possibly an old Oscan settlement, it was a Samnite city for centuries before it passed under Roman rule at the time of Lucius Cornelius Sulla (1st cent. B.C.).
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 in the 18th cent. there was a renewed interest in the culture of ancient Rome and, subsequently, ancient Greece. This period is generally designated as neoclassicism, and it is considered to be the first phase in the larger romantic movement. The revival of antiquity in the 18th cent. was closely tied to such political events as the American and French revolutions, in which parallels were drawn between ancient and modern forms of government.

In German literature the classical stream was deflected in the last quarter of the 18th cent. by the romantic period of Sturm und DrangSturm und Drang
or Storm and Stress,
movement in German literature that flourished from c.1770 to c.1784. It takes its name from a play by F. M. von Klinger, Wirrwarr; oder, Sturm und Drang (1776).
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, but it was revived later in the century when Johann Wolfgang von Goethe and Friedrich von Schiller wrote classical drama. Classicism is also applied to the music of this period, especially the works of Franz Joseph Haydn, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, and Ludwig van Beethoven. In art and architecture classicism remained fashionable throughout the 19th cent. and into the early 20th cent. largely through the influence of the École des Beaux-ArtsÉcole des Beaux-Arts
[Fr.,=school of fine arts], French national school of fine arts, on the Quai Malaquais, Paris, founded in 1648 by Charles Le Brun with the consent of Cardinal Mazarin as the Académie de peinture et de sculpture; the title was changed in 1793,
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 in France, whose curriculum was imitated in many countries.

The Twentieth Century

In early 20th-century Europe and the United States there was a renewed interest in Greek literature, and classical models were somewhat revived, as in the work of Ezra Pound and T. S. Eliot. Abstracted classical elements can be found in the paintings of Paul Cézanne and Pablo Picasso, and in the architecture of Ludwig Mies van der Rohe. A more overt classicism has found renewed acceptance among many postmodern architects in recent years. Spearheading the 20th-century neoclassical revival in music were Sergei Sergeyevich Prokofiev, Igor Stravinsky, and Béla Bartók.


See T. S. Eliot, What Is a Classic? (1946); G. Highet, The Classical Tradition (1949, repr. 1957); P. O. Kristeller, Renaissance Thought (1961); W. J. Bate, From Classic to Romantic (1961); G. Murray, The Classical Tradition in Poetry (1927, repr. 1968); C. Rosen, The Classical Style: Haydn, Mozart, Beethoven (1971); R. R. Bolgar, ed., Classical Influences on E. Culture (1971); J. Summerson, The Classical Language of Architecture (1980).

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The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.



an artistic style and aesthetic tendency in European literature and art from the 17th to the early 19th century, one of the chief features of which was a return to the images and forms of the literature and art of antiquity as the ideal aesthetic standard.

Classicism evolved through interaction with other European tendencies in art. It was based on the earlier aesthetics of the Renaissance and stood in opposition to the contemporary baroque art, which was imbued with a sense of universal discord arising out of the crisis of ideals of the previous epoch. Although it continued such Renaissance traditions as reverence for antiquity, faith in reason, and idealization of harmony and measure, classicism also constituted a distinct antithesis to the Renaissance. Classicism’s external harmony concealed an inner dichotomy of outlook, which despite profound differences brought it close to the baroque. The generic and the individual, the social and the personal, reason and feeling, civilization and nature, which in the Renaissance had been integrated into a single harmonious whole, were polarized in classicism and became mutually exclusive. This dichotomy reflected a new historical situation in which the spheres of political and private life began to separate and social relations became for man a force isolated and abstract. In the 17th century the idea of reason was inseparable from that of the absolutist state, which at the time, according to K. Marx, operated as “universal reason” (K. Marx and F. Engels, Soch., 2nd ed., vol. 1, p. 254), as “the civilizing center, the unifying principle of society” (ibid., vol. 10, p. 431), as the force capable of restraining feudal anarchy and establishing peace and order.

At the heart of the aesthetics of classicism lay principles of rationalism corresponding to the philosophical ideas of R. Descartes and the Cartesians. In accordance with these principles an artistic work was regarded as an artificial creation— consciously wrought, rationally organized, and logically constructed. Advocating the “imitation of nature,” classicists held that the indispensable condition for its attainment was the strict observance of immutable rules derived from classical poetics (Aristotle, Horace) and art. These rules determined the laws of artistic form, in which the artist’s rational creative will was manifested, transforming life into a beautiful, logically harmonious, and lucid work of art.

The artistic transformation of nature into that which is beautiful and ennobling also represented a higher cognition of nature; art was called upon to show the ideal logic of the universe, often concealed behind external chaos and the disorder of reality. Reason, apprehending the ideal harmony, was a higher phenomenon than individual characteristics and the diversity of life. For classicism, only the generic, the immutable, and the timeless possessed aesthetic value. Classicism strove to discover and embody each phenomenon’s essential, permanent features; hence its interest in antiquity as an absolute, suprahistorical aesthetic norm, as well as its adherence to the principles of character types that embody certain social or spiritual forces.

The classicists aspired to create images that were models capturing life in its ideal, eternal aspect. These images were mirrors in which the individual was transformed into the generic, the temporal into the eternal, the real into the ideal, and history into myth. The classical image portrayed what is everywhere and yet nowhere in reality. It was the triumph of reason and order over chaos. The embodiment of lofty ethical ideas in appropriately harmonious and beautiful forms imparted to works fashioned according to the canons of classicism a nuance of utopianism, conditioned also by classicism’s emphasis on art’s didactic and social functions.

The aesthetics of classicism established a strict hierarchy of genres, the “high” and the “low.” In literature, the high genres embraced the tragedy, the epic, and the ode, and in painting the high genres were the historical, the mythological, and the religious. The themes of high genres dealt with the state or with religious history, and their heroes were monarchs, military leaders, mythological personages, and religious zealots. The everyday life of the middle class was portrayed in literature in the low genres of comedy, satire, and fable. In painting, the corresponding “small” genres were the landscape, portrait, and still life. Each genre had strict boundaries and precise formal features; the lofty could not be mingled with the low, the tragic with the comic, or the heroic with the everyday.

Literature. The poetics of classicism began to evolve in Italy in the late Renaissance in the poetics of L. Castelvetro and J. C. Scaliger, but only in 17th-century France, during the consolidation and flowering of absolutism, did classicism emerge as an integral artistic system.

The poetics of French classicism, developing gradually in conflict with both préciosité and the burlesque, was given final, systematic expression in the Art poétique (1674) of N. Boileau, who summed up the artistic experience of 17th-century French literature. The founder of the poetry and poetics of classicism was F. Malherbe, whose language and verse reforms were adopted by the Académie Française, entrusted with creating a binding linguistic and literary canon.

The leading genre of classicism was tragedy, which resolved the major social and moral problems of the age. In tragedy social conflicts were portrayed in the souls of heroes facing a choice between moral duty and passions. This conflict reflected the polarization of social and private life, a polarization that also determined the structure of the character. The generic and social, the thinking and reasoning “I” is contrasted with the hero’s immediate individual existence, and the hero, attempting to follow the dictates of reason, seems to view himself from without, introspects, is tormented by his duality, and senses the imperative of becoming equal to the ideal “I.” In the works of P. Corneille, this imperative merged with duty to the state. Later, in the works of J. Racine, a growing alienation from the state caused the imperative to lose its political significance and to acquire an ethical character. An inner sense of the coming crisis of the absolutist system is also revealed in Racine’s tragedies, whose ideally harmonious artistic construction contrasts with the blind and elemental passions depicted; in the face of these passions, man’s reason and will are impotent.

In French classicism, the “low” genres were also highly developed in the fables of J. de La Fontaine, the satires of Boileau, and the comedies of Molière. It was precisely in the low genres, whose characters were drawn not from an idealized historical or mythological distant past but from contemporary reality, that the realistic principle could develop. This is especially true of Molière, whose works assimilated various intellectual and artistic currents and in many ways determined subsequent literary developments. In Molière comedy ceased to be a low genre; his best plays were called “high comedies,” because, like tragedy, they attempted to resolve the most important social, moral, and philosophical problems of the age. Prose also developed within classicism, distinguished by its typologized passions, analytical characterization, and precise and clear style, as in the works of the moralists F. de La Rochefoucauld, B. Pascal, and J. de La Bruyère and the psychological novelist M. M. de La Fayette.

After a decline at the end of the 17th century, classicism was revived during the Enlightenment. The new Enlightenment classicism coexisted throughout the 18th century with Enlightenment realism, becoming once again the dominant artistic current at the end of the century. The classicism of the Enlightenment largely carried on the traditions of 17th-century classicism: man was viewed as consciously relating to the world and to himself, as capable of subordinating his hopes and passions to public and moral duty. The classicists of the Enlightenment shared the 17th-century classicists’ enthusiasm for civilization and rationalist conception of artistic creativity. However, the sociopolitical orientation of Enlightenment classicism changed. Within classical traditions, Voltaire wrote tragedies opposing religious fanaticism and absolutist oppression and expressing a love of liberty.

Admiration for antiquity as a world of ideal prototypes—the essence of classicism, including that of the 18th century—was deeply rooted in the ideology of the Enlightenment. When the men of the Enlightenment tried to go beyond the external flux of life, to transcend private life, they usually found themselves in a world of ideal abstractions because many of their theories were based on the isolated individual and because they did not seek the essence of man in the social circumstances of life or in history, but rather in abstract human nature. There was a close relationship between Enlightenment classicism and the literature of the Great French Revolution, which clothed heroic aspirations in classical myths and legends, as in the work of M. J. Chenier. As Marx wrote, the revolutionaries found in the legends of antiquity “ideals and artistic forms, the illusions they needed to conceal from themselves the limited, bourgeois content of their struggle, to maintain their inspiration on the high level of great historical tragedy” (K. Marx and F. Engels, Soch., 2nd ed., vol. 8, p. 120).

Under the influence of French literature, classicism also developed in other European countries. In England, its leading representatives were A. Pope and J. Addison; in Italy, V. Alfieri and to some extent Ugo Foscolo. In Germany, J. C. Gottsched’s classical works, wholly patterned after French models, left no significant trace in German literature. It was only in the second half of the 18th century that a new German classicism, known as Weimar classicism, emerged as an original artistic phenomenon. Unlike French classicism, it tended to emphasize moral and aesthetic problems. Its foundations were laid by J. J. Winckel-mann, but it reached its highest flowering in the work of J. W. von Goethe and F. von Schiller during the Weimar period of their careers. The German poets contrasted the “noble simplicity,” harmony, and artistic perfection of the Greek classics, which arose under the city-state democracy, with the spiritual poverty of German reality and of all contemporary civilization, which had a crippling effect on man. Schiller and to some extent Goethe saw art as the chief means for fostering the harmonious personality, and, drawing upon the culture of antiquity, they strove to create a new contemporary literature in the high style capable of fulfilling this task.

During the Napoleonic empire, classicism ceased to be a progressive force. It was characterized by official pomposity and ostentation, and by cold and lifeless academicism. Nonetheless, as an imitative current, it continued to exist in France to the 1840’s.


Classicism arose in Russia in the second quarter of the 18th century under the ideological influence of the age of Peter I, with its unconditional subordination of individual personality to consciously defined national interests. Classical elements appeared in the works of the first Russian men of the Enlightenment, who founded modern Russian literature—A. D. Kantemir, V. K. Trediakovskii, and M. V. Lomonosov. The idea of the natural equality of men became the basis for the sociological and ethical concepts of Russian Enlightenment thought. In classical literature this idea manifested itself in a concern for the ethical essence of man, artistically expressed in emphasis on the author’s presence and his attitude toward what he portrayed. Substantially reshaping Western European classicism, Russian classicism cultivated the genres requiring the author’s obligatory evaluation of historical reality, such as the satire (Kantemir), the fable (A. P. Sumarokov, V. I. Maikov, I. I. Khemnitser), and the ode (Lomonosov, V. P. Petrov, G. R. Derzhavin). Tragedies were based primarily on national historical subjects (Sumarokov, la. B. Kniazhnin, and N. P. Nikolev), and their predominant stylistic features were lyricism and the “spokesman” quality of their main characters, who directly expounded the author’s favorite ideas. Classical aesthetics experienced a complex development from the 1730’s to the 1790’s, when it was attacked by partisans of a new literary tendency, sentimentalism. Having ceased to satisfy the needs of society, classicism bequeathed to Russian literature of the 19th century a passion for civic virtue and satirical exposé. After the appearance of V. G. Belinskii’s articles, Russian academic scholarship and literary criticism long took a negative view of classicism that was overcome only by the work of Soviet scholars.


Plastic arts. In the plastic arts, the antecedents of classicism emerged in Italy as early as the second half of the 16th century in the architectural theory and practice of Palladio and in the theoretical treatises of Vignola and S. Serlio. These principles were developed more thoroughly in the works of G. P. Bellori (17th century) and in the aesthetic norms developed by the academicians of the Bolognese school. Classicism developed in conflict with the baroque throughout the 17th century, but only in French art did it become an integral stylistic system. It became a general European style in the 18th and early 19th centuries.

Classical architecture is distinguished by the geometric quality of its static forms, its logical design, and its constant return to the architectural forms of antiquity, not merely in employing motifs and elements but in absorbing general tectonic principles. The orders formed the basis of classical architectural vocabulary, and their proportions and forms more closely resembled those of antiquity than did the orders of earlier periods. Walls were treated as smooth surfaces delineating precise, symmetrically arranged masses. Architectural decoration was introduced in such a way as never to “conceal” the general structure; rather, it became a subtle and restrained accompaniment. Interiors were noted for their clear spatial divisions and soft colors; extensively employing perspective effects in monumental decorative painting, classicism separated illusory from real space. In the classical synthesis of the arts, forms were subordinated to a strict hierarchy, in which architecture clearly dominated. City planning was genetically linked to Renaissance and baroque principles and actively sought to create the “ideal city.” At the end of the 18th century and during the first third of the 19th, new layouts were developed, organically uniting urban construction with nature and creating open squares that spatially merged with streets or esplanades.

The tectonic clarity of classical architecture corresponded to the strict differentiation of spatial planes in sculpture and painting. In the plastic arts, closed monochrome masses, usually depending on a fixed point of observation, were employed; soft modeling and stability of form prevailed. In painting, drawing and the treatment of light and shadow assumed primary importance, especially in late classicism, when painting at times tended to monochrome and the graphic arts to pure, stylized line. The color scheme was based on a combination of three predominant colors, for example, brown for the foreground, green for the second plane, and blue for the background. The medium of light and air became more rarefied, neutrally filling the spaces between plastic masses, and the action unfolded as on a stage.

The greatest artist and theoretician of 17th-century French classicism was N. Poussin, whose pictures are marked by lofty ethical content and a clear harmony of rhythmic structure and color scheme. Idealized landscapes embodying the dream of the Golden Age were brilliantly developed by Poussin, Claude Lor-rain, and G. Dughet. The principles of classicism were evolved in F. Mansart’s buildings, noted for their clear separation of orders and composition, in C. Perrault’s east facade of the Louvre, the purest example of 17th-century classicism, and in the work of L. Le Vau and F. Blondel. Beginning in the second half of the 17th century, French classicism gradually assimilated baroque elements, a trend particularly manifest in the architecture and layout of Versailles (architects, J. Hardouin-Mansart and others), as well as in A. Lenôtre’s layout of the gardens. Consolidation of the doctrine of classicism was promoted by the creation in Paris of the Royal Academy of Painting and Sculpture (1648) and of the Academy of Architecture (1671), which elaborated a canon for composition and drawing, norms for portraying emotions, and a system of genres in painting and of proportions in architecture. During the 17th and early 18th centuries classicism spread to Holland (Jacob van Campen and P. Post), where an especially restrained variant arose. In England classicism found expression in Palladian architecture, in which the severe nobility of the buildings of I. Jones preserved Renaissance elements. The architectural work of C. Wren and his followers definitively established the national variant of classicism.

In the mid-18th century a new classicist trend arose in the plastic arts, corresponding to Enlightenment classicism in literature and initially developing out of a conflict with rococo art. The architecture of this period rejected rigid design, strove to emphasize the structural significance of orders, and gave special attention to interiors and to the flexible layout of the comfortable residence. The ideal setting for the new type of classical building was the landscape of the “English” park. The growth of archaeological knowledge about Greek and Roman antiquity, derived particularly from the excavation of Herculaneum and Pompeii, exerted an enormous influence on 18th-century classicism, as did the theoretical works of Winckelmann, Goethe, and F. Milizia.

French architecture at this time witnessed the development of new forms, such as the elegant intimate private residence, the monumental public building, and the open municipal square (architects J.-A. Gabriel and J.-G. Soufflot). Civic ardor and lyrical reverie are combined in the sculpture of J.-B. Pigalle, E.-M. Falconet, and J.-A. Houdon, in the historical and mythological paintings of J.-M. Vien, and in the decorative landscapes of H. Robert. On the eve of the Great French Revolution architecture strove for severe, lapidary forms and imposing and didactic images. With greater frequency architects turned to archaic Greek motifs and the art of ancient Egypt, sometimes even to a system without orders, for example, in the buildings and designs of C.-N. Ledoux and E.-L. Boullée. These tendencies, which also reveal the influence of G. B. Piranesi’s etchings, served as the point of departure for the late classical, or Empire, style. The most important representative of the revolutionary tendency in classical painting was J.-L. David, whose work is imbued with a bold dramatic quality and majestic imagery. In the age of Napoleon I the French Empire style was noted for its increasing ostentation (C. Percier, P. Fontaine, and J.-F. Chalgrin), which often led to the use of extremely minute detail even in the decorative applied arts. Despite the appearance of individual masters, such as D. Ingres, the painting of late classicism degenerated into either an official-apologetic or erotic-sentimental salon trend.

In the 18th and early 19th centuries Rome became the most important international center of classicism. Here, the dominant tendency often combined majestic nobility of form with abstract and cold idealization. Among artists working in Rome were the German painter A. R. Mengs, the Italian sculptor A. Canova, the Danish sculptor B. Thorwaldsen, and the Austrian landscape painter J. A. Koch.

German classical architecture of the 18th and early 19th centuries is noted for the severe and rational building style of the Palladian F. W. Erdmannsdorf, as well as of C. G. Langhans, D. Gilly, and F. Gilly. In the work of K. F. Schinkel, the culmination of late German classicism, stern monumental forms are organically linked with the architect’s search for new functional solutions. On the other hand, a dry archaeological outlook dominates the buildings of L. von Klenze and F. Gärtner. German classical fine arts, contemplative in mood, are best represented by the portraits of A. and W. Tischbein, the mythological and allegorical cartoons of A. J. Carstens, the sculpture of J. G. Schadow, J. H. Dannecker, and C. D. Rauch, and the decorative and applied art of the furniture-maker D. Roentgen.

The Palladian school, which initially predominated in the English classical architecture of the 18th and early 19th centuries, was closely linked with the full development of park construction (architects, W. Kent, J. H. Paine, and W. Chambers). The growth of archaeological interest in classical models was shown in the Adam brothers’ buildings, marked by decorative refinement. In the early 19th century, features of the Empire style appeared, especially in the work of J. Soane. The major achievements of English classicism were its excellence in designing living space and its bold efforts in city planning, to a certain extent anticipating the idea of “garden cities” (J. Wood, J. Wood II, and J. Nash). True representatives of English classicism were the illustrator and sculptor J. Flaxman and such masters of decorative applied art in ceramics as J. Wedgwood and the craftsmen of Derby.

During the 18th and early 19th centuries classicism also developed in Italy (G. Piermarini), in Spain (J. de Villanueva), and in the countries of Eastern Europe and Scandinavia. In the USA representatives of classicism included the architects T. Jefferson and J. Hoban and the painters B. West and J. S. Copley. By the 1830’s classicism ceased to be the leading current in art and became one of the pseudohistorical styles; echoes of it have been preserved in 20th-century neoclassicism.

Russian classicism arose in the mid-18th century and became the predominant artistic style between about 1770 and 1830. The process of national consolidation, the growing power of the Russian state, and a flowering of secular culture unprecedented in Russian history served as the historical and ideological soil nourishing patriotic fervor in Russian classicism. The buildings of the architects of early classicism (1760’s and 1770’s), notably A. F. Kokorinov, J. B. Vallin de la Mothe, Iu. M. Fel’ten, K. I. Blank, and A. Rinaldi, preserved the plastic richness of form typical of the baroque. The masters of mature classicism (1770’s-1790’s) designed buildings with subtly differentiated facades, buildings that contributed to the organization of the city’s spatial layout (V. I. Bazhenov, I. E. Starov, and M. F. Kazakov). A new type of small palace was developed by Ch. Kameron and G. Quarenghi, and N. A. L’vov created a Russian variant of the Palladian style. The Empire style of the first three decades of the 19th century reflected Russia’s political triumph and power. The period of its flowering saw the execution of magnificent city-planning projects, particularly in St. Petersburg, where the problem of combining the regular principles of a symmetrical-axis layout with the free, open space of a river was first posed and solved. Plans were developed for more than 400 cities, and architects created “model” designs for almost every type of structure. Ensembles were built in the center of various cities, including Kostroma, Poltava, Tver’, and Yaroslavl. Magnificent complexes and separate buildings (primarily in St. Petersburg) were designed by A. N. Voronikhin, A. D. Zakharov, Thomas de Thomon, K. I. Rossi, and V. P. Stasov. In Moscow the leading architects were D. I. Gilardi, O. I. Bove, and A. G. Grigor’ev, and the dominant architectural form became the small mansion with a comfortable interior. Subtle originality and a poetic quality distinguish the town houses and country manors built in the style of Russian classicism, in which classical forms and decorations found organic embodiment in wood.

In the fine arts the development of Russian classicism was closely associated with the work of the Academy of Arts, founded in St. Petersburg in 1757. Sculpture was represented by monumental decorative works (subtly blended with Empire architecture), by free-standing compositions, and by elegiac tomb sculpture (I. P. Prokof’ev, F. G. Gordeev, M. I. Kozlovskii, I. P. Martos, F. F. Shchedrin, V. I. Demut-Malinovskii, S. S. Pimenov, and I. I. Terebenev). Also important was the work of the medallist F. P. Tolstoi. In painting, masters of the classical historical genre included A. P. Losenko, G. I. Ugriumov, I. A. Akimov, A. I. Ivanov, A. E. Egorov, V. K. Shebuev, and A. A. Ivanov (early period). The principles of classicism were also reflected in the psychologically perceptive busts of F. I. Shubin, the portraits of D. G. Levitskii and V. L. Borovikovskii, the landscapes of F. M. Matveev, and the poetic graphic art of F. P. Tolstoi. In decorative applied art, excellent work was done in mediums typical of classicism in general, such as artistic metal-work, porcelain, and crystal. Lapidary work, objects fashioned of polished steel, and furniture made of Karelian birch were particularly outstanding for their original technique and materials. During the first half of the 19th century, Russian classicism in the fine arts gradually deteriorated into a sterile academicism that was opposed by artists of democratic tendency.


Theater. In the theater classicism contributed to a deeper understanding of the ideas contained within a dramatic work and helped overcome the exaggerated portrayal of feelings characteristic of medieval theater. Performance of classical tragedy, which attained the level of genuine art, was brought into conformity with principles derived from N. Boileau’s classical aesthetics. Acting was based on the rationalist method, the conscious development of a role. The tragic actor was expected to declaim his verses expressively without striving to create an illusion of genuine emotion. Acting showed classicism’s inherent contradiction between an appeal to nature, reason, and truth and the constricting norms of courtly, aristocratic taste. On the whole, classical plays were pompous and static. The actors performed on a stage whose setting lacked historical or everyday detail.

The development of classicism in acting is associated with the French actors Montdory, Floridor, T. Du Parc, and M. Champmeslé. Outstanding actors of the period of Enlightenment classicism included H. Lecain, C. Clairon, and M. Dumesnil, whose ethical and civic ardor surmounted the salon refinement of court classicism. Democratic tendencies in classicism were most strongly revealed in stagings of Molière. During the Great French Revolution progressive theatrical figures, notably F. J. Talma, gave classicism a new heroic and revolutionary ring.

French classicism of the 17th and 18th centuries influenced the theater of other European countries. Its leading representatives included C. Neuber in Germany and T. Betterton and J. Kemble in England. A brilliant actress in the French theater was E. Rachel. During the 19th and early 20th centuries aesthetic norms of classicism left a mark on the productions of the Comédie Française and on the acting of J. Mounet-Sully and Sarah Bernhardt.

Classicism arose in the Russian theater between the 1730’s and the 1750’s. While preserving the essential features of classicism, the art of leading figures in the Russian theater was, in contrast to Western European theater, marked by Enlightenment tendencies, protest, and satirical exposé. Among the actors trained in the national school of classicism were F. G. Volkov, I. A. Dmitrevskii, T. N. Troepol’skaia, and S. N. Sandunov. At the turn of the 19th century, classicism experienced an ideological and artistic crisis, in which the truth and power of the actor’s emotions came into conflict with and overthrew the canons of the classical acting style.



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The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.


In architecture, principles that emphasize the correct use not only of Roman and Greek, but also of Italian Renaissance models.
McGraw-Hill Dictionary of Architecture and Construction. Copyright © 2003 by McGraw-Hill Companies, Inc.


, classicalism
a style based on the study of Greek and Roman models, characterized by emotional restraint and regularity of form, associated esp with the 18th century in Europe
Collins Discovery Encyclopedia, 1st edition © HarperCollins Publishers 2005