In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Classical Architecture in Europe and North America since 1700

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • Reference Works
  • Early General Archaeological Publications
  • Early Archaeological Publications on Greece and Classical Ruins in the Roman East
  • Early Archaeological Publications on Italy
  • Early Archaeological Publications on Pompeii, Herculaneum, and the Bay of Naples
  • Early Archaeological Publications on Egypt
  • Design Books
  • World’s Fairs and Expositions
  • Canada
  • The Iberian Peninsula, Mexico, the Caribbean, and Central America

Classics Classical Architecture in Europe and North America since 1700
Elizabeth R. Macaulay
  • LAST REVIEWED: 24 July 2018
  • LAST MODIFIED: 24 July 2018
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195389661-0318


Since the Western Roman Empire collapsed, classical, or Greco-Roman, architecture has served as a model to articulate the cultural, artistic, political, and ideological goals of later civilizations, empires, nations, and individuals. The Renaissance marked the first major, widespread re-engagement with classical antiquity in art, literature, and architecture. Debates over classical antiquity and its relation to the modern world continued ever since. One such important debate was that of the quarrel between the Ancients and Moderns, which resulted when Charles Perrault published his Parallèles des anciens et des modernes in 1688. This dispute focused on whether the modern age could surpass antiquity, especially in literature. The Greco-Roman controversy (1750s and 1760s) was another example of Europeans engaging with the classical past; this debate focused on whether Greek or Roman art was of greater historical value; an argument has continued unabated to this day. Figures like Johann Joachim Winckelmann argued (in publications such as Winckelmann 1764, cited under Early Archaeological Publications on Greece and Classical Ruins in the Roman East, on Greek art) for the supremacy of Greek forms, while others like Giovanni Battista Piranesi (whose 1748–1778 views of Rome are reproduced in Ficacci 2011, cited under Early Archaeological Publications on Italy) advocated for Rome’s preeminence. Such debates demonstrate how classical antiquity was an essential part of the intellectual and artistic milieu of 18th-century Europe. This bibliography focuses on the appropriation of classical architecture in the creation of built forms from 1700 to the present in Europe and North America, which is typically called neoclassical or neo-classical, both of which are acceptable. Scholars often define the neoclassical period as lasting from c. 1750 to 1830, when European art and architecture predominantly appropriated classical forms and ideas. The influence of classical architecture continued in popularity throughout the 19th century and early 20th century in the United States. The early 19th century saw the flourishing of the Greek Revival, where Greek forms dominated artistic and architectural production, both in Europe and the United States. The ascendance of Queen Victoria in 1837 marked a shift toward a preference for the Gothic and Medieval forms. Neoclassical forms saw a resurgence in the second half of the 19th century, as Roman architectural forms became increasingly popular as an expression of empire. The term “Neo-classical” was coined as early as January 1872 by Robert Kerr, who used the term positively. It later took on certain negative overtones, when it was used as a derogatory epithet by an unknown writer in the Times of London in 1892. Neoclassical architecture has fared no better with the rise of modernism in the early 20th century onward and since then it has been seen as old-fashioned and derivative. Neoclassical architecture was not a mindless imitation of classical architectural forms and interiors. The interest in classical architecture and the creation of neoclassical architecture was spurred on by important archaeological discoveries in the mid-18th century, which widened the perception of Greek and Roman buildings. The remarkable flexibility of ancient architecture to embody the grandeur of an empire, as well as the principles of a nascent democracy, meant that it had great potential to be interpreted and reinterpreted by countless architects, patrons, empires, and nation states—in different ways and at different times from the 18th to the 20th century. This bibliography is organized thematically (e.g., General Overviews; Companions, Handbooks, and Theoretical Works; Reference Works; Early General Archaeological Publications; The Reception of Pompeii, Herculaneum, and the Bay of Naples; and World’s Fairs and Expositions) and then geographically, creating country- or region-specific bibliographies. While this model of organization has some flaws, it aims to avoid repetition and highlights the interconnected nature and process of the reception of classical architecture in later periods.

General Overviews

Bergdoll 2000 and Hitchcock 1977 are more general works on architecture and only contain chapters on neoclassicism. Irwin 1997 and Toman 2008 contextualize neoclassical architecture within a larger understanding of how classical civilization permeated the artistic production of Europe from 1750 to 1830. Middleton and Watkin 1993 remains the fundamental starting point for neoclassical architecture in Europe generally, but has a particular focus on France and Britain.

  • Bergdoll, Barry. 2000. European architecture, 1750–1890. Oxford: Oxford Univ. Press.

    This introduction argues that neoclassical architecture in Europe was not simply a fulfillment of Renaissance ideals, but was revolutionary, connected to the intellectual currents of the era, and to major scientific and archaeological discoveries. Chapter 1 provides a good introduction to the key figures and debates within the development of neoclassical architecture.

  • Hitchcock, Henry-Russell. 1977. Architecture: Nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Rev. ed. New Haven, CT: Yale Univ. Press.

    This volume provides a concise introduction to 19th- and 20th-century architecture, including “Romantic Classicism around 1800” (chapter 1). Other chapters deal with neoclassicism in Northern Europe and the influence of Jean-Nicholas-Louis Durand (chapter 3), France and Continental Europe (chapter 4) Great Britain (chapter 5), the New World (chapter 6). H. H. Richardson and McKim, Mead, and White, major proponents of the beaux arts style in the United States, are also discussed (chapter 13).

  • Irwin, David G. 1997. Neoclassicism. London: Phaidon Press.

    This book provides a good introduction to neoclassicism from c. 1750 to 1830, discussing painting, sculpture, interior design, and architecture. Also discusses how 19th-century empires, especially the British Empire, exported neoclassical architecture to its colonies.

  • Middleton, Robin, and David Watkin. 1993. Neoclassical and 19th century architecture. Milan: Electa.

    This book examines French and English neoclassical architecture from 1750 to 1870 with an emphasis on the Rationalist theory that developed in French architecture and the Picturesque movement in Britain. Lavishly illustrated, with useful biographies of important architects at the end.

  • Toman, Rolf, ed. 2008. Neoclassicism and Romanticism: Architecture–sculpture–painting–drawings 1750–1848. Königswinter, Germany: H. F. Ultmann.

    A massive, beautifully illustrated volume about neoclassicism and Romanticism in Europe. Individual essays serve as short introductions to specific countries, with chapters on Britain (Engel), America (Borngässer), France (Karn), Belgium (Kluckert), Germany (Philipp), Scandinavia (Kluckert), Austria and Hungary (Plassmeyer), and Russia (Rupeks-Wolter).

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