Difference Between Neoclassicism and Romanticism


Main Difference

The main difference between neoclassicism and romanticism movement is that neoclassicism focuses on objectivity, order, and restraint whereas romanticism focuses on imagination and emotion.

Neoclassicism vs. Romanticism

Neoclassicism is also known as the “Age of Enlightenment.” It is also known as the predominant movement in European art and architecture during the late 18th century and early 19th century. Romanticism is a term that describes changes within the art from about 1760 – 1870. These changes can be seen as a direct reaction against the values of Neoclassicism. The visual arts of neoclassicism were serious, unemotional and heroic. There is a use of somber colors to convey a moral narrative defined by self-sacrifice and self-denial. In the visual arts of Romanticism, nature was a dominant theme. However, nature was regarded as an uncontrollable unpredictable power, which can result in cataclysmic extremes. Often in British and French paintings of this age, there is a recurrence of the images that depict shipwrecks. This depiction symbolizes men struggle against nature. Neoclassicism, often referred to as Augustan age, resulted from a self-conscious imitation of the Augustan writers. The main contributors to this movement are Alexander Pope, Jonathan Swift, and Daniel Defoe. The view of these writers and poets on Nature was a revival of classical theory. They regard nature as “a rational and comprehensible moral order in the universe, demonstrating God’s providential design. Romanticism has a wild and spiritual view on nature. The romanticism movement cover so many themes, styles, and content in literature. In general, the Romanticism in the literature concerns the individual and the individual’s imagination rather than society as a whole. The art of neoclassicism pays homage to classical Greece and Roman art. The art of Romanticism emphasized encapsulating emotions like fear and horror in visual form.


Comparison Chart

a literal movement which emphasized on objectivity, order, and restrainta literal movement which emphasized on imagination and emotion
The Importance is Given to
Thought and reason.emotions and self-experience.
Subject of Poetry
Human beings, social organizationNature to a great extent
Importance of Diction
Cam, rational toneSpontaneous, moody tone
Classical age (Greeks and Romans)Medieval and Baroque eras
Lasted from about 1660 and 1798Lasted from about 1789 to 1832

What is Neoclassicism?

Neoclassicism is a movement in literature that has its inspiration from the classical age. The prefix “Neo” in this term means new. The writers of this age were enthusiastic about bringing something new, acquiring or carrying forward some of the classical traits at the same time. Also, neoclassical writers were inspired by the writers of the classic age, the Latin and French writers. They also tried to imitate the style these writers along with Greeks and Romans. This movement was a reaction against the renaissance and lasted from about 1660 and 1798. The well known neo-classical writers are John Milton, Alexander Pope, Voltaire, John Dryden, Jonathan Swift, and Daniel Defoe. The popular genres of this movement are; essays, parody, satire, novels, and poetry. The basis of neoclassicism was on classical forms and themes. The ideologies of neoclassicism extended into painting, sculpture, and literature as well. Neoclassical arts are defined by clear, intentional lines, proportional harmony, and a sense of rational logic. It was a rejection of previous arts but introduced a major philosophical movement, the Enlightenment. Enlightenment thinkers challenged the traditions of European society, claiming that only that which could be empirically and rationally proven could be trusted. They based this idea mainly on Greek philosophy, which held that individual rationale was the only pathway to the absolute truth. This movement is typically divided into three periods; The Restoration Age (1660 to 1700), The Augustan Age (1700 to 1750), The Age of Johnson (1750 to 1798). The main features of neoclassical literature are:

  • Structure
  • Restraint
  • Simplicity
  • Decorum
  • Order
  • Logic
  • Objectivity

What is Romanticism?

Romanticism is a movement in English literature that lasted from about 1789 to 1832. The romantic movement is known as a reaction against the industrial revolution and neo-classicism. Romanticism emphasized the personal, subjective, irrational, imaginative, spontaneous, emotional, visionary and transcendental works of art. The writers and poets were the first who gave the initial expression to Romantic ideas. While the painters garnered inspiration from the poets and writers latter. All these art forms agreed that the experience of profound inner emotion serves as an inspiration to artistic endeavor. It rejected neoclassicism by creating an artwork that was very emotional and dramatic. Romanticism regarded emotions higher than thought and reason. Romanticism was the reaction against the industrial revolution by an escape from modern realities of population growth, urban sprawl, and industrialism. Most of the works of this period gave much importance to the language of the common person. Although, the writers of the Romantic period did not give much importance to diction. Romantic poetry reflects the personal feelings of the poet. William Wordsworth is one of the famous writers of this age including all these features in his poetry. Other well-known writers of this age include William Blake, S.T. Coleridge, Byron, Shelley, and Keats. The main features of this movement are:

  • Imagination
  • Subjectivity
  • emotions

Key Differences

  1. Neoclassicism emphasized on structure, restraint, and objectivity whereas romanticism emphasized on imagination, emotion, and subjectivity.
  2. Neoclassicism gave importance to logic and reason conversely romanticism gave importance to emotions and self-experience.
  3. Neoclassicism examined society. On the other hand, romanticism examined nature.
  4. Neoclassicism draws its inspiration from the culture of ancient Greece and Rome and classical art while romanticism drew its inspiration from the Industrial Revolution and the Enlightenment.
  5. Neoclassical writers used a calm, rational tone on the flip side. Romantic writers used a spontaneous and moody tone.


Both these movements had significant roles to play within their respective time frames.

Aimie Carlson

Aimie Carlson is an English language enthusiast who loves writing and has a master degree in English literature. Follow her on Twitter at @AimieCarlson