Romanticism was an artistic and intellectual movement that originated in the late 18th century and stressed strong emotion, imagination, freedom from classical correctness in art forms, and rebellion against social conventions.
Romanticism was an attitude or intellectual orientation that characterized many works of literature, painting, music, architecture, criticism, and historiography in Western civilization over a period from the late 18th to the mid-19th century. Romanticism can be seen as a rejection of the precepts of order, calm, harmony, balance, idealization, and rationality that typified Classicism in general and late 18th century Neoclassicism in particular. It was also to some extent a reaction against the Enlightenment and against 18th-century rationalism and physical materialism in general. Romanticism emphasized the individual, the subjective, the irrational, the imaginative, the personal, the spontaneous, the emotional, the visionary, and the transcendental.
Among the characteristic attitudes of Romanticism were the following: a deepened appreciation of the beauties of nature; a general exaltation of emotion over reason and of the senses over intellect; a turning in upon the self and a heightened examination of human personality and its moods and mental potentialities; a preoccupation with the genius, the hero, and the exceptional figure in general, and a focus on his passions and inner struggles; a new view of the artist as a supremely individual creator, whose creative spirit is more important than strict adherence to formal rules and traditional procedures; an emphasis upon imagination as a gateway to transcendent experience and spiritual truth; an obsessive interest in folk culture, national and ethnic cultural origins, and the medieval era; and a predilection for the exotic, the remote, the mysterious, the weird, the occult, the monstrous, the diseased, and even the satanic.
The term 'Romanticism' derives ultimately from ' Roman'. In particular it derives from the 'Romances' written during the Middle Ages, such as the Arthurian cycle. In English, the term 'Romantick' was often used in the 18th century to mean magical, dramatic, surprising. But it was not until the German poets and critics August Wilhelm and Frederich Schlegel used the term that it became a label for a wider cultural movement. For the Schlegel brothers, 'Romanticism' was a product of Christianity. The culture of the Middle Ages created a Romantic sensibility which differed from the Classical ideals embodied in the philosophy, poetry and drama of ancient Athens. While ancient culture admired clarity, health and harmony, Christian culture created a sense of struggle between the dream of heavenly perfection and the experience of human inadequacy and guilt. This sense of struggle, vision and ever-present dark forces was allegedly present in Medieval culture. The Schlegel brothers were also responsible for making Shakespeare into an internationally famous writer, translating his work into German, and promoting his plays as the epitome of the Romantic sensibility. Many later Romantic dramatists sought to imitate Shakespeare and to reject Classical models for drama.
While this view partly explains Romantic fascination with the Middle Ages, the actual causes of the Romantic movement itself correspond to the sense of rapid, dynamic social change that culminated in the French Revolution and the Napoleonic era. However, Romantic literature in Germany preceded these crucial historical events. The 'Sturm und Drang' (Storm and Stress) movement in German drama was associated with Frederich Schiller, and the early work of Goethe, in particular his play "Goetz von Berlichingen", about a Medieval knight who resists submission to any authority beyond himself. Goethe's novel "The Sufferings of Young Werther" (1774) had huge international success. This too concerned an individual who felt a strong contradiction between his own internal world of intense feeling, and the external world that failed to correspond to it. Werther eventually commits suicide. In later works Goethe rejected Romanticism in favour of a new sense of classical harmony, integrating internal and external states.
German music was also the model for Romanticism, in particular the work of Ludwig van Beethoven. In music the concept of Romanticism is used to cover a much longer historical period than in the other arts. The German musical tradition of the 19th Century is typically labelled 'Romantic', including the work of Robert Schumann, Johannes Brahms and Richard Wagner.
This extended usage is typical within music history. The term 'Romantic' is used to label composers of various nationalities such as Jean Sibelius, Samuel Barber and Ralph Vaughan Williams, all of whom lived into the middle of the 20th Century. See Romantic period in music. However in art and literature its use is typically restricted to the late 18th Century and early 19th Century.
In Britain Romanticism develops in a different form slightly later. It is mostly associated with the poets William Wordsworth and Samuel Taylor Coleridge, whose book "Lyrical Ballads" (1798) sought to reject Augustan poetry in favour of more direct speech derived from folk traditions. Both poets were also involved in Utopian social thought in the wake of the French Revolution. The poet and painter William Blake is the most extreme example of the Romantic sensibility in Britain, epitomised by his claim 'I must create a system or be enslaved by another man's'. Blake's artistic work is also strongly influenced by Medieval illuminated books. The painters J. M. W. Turner and John Constable are also generally associated with Romanticism. Lord Byron, Percy Bysshe Shelley, Mary Shelley and John Keats constitute another phase of Romanticism in Britain. The historian Thomas Carlyle and the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood represent the last phase of transformation into Victorian culture.
In Roman Catholic countries Romanticism was less pronounced than in Protestant Germany and Britain, and tended to develop later, after the rise of Napoleon. In France Romanticism is associated with the nineteenth century, particular in the paintings of Theodore Gericault and Eugene Delacroix, the plays of Victor Hugo and the novels of Stendhal. The composer Hector Berlioz is also important.
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In Russia the principal exponent of Romanticism is Alexander Pushkin, though Russian composers are also given the label. Pushkin's Shakespearean drama 'Boris Godunov' (1825) was set to music by Modest Mussorgsky.
Isolated examples of Romanticism are found elsewhere in Europe. The movement had little immediate impact in America, though Transcendentalist writers such as Henry David Thoreau and Ralph Waldo Emerson show elements of its influence, as does the work of Walt Whitman.