1590 - 1800

Term referring to a web of ideas, attitudes and traditions derived from but not wholly dependent on a respect for and a close study of the literary and/or artistic activities of the ancient Greeks and Romans. The aim of classicism, in all media, has been to construct an ideal vision and version of human experience that should inspire and instruct by its nobility, authority, rationality and truth (of which beauty may be considered a visible manifestation), and to provide convincing models for imitation. The process started within the ancient Greek and Roman civilizations themselves, but the term classicism refers to the activity of generations succeeding the Greeks and Romans, who admired and sometimes imitated or reused antique works—plays, statues, temples, vases and the rest. These admirers of antiquity studied what the ancients wrote about their own art and literature and the purposes these should serve in society. Convinced that art is governed by reason, they sought to discover in the antique systems of measurement and proportion the means by which to attain beauty. Finally, later generations attempted to rebuild a complete image of the antique past from the evidence of surviving works that offered a far from complete picture of what the Greeks and Romans produced.
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© Grove Art / OUP

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