Romanticism could be defined as a movement that originated in the late 18th century, bringing to the foreground artistic appreciation the concepts of inspiration, subjectivity, and the primacy of the individual. In Jean Jacques Rousseau’s quote “Man is born free, but is everywhere in chains!” can be directly correlated with the influence behind some of the ‘outside-the-box’ style creations that surfaced in the Romanticism era. That quote is interpreted in a few different ways, but the most popular explanation is: a collective group of people that can be seen as a sovereign, which demands the needs of the greater good. This can be applied to art by thinking about how artists coming out of the Neoclassical era wanted to disengage from this structured way of working as a sovereign (defined by Rousseau); they sought to promote emotion and feeling over reason and logic. Romanticism manifested itself in art shortly after the French Revolution and made some solid points to establish the romantic theme as a type of rebellion. This all revolved around the idea of liberal thinking and freedom of expression.
There are several common Romantic themes found within most works during this time period:
Individualism and the worth of the inner self: ties into the possibility of a greater human purpose and the essential “search for the soul” (exaltation of people). A prime example of this is Francisco de Goya’s sinister painting of Saturn Devouring His Sons:
Goya created this in his own home without any commission or even public viewing; it was created for himself. This particular action by artists, making works for the individual, had not previously been openly done without the intent of honing one’s skills or practice.
Another common thematic element became especially prominent in landscape illustrations: the sentimental love of nature, and allure beyond the natural world exceeding the city and modern inventions. At the beginning of the Industrial Revolution artists also went back to the recognition of the beauty found within nature and the natural realm. An example of this idea is Cole Thomas’ The Course of the Empire.
The final two pieces that I personally feel helped to make a clear transition from Neoclassicism to Romanticism in the sense that emphasis was placed on the desire for freedom of thought and expression of feeling, were both works by Jean-Auguste-Dominique Inges: The Apotheosis of Homer (a more Neoclassical approach) and Grande Odalisque (the Romantic approach).
In this work, we see elements of the exotic and utopian themes of Romanticism while the image below retains the concepts of structural and religious iconography.
From looking at the works of artists in the Romantic era, it is easy to see how some of the outside-the-box and abstract genres that we see in modern art today began to develop during the Renaissance.