Neo-Classicism: Forward to the New Age

Through the writings of German art historian Johann Winckelmann who urged artists to study and “. . . imitate its {Greco-Roman art} timeless, ideal forms . . .”1 was passionately welcomed by the international circle of affluent artists that gathered in 1760s Rome – the “new age” had begun. This embrace of classical architecture had never before been experienced by such an expansive audience that included the United Kingdom, France, Italy, Germany and Russia. The period of Neoclassicism is considered to be dominant from 1750 – 1850.


The term “New Age” that had surfaced during this time could largely be linked to the experience of the Grand Tour. The young English elite of the 17 th and 18th centuries would often spend two to four years travelling around Europe in order to “. . . broaden their horizons and learn about language, architecture, geography, and culture . . .”2. The Grand Tour was introduced in the 1670 book Voyage to Italy by Richard Lassels and was responsible for the tourism industry developing its resources to accommodate the requirements of these travelers. They would travel to the major European cities and once the excavation of Herculaneum and Pompeii began, they were major destinations on the Grand Tour. It was from this travel the views and influences of Neoclassicalism became widely known and the “New Age” was born. The British had played an integral part in the expansion of this view.


The versatile and integrated aspects of Neoclassical architecture and design had captured the world’s attention. From Italy, France, United Kingdom and the United States this style had evolved. In Germany, the work of Karl Friedrich Schinkel presented his interpretation of Neoclassical design and presented his Romantic perceptions of life; the Altes Museum is one of his major works. German tributes to Neoclassical emerged again with Nazi Germany in the 1930’s as Hitler strove to utilize these design features to build his commanding Roman tributary buildings.


As Neoclassical design originated in France, it is noteworthy to show an interior that was created by a rather lesser known architect, compared to those presented in this paper. The Hôtel de Cabris in Grasse was built from 1771 – 1774 and designed by Milanese architect, Giovanni Orello. This interior provides an example of the moderate design that Neoclassical can embrace. The paneling is carved, painted and gilded and the double doors have inset carved motifs of smoking incense burners and interlaced laurel sprays and torches. The white marble chimneypiece, oak flooring and mirrors complete the overall appeal.  Some of these features have made their way into design of today.


“Neoclassical interiors were directly inspired by new discoveries of the glory that was Greece and the grandeur that was Rome”3 – this was undisputedly the time of the “New Age”.

Photo Credits:

Schermerhorn Symphony Center’s main entrance in Nashville, Tennessee (2006)
Architect David M. Schwarz
Used by permission Ryan Kaldari


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Gardner, Helen, Art Through the Ages, Published by Harcourt Brace Jovanovich Inc., ISBN 0-15-503769-2, 1926, Page 846.