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Architectural style: classicism and neo-classicism

Classicism (fr. Classicisme, from the Latin. Classicus – exemplary) – artistic style and aesthetic direction in European art of the XVII-XIX centuries.
At the heart of classicism lie the ideas of rationalism, which were formed simultaneously with those in Descartes’ philosophy. A work of art, from the point of view of classicism, should be built on the basis of strict canons, thereby revealing the symmetry and logic of the universe itself. The interest for classicism is only the eternal, unchanging – in each phenomenon it seeks to recognize only the essential, typological features, discarding random individual signs. The aesthetics of classicism attaches great importance to the social and educational function of art. Classicism takes many architectural rules and canons from ancient art.

The main feature of the architecture of classicism was an appeal to the forms of ancient architecture as the standard of harmony, simplicity, severity, logical clarity and monumentality. The architecture of classicism as a whole is inherent in the regular planning and clarity of the three-dimensional form. The basis of the architectural language of classicism was a warrant, in proportions and forms close to antiquity. Symmetrical-axial compositions, the restraint of decorative furniture, a regular system of urban planning are peculiar to classicism.

The architectural language of classicism was formulated at the end of the Renaissance by the great Venetian master Palladio and his follower Scamozzi. The principles of the ancient temple architecture of the Venetians absolutized so much that they used them even in the construction of private mansions. In England, Palladian took root, and local architects, with varying degrees of loyalty, followed the precepts of Palladio until the middle of the 18th century.

By that time, the late Baroque and Rococo satiety “whipped cream” began to accumulate in intellectuals of continental Europe. Born by Roman architects Bernini and Borromini, the Baroque became thinner in Rococo, mainly chamber style with an emphasis on interior decoration and decorative arts. This aesthetics was of little use for solving large town planning tasks. Already under Louis XV (1715-74), city-planning ensembles in the “ancient Roman” taste were built in Paris, such as Place de la Concorde (architect Jacques-Ange Gabriel) and the church of Saint-Sulpice, and under Louis XVI (1774-92) such “noble laconicism “becomes already the main architectural direction.

The most significant interiors in the style of classicism were designed by Scot, Robert Adam, who returned home from Rome in 1758. Upon returning to his homeland, he was made a royal architect in 1762, but in 1768 left this position because he was elected to parliament and engaged in architecture and construction with his brother James. He was greatly impressed by the archaeological research of Italian scientists. In the interpretation of Adam, classicism turned out to be a style that, due to the refinement of interiors, was hardly inferior to Rococo, which earned him popularity not only among the democratically-minded circles of society, but also among the aristocracy. Like his French colleagues, Adam preached a complete rejection of details devoid of a constructive function. This returned to the architectural stucco decoration the severity of the lines and the verified proportions.
The Frenchman Jacques-Germain Souffleau, while building the church of Saint-Genevieve in Paris, demonstrated the ability of classicism to organize large urban spaces. The massive grandeur of his projects foreshadowed the megalomania of the Napoleonic Empire and late classicism. In Russia, Vasily Bazhenov was moving in the same direction with Sufflo. The French Claude-Nicola Ledoux and Etienne-Louis Bulle even went further in the direction of developing a radical visionary style with a bias towards abstract geometrization of forms. In revolutionary France, the ascetic civic pathos of their projects was of little demand; Ledu’s innovation was fully appreciated only by the modernists of the 20th century.

The architects of Napoleonic France drew inspiration from the majestic images of military glory left by imperial Rome, such as the triumphal arch of Septimius Severus and the column of Trajan. By order of Napoleon, these images were transferred to Paris in the form of the triumphal arch of Carrousel and the Vendome column. In relation to the monuments of military greatness of the era of the Napoleonic wars, the term “imperial style” is used – Empire. In Russia, Karl Rossi, Andrey Voronikhin and Andreyan Zakharov proved to be uncommon masters of the Empire style. In Britain, the Empire corresponds to the so-called. “Regent’s style” (the largest representative – John Nash).

The aesthetics of classicism favored large-scale urban projects and led to the streamlining of urban development in the scale of entire cities.

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