Justine Barratt-Historicism


Historicism refers to artistic styles that draw their inspiration from copying historic styles or artisans. After neo-classicism, which could itself be considered a historicist movement, the 19th century saw a new historicist phase marked by a return to a more ancient classicism, in particular in architecture and in the genre of history painting.

Historicism the recourse to historical style, (which was also utilized during the Renaissance) and is a widely used technique  today however, this term is understood to mean the more narrow  characterization and stylistic pluralism in the second half of the 19th century, which in turn can be differentiated into the so-called neostyles (Neo-Romanticism, Neo-Gothic, Neo-Renaissance, Neo-Baroque, etc.). When these styles are intermixed, one also speaks of Eclecticism.

During this period, several nations defined themselves anew, and in search for a national style. The origins of historicism lie both in Romanticism, in which national consciousness and interest for the Middle Ages was awakened, and also in classicism, in which one used elements from the Antique.

The Liberty Tower (Henry Ives Cobb, 1913)
was one of New York City’s pioneering historicist

The main carrier of historicism was architecture: the historical styles that were rediscovered were employed contemporaneously and choreographed for certain statements: in this way, Gothic elements were used for residences; for banks, theaters and museums, on the other hand, the Neo-renaissance was chosen. Well-to-do citizens prefered the forms of the Neo-Baroque style for their homes.

Historicism today – The main library for Chicago was 
completed sometime in the 1990s and tries to combine 
both old and modern elements.

In painting, historicism shows up in the categories of the Nazarene movement and the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood. Both movements had a thematic interest in medieval legends and literary works.

The Nazarene aimed to revive honesty and spirituality in Christian art.

In Jacob encountering Rachel with her father’s herd,
Joseph von Führich attempts to recapture the mood
of Perugino and Raphael, 1836 (Österreichische Galerie, Vienna)

Joseph Anton Koch, Detail des Dante-Zyklus in der Casa Massimo

Joseph Anton Koch, Detail des Dante-Zyklus in der Casa Massimo

The Pre-Raphaelites although were  considered the first avant-garde movement in art, though they have also been denied that status because they continued to accept both the concepts of history painting and of mimesis, or imitation of nature, as central to the purpose of art.

Proserpine, by Dante Gabriel Rossetti.

Ophelia, by John Everett Millais.



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