In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Romanticism

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • Landmark Exhibition Catalogues
  • Anthologies
  • Bibliographies
  • Journals

Art History Romanticism
Nina M. Athanassoglou-Kallmyer
  • LAST REVIEWED: 27 July 2016
  • LAST MODIFIED: 27 July 2016
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199920105-0092


Romanticism is a European-born cultural movement whose precise national, geographic, and chronological boundaries, as well as precise aesthetic properties, are among the most difficult to define. Its multidisciplinary and multinational origins and fluctuating chronologies, shifting according to nation and culture, from roughly the 1760s to as late as the 1880s, account for its elusive identity. Philosophy and literature were the fields in which a Romantic aesthetic was first articulated. Germany saw its first manifestations. In 1798, the critic Friedrich Schlegel described Romanticism in poetry as progressive in tenor and universal in scope, relying on a breakdown of fixed categories and genres which it replaced by an amalgamation of complementary opposites: nature and science, emotion and reason, whole and fragment, poetry and prose, sublime and grotesque. Its ultimate goal was to reject established conventions replacing them with a new aesthetic ideal of subjectivity, individualism, originality, and freedom that captured the spirit of modern times. From the start, Romanticism emerged as a global movement. From Germany it migrated to England (Coleridge, Wordsworth, Byron), France (de Stael, Stendhal, Hugo), Italy (Foscolo), and Spain (Espronceda, Saavedra). For the philosopher Friedrich Hegel, in the 1820s, Romanticism was the concluding phase of a three-phase trajectory of art’s development, preceded by a Symbolic and a Classical phase, which led to a purely spiritual, dematerialized form of expression. In our times, the philosophers and historians of ideas Arthur Lovejoy (The Great Chain of Being; A Study of the History of an Idea, Harvard University Press, 1936) and Isaiah Berlin (The Roots of Romanticism, Princeton University Press, 1999) attributed the movement’s origins to larger shifts in European thought, especially the move away from Enlightenment rationalist worldviews of cultural, aesthetic, and moral uniformitarianism and universalism, to their opposites, notions of relativity, evolutionism, diversity subjectivity and the subconscious or irrational, Freedom, a key Romantic notion, was expanded to encompass allusions to the social and political condition of the individual heaving under oppressive systems, be it absolutistic regimes or conservative art institutions, and to the idea of revolution as a means to overthrow them. As the quintessential age of national awakenings and nationalisms, of liberal uprisings that overthrew old-style monarchies, of libertarian and utopian social theories, the 19th century proved an ideal ground for the growth and flowering of ideologically-charged Romantic creativity, and for the formation of constructs of the artist as an eternal rebel. This entry presents a selection of publications that deal with aspects of the Romantic Movement in general. Monographic works on individual artists are not part of its listings, with the rare exception of monographs whose contents explore wider issues pertaining to the Romantic Movement as a whole. For monographic publications on particular artists, readers should seek the Oxford Bibliographies Online entry under the artist’s name (for example, see Francisco José Goya y Lucientes).

General Overviews

The literature on Romanticism in the visual arts is vast. The focus of this article is on European art, with a brief section devoted to North American art. Honour (1979) and Brown 2006 are comprehensive surveys indispensable to any beginner student of Romanticism in the arts. They are arranged by overarching thematic entities considered in transnational perspective, with Honour’s advantage over Brown being its detailed endnotes and critical bibliography. Boime 1990 and Boime 2004 cover two historical periods of Romantic activity, 1800–1815 and 1815–1848, each comprising chapters referring to discreet national contexts that situate artistic developments within their particular historical, social, political, and intellectual settings. Praz 1951 and Rosenblum 1967 eschew periodization and focus instead on shared Romantic themes and concepts; Clay 1981 bases his investigation on formal affinities across international contexts; parallels between Romantic literary and visual aesthetics are analyzed in Abrams 1953, Rosen and Zerner 1984, and Wood 2001 (cited under England). Antal 1966 opts for a Marxist interpretation of Romantic imagery and styles. Eitner 1955 deals with two iconic themes of Romantic iconography, the “open window” and “the storm-tossed boat.”

  • Abrams, Meyer Howard. The Mirror and the Lamp. Romantic Theory and the Critical Tradition. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1953.

    Based primarily on the theories and critical strains of English literature in the first four decades of the 19th century, this is a foundational exploration of the shift and meaning of critical terms and metaphors about the artist and artistic creativity ushered in by Romanticism.

  • Antal, Frederick. Reflections on Classicism and Romanticism with Other Studies in Art History. New York: Basic Books, 1966.

    A student of Heinrich Wölfflin, the Hungarian art historian Antal applied a Marxist, deterministic approach to the contrasting iconographic and stylistic aspects of the two movements––Classicism and Romanticism—as the result of contemporary political, economic, and social factors. First published in the form of articles in the Burlington Magazine, 1935–1941.

  • Boime, Albert. Art in the Age of Bonapartism 1800–1815. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1990.

    Volume 2 of Boime’s five-volume A Social History of Modern Art explores the historical, social, and cultural context of the visual arts in early Romantic Europe, between Bonaparte’s ascent to power and the demise of empire in 1815, caught between the antithetical poles of imperialist advance and the resistance to it.

  • Boime, Albert. The Age of Counterrevolution 1815–1848. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2004.

    Volume 3 of Boime’s five-volume A Social History of Modern Art focuses on the rise of Romanticism in European visual culture as a movement grounded in the historical and political developments of its time dominated by the growth of nationalist ideologies, pantheistic nature philosophy, and the advent to power of a cultural bourgeoisie.

  • Brown, David Blaney. Romanticism. London: Phaidon, 2006.

    A comprehensive, lucidly written overview of the movement in accessible, compact format. Approaches the movement from the vantage point of painting primarily, and by major universal themes—history, revolution, religion, nature, exoticism—in context of interdisciplinary historical, political, and intellectual developments c. 1775–1830. No notes. Chronology. Select bibliography.

  • Clay, Jean. Romanticism. Translated by Daniel Wheeler and Craig Owen. Oxford: Phaidon, 1981.

    In an attempt to uncover common underlying patterns of meaning, the book discusses and analyzes the iconographic, visual-formal and material-technical strategies of juxtaposed Romantic works from varied national schools, with the help of concepts drawn from French structuralist theory. Originally published in French: Romantisme. Paris: Hachette, 1980.

  • Eitner, Lorenz. “The Open Window and the Storm-Tossed Boat: An Essay on the Iconography of Romanticism.” The Art Bulletin 37.4 (December 1955): 281–290.

    Two recurring themes in Romantic iconography—a figure standing in front of an open window gazing into the distance far beyond, and a boat tossed by rough waves––are symbolic allusions of fundamental Romantic concerns: the individual’s longing for freedom and immersion into nature; and man’s helplessness in the throes of fate’s hardships.

  • Hofmann, Werner. Das Irdische Paradies. Kunst im Neunzehnten Jahrhundert. Munich: Prestel, 1960.

    One of the most insightful reappraisals of European 19th-century painting which views the works of Romantic artists in tandem with those by exponents of other period movements as part of larger conceptual categories that collectively constitute the distinctive profile of the century’s worldview. English translation: The Earthly Paradise. Art in the Nineteenth Century. Translated by Brian Battershaw. New York: Braziller, 1961

  • Praz, Mario. The Romantic Agony. Translated by Angus Davidson. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1951.

    The dark and morbid side of the Romantic imagination explored through a set of literary motifs, such as the beauty of horror, Satan as seductive anti-hero, sadism and cruelty disguised as false piety, the femme fatale, and masochistic and fatal carnal desire. Originally published in Italian as La carne, la morte e il diavolo nella letteratuta romantica (1930).

  • Rosen, Charles, and Henry Zerner. Romanticism and Realism. The Mythology of Nineteenth-Century Art. New York: Viking, 1984.

    The authors’ essays published in The New York Review of Books, addressing key Romantic concerns, including the politics of representational changes ushered in by Romantic modernism; the rise of interest in landscape as non-traditional vehicle of new attitudes toward history and religion; and the integration of the arts, visual, verbal, and auditory.

  • Rosenblum, Robert. Transformations in Late Eighteenth-Century Art. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1967.

    A pathbreaking study of Neoclassicism as a flexible matrix of themes and styles open to varied interpretative modes, ranging from Rococo, to antiquarian, to Romantic, aiming to demonstrate the porous borders, continuities, and transformations that link perceived antithetical aesthetic movements.

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