||Classicism, in the arts of the West, is a generic term for work which embodies the principles of order, harmony and reason supposedly underlying the architecture, fine art and literature of ancient Greece and Rome. It is an art primarily of the intellect, though moralityâ€”a particular world-view, as it wereâ€”is also involved, predicated on the Greek and Roman example. The classical impulse is â€˜Apollonianâ€™ (named after the Greek god of music, who took random Nature, and, by using intellect, tamed it and made it calm, cerebral, civic, generalized and moral); it contrasts with the personal, emotional and disorderly romantic impulse, which was â€˜Dionysianâ€™ (named after the Greek god of intoxication and hedonistic ecstasy). In each case, stylistic qualities match such perceived spiritual ones. Specifically, â€˜classicalâ€™ or â€˜neoclassicalâ€™ works use the same constructional techniques as those of the past.
Classicism is principally important in Western architecture. Classical architecture, as it is generally understood, is characterized by the use of a specific and defined range of architectural elements, a vocabulary of readily identifiable parts. The basic unit of classical architecture is the â€˜Orderâ€™, a standard variety of a column, supporting an entablature, based on the model of the classical temple colonnade. The relationship of the entablature to the column is sometimes described as â€˜post and lintelâ€™ architectureâ€”the column being the vertical member (made up of capital, shaft and base), and the entablature being the horizontal, consisting of cornice, frieze and architrave. The temple in Greek society was the most significant building type, and for functional and ritual reasons was characterized by proportion and careful symmetry. A well-known example is the Parthenon complex in Athens; like most temples of its date, it is a rectangular space enclosed by structural columns, supporting the roof, which are arranged in colonnades on all sides.
The model of Greek architecture provided the basis, with certain modifications, for classical Roman architecture. The principal innovation of the Roman period was the combination of the column with the rounded arch, achieving technically a greater load-bearing capacity, as well as a new aesthetic combination, which can be seen in the structure of the Coliseum at Rome.
The 1st-century Â BCE architect and engineer to the Emperor Augustus, M. Pollo Vitruvius, who wrote the only architectural treatise from classical antiquity to survive into the middle ages (De Architectura), set down both the theoretical and practical basis of architecture as practised in the late Roman republic, describing in detail the orders and requirements of an architect\'s education and such things as the most appropriate sites for towns, forts, etc. With the renewed interest in classical texts in the 15th century, this treatise became the basis for most written architectural theory in that period and in Europe this text, and texts modelled closely on it, dominated the subject for subsequent centuries. All architecture of a later period which derives from the classical, particularly in the employment of the order, and not only in terms of proportion, may be called classical, or neo-classical.
In music, â€˜neoclassicalâ€™ has a different meaning. It refers to the style of composing that uses the 18th-century techniques of such composers as J.S. Bach or Mozart, but with 20th-century spikiness and harmonyâ€”a radical alternative to the romantic lushness of sound imagined by such men as Richard Strauss or Gustav Mahler.
The question of â€˜classicismâ€™ is bedevilled by a common misuse of the word â€˜classicâ€™ to mean a work of art which has become a â€˜standardâ€™, universally known and almost beyond the reach of criticism. Another common expression, originally confined to the West but now used worldwide, is â€˜classical musicâ€™. This was once taken to mean European art music from the end of the Baroque to the beginning of the Romantic periods, the time of Gluck, Haydn, Mozart and the young Beethoven, but is now universally used to mean European art music of the last four or five centuries. Sometimes Westerners talk of â€˜classicalâ€™ Indian or Asian music with the same implication that there is a distinction between art music and more popular forms. All these terms are in wide currency, but none has any connection whatever with the traditions or artistic concepts of ancient Greece and Rome. PD MG JM KMcL
Further reading M. Greenhalgh, The Classical Tradition in Art; , J. Summerson, The Classical Language of Architecture.