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  • gerard van weyenbergh

Classicism, a basic description.

A movement of French essence, classicism flourished in the arts during the reign of Louis XIV. Order, reason, and the quest for perfection are the keywords that characterize it. Classicism, considered a form of the golden age of French culture and art, corresponds to the construction of a real national school. Embodied by Jean Racine in the field of tragedy, by Molière in that of comedy, by Nicolas Boileau and Jean de La Fontaine in the poetic field, classicism is associated with the names of Philippe de Champaigne, Nicolas Poussin and Charles Le Brun in the history of painting.

History of movement

The history of classicism is attached to the creation of the Royal Academy of Painting and Sculpture, in 1648, during the reign of the young Louis XIV. Its foundation signals, in France, the ennobling of the status of the artist, who moves away from the model of corporations. The Academy has a hundred members, often former masters of the corporation who have changed status. Elected, these artists pass under the tutelage of the king and, in return, work for the state and must present their works at the Salon, the great annual exhibition of the French school. It is the birth of the court artist.

The painters adopted classical Greek art as a model, considered to be an expression of pure beauty, whether in architecture or fine arts. In classic compositions, the poses are static; the drawing takes precedence over color, nature is idealized. Classicism, therefore, differs from the Baroque taste, renowned for its exuberance. This return to the foundations began in Italy (Annibal Carrache, Le Guerchin) before reaching France.

In the classical paradigm, genres are very hierarchical, and history painting dominates. With a moral scope, its main themes are biblical and mythological subjects, also incorporating allegory. The noblest genre that a painter can practice, history painting requires a perfect mastery of all the lower genres (landscape, portrait, genre scene, and still life), imagination, and scholarship.

Classical art promotes the notions of order, rationality, clarity, and morality. Unlike baroque art, which favors open and eventful compositions, classicism strives to give a readable framework to actions. It values ​​intelligibility and thoroughness. This movement flourished in the context of the absolute monarchy of Louis XIV, the most powerful in Europe. Classical art becomes the image of France on the international level, shining its magnificence (despite the impoverishment of the state coffers). Charles Le Brun, the founder of the Royal Academy, became the official painter to the king and took charge of the decoration of the major works represented by the Louvre and the Palace of Versailles.


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