ARomanticism was an artistic and cultural movement that swept through Europe during the nineteenth century,reshaping everything from arts to politics to personal lifestyles as it flourished. Contrary to a commonly held misconception, Romanticism had little to do with `romance' in the modern, popular sense of the word, and Romantics of the nineteenth century were generally not concerned with questions of infatuation and heartbreak. What interested them more was a different kind of Romantic vision, one that rebelled against caution and reason and praised the intensity and ferocity of wild landscapes and reckless human emotion.
BLike many popular movements, Romanticism emerged as a reaction to the ideas that
preceded it. Europe in the 1700s was dominated by the ideals of the Enlightenment, which were firmly grounded in reason and logic, the scientific method, mastery over nature, and a belief that polite intellectual discourse in such institutions as coffee houses and debating societies constituted the most sophisticated expression of humanity's capacity for development. Enlightenment thinkers loathed the expression of emotion, particularly of fiery, uncontrollable feeling, perceiving it to be a threat to order and democracy. They also fought against irrationality and dogmatism of all kinds, having witnessed how despotic kings and other manipulative leaders used folk wisdom and superstition to stir discontent and gain power in their countries.
CRomantic artists resisted the Enlightenment fixation with calmness, order and reason, although the nature of their rebellion varied from one art form to another. Romantic poets, for example, dismissed the sculpted, austere prose of their forebears, favouring styles that focussed on the role of ordinary people and their language. As interest in governance and civic affairs waned, writers began to reject the once-respected literary format of satire. Instead, they turned their attention to those areas of human life that were previously downplayed or taboo. In Wuthering Heights, for example, Emily Bronte describes the effects of intense, destructive emotions such as jealousy and vengeance. Elements of the supernatural are introduce in the short stories of Edgar Allan Poe.
DComposers and soloists reached new levels of prominence during the Romantic Movement.
This was partly because, freed from the constraints of the Enlightenment era, music was perceived to be the ideal form through which to explore the Romantic notion of a free spirit. Economic shifts also facilitated music's newfound dominance. Whereas musicians had hitherto been required to source financial support from a wealthy patron (usually from the royal court), they now earned their living by performing for burgeoning middleclass audiences. With this transition came the birth of the pop star musician, perhaps best exemplified by the Hungarian pianist Franz Liszt, who would tour cities performing for these crowds with brilliance and flair.
ERomanticism also made its mark on painting, in two notable ways. The first change can be seen in landscape representations. In Enlightenment-era paintings, nature was usually neglected in favour of human subjects. Where nature was shown, it was typically in the form of manicured hedges and lawns, as in the style of estates and palaces of the time. Romantic artists, however, depicted nature as a violent force, rather than as something to beautify gardens and walkways. Windswept mountaintops, dense bush and fog, and stormy, dark red skies were all popular with such artists.
FThe Romantics also revolutionised the painting of human subjects. Previously considered a staid, sedate form of painting, whose principle objective was simply to achieve a lifelike representation of the subject, portraits became a vehicle for examining the darker side of the human experience. Theodore Gericault, for example, chose to paint a series of portraits of psychiatric patients toward the end of his life, depicting his subjects'eyes as being tormented and unsettled. This was strongly divergent from the traditional portrait - a member of royalty or the royal court, festooned with jewellery and wearing their finest clothes.
GBy the mid-nineteenth entury,Romanticism had hugely influenced every art form with the exception of sculpture, which remained stubbornly impervious to Romantic influences due to the practical constraints of the discipline. Its influence had extended far beyond the arts; scientists reconfigured their ideas about nature, and educators reconsidered their curriculum priorities. Most significantly, nationalist political movements were proliferating across Europe, inspired by the celebration of folklore and indigenous customs in many Romantic art works.
HToward the end of the nineteenth century, however,Romanticism's dominance waned considerably. What was once revolutionary and provocative began to seem phony and melodramatic. Many authors and artists turned toward Realism, a newer movement that advocated artistry without exaggeration or contrivance. Others saw a need to begin taking social and political affairs seriously again, and sought to retrieve some of the values of the Enlightenment, such as the need for dialogue and reasoned debate. Romanticism never faded away completely, however. Dramatic movie soundtracks and plotlines in which men fight adversity to achieve great triumphs show that the Romantic spirit remains with us to the present day.
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