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1. Define the thematic and stylistic principles of Neoclassicism. How did Enlightenment
thinking affect these principles? Cite specific examples by discussing the works of at least three Neoclassical painters, and one Neoclassical architect.
Neoclassicism was born into the Age of Reason, where rationality and virtue were venerated over emotion and tradition. This style of art meant a return to the ancients, “a revival of classical antiquity” (p. 412). Because of this reasoning behind the art of this time, Enlightenment thinking understandably relates to Neoclassicism. Many of the philosophers during this time, including Voltaire and Hume, believed that authority ought not have any part in the ruling of human affairs. These contemporary thinkers considered reason and the common good as what should rule, and opposed what was then the established Rococo.
A masterpiece of virtue could be seen in Jean-Baptiste Greuze’s painting The Village Bride. This painting, in what appears to be a genre scene, perpetuates the high caliber and honesty the Enlightenment thinkers valued. But what separates this painting from earlier genre scenes is its dramatic intention. This painting depicts lower-class family life as honorable, significant, and is ultimately more appreciated than is the frivolous pleasures supplied by the Rococo (p. 414).
Another very powerful artist of Neoclassicism was Jacques-Louis David. In his beautiful painting The Death of Socrates, he invites the viewers into a lost utopia of ancient philosophers and stoic mentalities. This piece obviously parallels the death of the philosopher Socrates with the death of Jesus. It shows Socrates about to drink his poison, but instead of being frightened, he is shown as composed and as a symbol of righteousness. The figures are severe and statuesque, reflecting rationality and patriotism. This painting provides onlookers with the Enlightenment values and attitudes. The D...
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