Comprehensive Guide to Understanding Classicism
Written by  Daisie Team
Published on 10 min read


  1. What is Classicism?
  2. Classicism in history
  3. Classicism in arts
  4. Classicism in literature
  5. Classicism in architecture
  6. Classicism in music
  7. Classicism vs. Romanticism
  8. Key figures of Classicism
  9. Impact of Classicism
  10. How to identify Classicism

Have you ever seen a piece of art, read a book, or looked at a building and thought, "That feels classic!"? If you have, then you've sensed a hint of Classicism. This blog is going to be your friendly guide to understanding the "definition of classicism", a term that often appears in art, literature, music, and even architecture. So, sit back, relax, and let's explore the world of Classicism together.

What is Classicism?

When we talk about the definition of Classicism, we're referring to a movement in the arts that draws inspiration from the "classics" or the art, literature, and culture of ancient Greece and Rome. But it's not just about copying what the ancient Greeks and Romans did. No, Classicism is about following certain principles that these cultures valued. Let's look at what these principles are:

  • Harmony: In Classicism, everything is balanced. Just like in a well-prepared meal, no single ingredient overpowers the others.
  • Restraint: You won't find wild, over-the-top emotions here. Classicism prefers calm and restraint over drama and exaggeration.
  • Adherence to form: Classicism loves rules and standards. It's like a game of chess; there are specific ways the pieces can move, and within those rules, you can create a brilliant game.
  • Craftsmanship: Skill and careful attention to detail are key in Classicism. Imagine a master carpenter who knows exactly how to join two pieces of wood so they fit perfectly.

These principles didn't just magically appear one day. They've been passed down from generation to generation, starting from the Renaissance all the way to the 18th century. So, when you hear the definition of Classicism, remember it's not just about ancient Greek and Roman art, but about a tradition that has evolved and been refined over centuries.

Classicism in history

Now that we have a solid grasp of the definition of Classicism, let's take a ride on our time machine and explore how Classicism has appeared throughout history. Buckle up!

Our first stop is the Renaissance, a time when Europe was just waking up from the Dark Ages. During this time, artists and thinkers looked back to the ancient Greeks and Romans for inspiration. They admired how the ancients valued reason and order, and they brought these principles into their own work. This is why many of the paintings, sculptures, and buildings from this time have a certain "classic" feel to them.

Next, we zoom ahead to the 18th century, a period often called the "Age of Enlightenment". During this time, people believed that reason and science could solve all of humanity's problems. Sounds a bit like Classicism, right? That's because it is! In fact, this period is often called the "Classical Age", and you can see Classicism reflected in the literature, music, and architecture of the time.

But Classicism didn't just disappear after the 18th century. In fact, it's still alive and well today. Whenever artists or writers value balance, restraint, and adherence to form, they're following in the footsteps of Classicism. So, even though the world has changed a lot since the days of ancient Greece and Rome, the influence of Classicism is still very much with us.

You see, the definition of Classicism isn't just about the past. It's also about how these ideas have been passed down through the ages, influencing generations of artists, writers, and thinkers. And who knows, maybe the next great work of Classicism is just around the corner!

Classicism in arts

Now, let's get artsy and look at the definition of Classicism in the world of arts. Yep, you guessed it, we're off to an imaginary tour of a museum!

Imagine stepping into a grand gallery filled with stunning sculptures and paintings. The first thing you notice is the balance. Every element in each artwork seems to be exactly where it should be—no more, no less. This balance is one of the hallmarks of Classicism in arts.

Take a closer look at a painting. Notice how the figures are realistic and proportionate, and how every detail is precise. This commitment to realism and precision is another aspect of Classicism in arts. These artists didn't just slap paint on a canvas—they took the time to study their subjects and portray them as accurately as possible.

Now, let's move on to a sculpture. You see a figure standing tall, its muscles defined, its pose dignified. The sculpture almost seems to glow with inner light, don't you think? This idealization of the human form is yet another characteristic of Classicism in arts.

The definition of Classicism in arts, then, isn't just about following certain rules or conventions. It's about striving for perfection, capturing the beauty and dignity of the human form, and creating art that stands the test of time. And that, my friends, is a work of art!

Classicism in literature

Have you ever been so engrossed in a book that you felt like you've traveled back in time? Well, buckle up because we're about to explore the definition of Classicism in literature!

Flick through the pages of a classic work, and you'll notice a few things. First, there's a clear structure to the plot. Things happen in a logical order. There's a beginning, a middle, and an end. This isn't the kind of story that jumps around all over the place—everything flows smoothly. This clear structure is a key feature of Classicism in literature.

Second, the language is formal and elegant. The authors of these works didn't just scribble down whatever came to mind. They took their time, choosing each word carefully to ensure it conveyed exactly what they meant. This attention to language is another aspect of Classicism in literature.

Finally, the themes of these works are often grand and universal. They explore the human condition, asking questions like "What does it mean to be human?" and "What is the meaning of life?". These profound themes are yet another hallmark of Classicism in literature.

So the definition of Classicism in literature isn't just about old books that people read in school. It's about creating stories that resonate with readers, exploring deep themes, and crafting language that is as beautiful as it is precise. And that, my friends, is a literary masterpiece!

Classicism in architecture

Ever gazed at a building and marveled at its symmetry, its grand columns, or its majestic dome? If so, you've probably been admiring a product of Classicism in architecture. But what is the definition of Classicism in this context? Let's explore that.

In architecture, Classicism is all about balance and proportion. Walk into a classic building, and you'll likely note the symmetry. If there's a door on one side, there's probably an identical one on the other. This balance creates a sense of harmony that's pleasing to the eye.

Next, notice the columns. Classic buildings often feature stately columns that not only support the structure but also add to its grandeur. Inspired by ancient Greek and Roman architecture, these columns are a nod to the past, showing us that the principles of good design are timeless.

And let's not forget about the domes. Classic buildings often have domes that tower over the rest of the structure. These domes are not just a design feature; they are also a symbol of the heavens, adding a spiritual dimension to the architecture.

So, the definition of Classicism in architecture has to do with symmetry, columns, and domes, but it's more than that. It's about designing buildings that are not only functional but also beautiful, reflecting the order and harmony of the universe. And, it's about connecting us with our past, reminding us of the enduring power of good design. That's Classicism in a nutshell!

Classicism in Music

Have you ever listened to a piece of music and felt a sense of balance and order? If yes, you might have been listening to a work from the Classical period in music, which is another key area of Classicism. But what's the definition of Classicism in music? Let's hit the right notes together.

In music, Classicism refers to a period spanning roughly from the mid-18th to the early 19th century. This era gave us some of the most well-known composers in history, such as Mozart, Haydn, and Beethoven. These maestros composed music that was balanced and structured, often following specific forms, like the sonata.

Ever heard of a sonata? It's a type of composition that has a specific structure. It typically consists of three or four movements, each with its distinct tempo and mood. This structure gives the music a sense of balance and order, which is a key feature of Classicism.

Another characteristic of Classicism in music is the emphasis on melody. In a Classical piece, the melody is often clear and easy to remember, with a regular rhythm that makes it pleasing to the ear. It's like the architect's symmetry, but in sound!

So, the definition of Classicism in music is about balance, structure, and melody. It's about creating music that's not just pleasant to listen to, but also deeply satisfying, with every note and rhythm falling into place. Now, that's music to my ears!

Classicism vs. Romanticism

Now that we've heard the harmonious melodies of Classicism, let's tune in to another significant period in art and culture — Romanticism. The clash between Classicism and Romanticism is like a thrilling tennis match, with both sides showcasing their unique strengths. But what separates these two? Let's find out.

While Classicism seeks balance, order, and restraint, Romanticism is all about expressing strong emotions, embracing individuality, and breaking the rules. If Classicism is a calm, serene lake, then Romanticism is a roaring, untamed river.

For example, in music, a classical composition might follow the strict structure of a sonata, while a romantic piece could be a free-form symphonic poem — a type of composition that tells a story or paints a picture with sound. It's like comparing a carefully crafted sonnet to a passionate, free-verse poem.

In the world of visual arts, the definition of Classicism might involve beautifully proportioned sculptures and paintings, while Romanticism could be an awe-inspiring landscape or a dramatic scene from a historical event. If Classicism is a detailed portrait, Romanticism is a sweeping panorama.

So, while Classicism and Romanticism might seem like polar opposites, they both have their unique charms. It's not about better or worse, it's just a matter of different strokes for different folks. Which one resonates with you more?

Key figures of Classicism

Just like a story isn't complete without characters, the narrative of Classicism wouldn't be whole without its key figures. These are the people who breathed life into this magnificent period of art and culture. Let's get to know some of them, shall we?

First, let's talk about Johann Wolfgang von Goethe. Goethe was a bigwig in the world of literature. His work, 'Faust', is considered a masterpiece of Classicism. It's a story of a man who makes a deal with the devil. Sounds exciting, doesn't it?

In the realm of visual arts, we have Jacques-Louis David. He's like the superstar of Classicism in painting. His works, like 'The Death of Socrates', are famous for their clear lines and balanced compositions. If you've ever seen this painting, you'd know what I'm talking about.

When it comes to music, the name Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart is synonymous with the definition of Classicism. His compositions, like the Symphony No. 40 in G minor, are loved for their exceptional balance and clarity. Listening to his music is like savoring a perfectly cooked meal - every note, every melody, just right.

And let's not forget architecture. Robert Adam is a name that stands out. He is known for his designs that echo the grandeur of ancient Rome and Greece. If you've ever seen the Culzean Castle in Scotland, you'd get a taste of Adam's classical style.

These are just a few of the key figures in Classicism. There are many more out there, each contributing to the rich tapestry of this period. Perhaps, you might find yourself inspired to explore their works further.

Impact of Classicism

Now that we've met some of the key players, let's dive into the ripple effects of Classicism on our culture and society. The impact of this period, my friends, is nothing short of profound.

To begin with, Classicism gave us a new lens to view art and literature. It taught us the importance of balance, proportion, and harmony. These principles have become a sort of golden standard in art and design. Even today, when you sketch or design, you probably strive for these qualities, don't you?

But the influence of Classicism goes beyond just aesthetics. It has also shaped our thinking. The works of Goethe, for instance, explore deep human emotions and moral dilemmas. They provoke us to reflect and question, don't they? This is the power of Classicism in literature - it encourages us to think, to challenge, and to grow.

And let's not overlook the impact of Classicism in music. The symphonies of Mozart and his contemporaries were revolutionary. They set the stage for the evolution of Western classical music. Even today, you can hear echoes of Mozart's melodies in modern compositions. Isn't that amazing?

Classicism also left a lasting legacy in architecture. It redefined our urban landscapes with grand structures echoing the glory of ancient civilizations. Even today, buildings designed in the classical style, like the U.S. Capitol, inspire awe and respect.

In essence, Classicism has left an indelible imprint on our world. It has shaped not just our art, literature, and music, but also our ways of thinking and seeing. And that, my friends, is the true definition and impact of Classicism.

How to identify Classicism

Now that we have a good grasp of the definition of classicism, let's look at how you can identify it in various forms of art and culture. So, what are the tell-tale signs of Classicism? Let's break it down.

First, in art, Classicism often involves a love for symmetry and balance. If you see a painting or sculpture where everything seems perfectly aligned and harmonious, you might be looking at a work of Classicism. Also, look out for themes from ancient Greece and Rome — those are classic (pun intended) signs of Classicism!

Next, in literature, Classicism tends to favor clarity and simplicity over complexity. Classicist writers were all about conveying deep thoughts and emotions in the most straightforward way possible. So, if you're reading something that feels profound yet simple, it might just be a work of Classicism.

As for music, Classicism brought about the concept of tonality. This is the idea that a piece of music is in a certain 'key'. If you listen to a piece of music and it seems to have a 'home note' that it keeps returning to, that's a good sign it's a Classicist composition.

Finally, in architecture, Classicism is all about grandeur and proportion. Think large columns, domes, and elaborate decorations inspired by ancient civilizations. If a building makes you feel like you've stepped into ancient Greece or Rome, it's probably a work of Classicism.

Remember, identifying Classicism isn't always straightforward. It requires a keen eye and a good understanding of the principles and themes of the period. But with practice, you'll soon start seeing Classicism everywhere you look. Happy hunting!

If you enjoyed our comprehensive guide to understanding Classicism and want to explore its application in the modern day, don't miss the workshop 'Classical Painting in the Modern Day' by Eric Drummond. This workshop will provide you with valuable insights and techniques to incorporate the timeless beauty of classical art into your contemporary works.