A Comparison of Romanticism and Neoclassicism

Ontop is a Vernet painting, in the Romantic style, depicting the famous race of riderless horses of Rome's Carnival. The painting, while an independent piece, served as preparation for a much larger composition for the French ambassador to Rome. The Romantic period lasting between 1800 and 1850 was period of time in which the artistic community began to veer away from what was the current standard of neoclassicism. This involved experimentation not only with subject matter but also composition and style. Artists began to paint epic, untamed, raw scenes of nature and exotic places. These large canvases were created to evoke intense emotion with liberal brushwork and complex posturing leading the eye frantically around. Painters like Francisco Goya, Albert Bierdstadt, J.M.W Turner, and Thomas Gainsborough all explored romantic themes and techniques

Below the Vernet is a painting by Jacques Louis David depicting the death of Socrates. The scene is very simple, Socrates sits just right of center with his hand reaching for a cup, fully aware that it contains his final drink. His followers crowd around in agony, unable to watch socrates commit suicide. While the subject is quite powerful it is presented in a much more static composition. This is very typical of the Neoclassical movement of the 18th century. At the time the revival of ancient Roman and Greek cultures was turning heads towards the academic communities of Europe. It became fashionable to paint stoic scenes of famous figures and gods of these ancient civilizations. Often very organized these compositions appealed to the audiences intellect by hiding brush work and focussing on the context of the subject. Painters like Frederick Leighton and Ivan Aivazovsky were also well known artists of this time who worked with themes and techniques similar to those of Jacques Louis David.


The Start of the Race of the Riderless Horses, Horace Vernet, c.1820,                   Oil on canvas, 18 1/8 x 21 1/4 in. 

The Death of Socrates, Jacques Louis David, 1787, Oil on canvas, 51 x 77 1/4 in.