Neoclassical Architecture (1640-1850)
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In architecture, Neoclassicism signalled a return to order and rationality after the melodramatic, flamboyant Baroque, and the decorative frivolity of the Rococo. As a style composed of many elements, based to a varying extent on the antique forms of Greek architecture and Roman architecture, neoclassical architecture can be imitated to a greater or lesser extent. For this reason, building designers have continued to borrow from Greek and Roman models ever since the mid-17th century - one might even say, since the fall of Rome in the fifth century! - which makes neoclassicism the world's most popular style of building.
The earliest forms of neoclassical architecture grew up alongside the Baroque, and functioned as a sort of corrective to the latter's flamboyance. This is particularly evident in England, where examples of early neoclassicism include buildings like St Paul's Cathedral, the Royal Observatory in Greenwich, and the Royal Chelsea Hospital, all designed by Sir Christopher Wren (1632-1723) who is still labelled as a Baroque architect. Other early English Neoclassicist architects included William Kent (1685-1748), who designed Chiswick House and the Royal Mews, Charing Cross; and Robert Adam (1728-92), who designed Syon House, Bowood House, and the Theatre Royal London. At the same time, the Renaissance architecture of the Italian Andrea Palladio (1508-80) were repopularised and a new Palladism spread throughout Europe and America.
Used in a variety of image-related construction programs - by feudal monarchies, enlightened democracies, totalitarian regimes and worldwide empires - Neoclassicism was yet another return to the Classical Orders of Greek and Roman Antiquity on a monumental level, albeit with the retention of all the engineering advances and new materials of the modern era. It was marked by large-scale structures, supported and/or decorated by columns of Doric, Ionic or Corinthian pillars, surmounted by enlarged Renaissance-style domes. Sometimes columns were multiplied and stacked, to create an impression of height, while facades were decorated with a combination of colonnades, rotundas and porticoes.
Neoclassicism was born in Italy, although it became especially active in France largely because of the presence of French designers trained at the French Academy in Rome. Classical features had begun appearing in architectural design at the end of Louis XVI's reign. This style was then adopted during the first Napoleonic empire: High Society employed it on their private homes, along with extras like faux ruins, follies, grottos and fountains to decorate the landscape, while more experimental architects used it to design a range of civic structures. Among the most celebrated French architects were: Jacques Germain Soufflot (1713-80), who designed the Parisian Pantheon - a key highlight of the Grand Tour - Claude Nicolas Ledoux (1736-1806), who designed the Cathedral of Saint-Germaine, the Hotel Montmorency, the Royal Saltworks at Arc-et-Senans, and the Chateau de Benouville; and Jean Chalgrin (1739-1811), who designed the Arc de Triomphe.
Thus in Britain, which had never really taken to the Baroque, the Neoclassical style was employed in the design of a wide variety of public buildings from banks to museums to post offices, while British Royalty commissioned one of Britain's greatest architects, the Regency neoclassicist John Nash (1752-1835), to redesign entire city blocks and parks. Aristocratic landowners embraced the style, refurbishing their country mansions with new porticos and columns. English neoclassical architects included: John Nash (1752-1835), who designed Buckingham Palace, Cumberland Terrace and Carlton Terrace in London; Sir John Soane (1753-1837), who designed the Bank of England, Pitshanger Manor and the Dulwich Picture Gallery; and Sir Robert Smirke (1780-1867), designer of the British Museum, the General Post Office, Covent Garden Theatre and Eastnor Castle.
In Germany, inspired by the books of Johann Joachim Winckelmann (1717-68) and supported by the royal patronage of Friedrich Wilhelm II, the architects Karl Friedrich Schinkel (1781-1841) and Carl Gotthard Langhans (1732-1808) turned Berlin into a classical gem to rival Paris and Rome. Langhans was responsible for the Brandenburg Gate, a monumental construction of pillars and columns based on the Propylaea on the Acropolis in Athens, while Schinkel (1781-1841) designed the Konzerthaus on Gendarmenmarkt (1818-21), the Tegel Palace (1821-4), and the Altes Museum (1823-30). The foundation and praxis of applied art at the Bauakademie (Berlin Design Academy) further encouraged Neoclassicism in Germany. See also German Art, 19th Century.
In due course, neoclassical styles spread
to Russia where Catherine the Great (ruled 1762-96) reacted against the
high Rococo tastes of her Imperial predecessors. For example, she preferred
neoclassical designs to the Baroque-style structures of Bartolomeo
Rastrelli (1700-71), such as the Winter Palace (1754-62), so she
summoned the Scottish architect Charles
Cameron (1745-1812), to design the Pavlovsk Palace (1782-86) and
the Alexander Palace (1812) near St Petersburg, and the Razumovsky Palace
in the Ukraine (1802). She also commissioned him to add neoclassical extensions
to the Catherine Palace and Palace Square in St Petersburg. Other foreign
neoclassical architects employed by the Russian Czars included: the Italian
designers Vincenzo Brenna and Giacomo Quarenghi, and the
Russian Matvey Fyodorovich Kazakov.
Despite the popularity of the neoclassical style in Europe, it was in the New World of America where Neoclassical architecture found its true home. Early American architects who used neoclassical designs included Thomas Jefferson (1743-1826), who designed the Virginia State Capitol and Monticello; William Thornton (1759-1828) who, along with Benjamin Latrobe (1764-1820) and Charles Bulfinch (1863-1844), designed the US Capitol Building (1793-1829) in Washington DC. It was during the 19th century, that the newly formed United States began building civic buildings, including universities, and in the process began to define the aesthetics of the nation. See also: American Architecture (1600-present).
The United States Capitol Building, for instance, with its neoclassical facade and dome, remains one of America's most recognizable and iconic structures. Begun in 1793, according to a plan by William Thornton, the building - inspired by the Louvre and the Pantheon in Paris - is centred on a grand entrance, supported by projecting wings that ground the structure horizontally. The centre projects outward and upward, accentuated by vertical columns that draw the eye up to the dome. The dome and rotunda were initially made of wood, but were later rebuilt with stone and cast-iron. Other architects involved in the building, include Benjamin Henry Latrobe (1764-1820), Stephen Hallet and Charles Bulfinch.
Latrobe himself went on to design a number of other buildings in the Neoclassical style including: the Bank of Pennsylvania, Richmond Capitol, the Baltimore Exchange, the Fairmount Waterworks in Philadelphia, the Baltimore Basilica and the Louisiana State Bank to name but a few. Another famous American architect who built in the clear geomtry of the neoclassical style, was Thomas Jefferson (1743-1826), the third President of the United States. He designed the Virginia State Capitol, the Rotunda at the University of Virginia, and Monticello House, where he died on July 4, 1826.
For information about painting, sculpture and architecture, see: Art Encyclopedia.