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  Much of Western art history is the story of revivals, of the resurrection of forms and ideas slightly or radically adapted to suit new contexts and horizons. Eastern art, by contrast, being traditional and assimilative in nature, has tended to follow a course of continuous evolution—or, at times, centuries-long stagnation—rather than the fits-and-starts, leapfrogging process implied by revivalism in the West.

Most artistic revivals have an intellectual rationale and are not simply stylistic. They often originate directly from or reflect developments in literature. Nor is revivalism always a protest against the prevailing taste of a particular period. It is, instead, complementary, succeeding if it fills a need and failing otherwise. The Renaissance was a revival of classical ideas and themes, as were Fascist art and architecture under Mussolini. In both, a programme is identifiable, and such assimilation of the past is not necessarily a bar to originality and innovation.

Revivalism seems to occur throughout history (for example, the medieval revivals of Early Christian styles, the Baroque interest in Hellenistic antiquity and the 19th-century Gothic Revival: see below), but in the 18th and 19th centuries the phenomenon was especially strong and varied. Because of trade, travel, scholarship and conquest, a whole series of extra-European revivals occurred, including Indian, Chinese and Persian. However, these were short-lived because they were of interest to only a few, and impractical to apply thoroughly except in the decorative arts. The Greek and Etruscan revivals are much stronger because they were part of the classical tradition, which is a constant in European arts.

Strongest of all, throughout Europe, were the medieval revivals, such as the Romanesque but especially the Gothic Revival. They were successful not only because there was a developing interest in history, but because they served specific yearnings to reinvigorate national pasts (the same applies to the Colonial revival in the USA). France, England, Scotland, Wales and the German states all had their own particular forms, bolstered by medieval literature (some of it recent forgeries) and by the sentiment that Gothic was a suitable language for church architecture, matching a classicism largely accepted for the civic life. PD MG JM

Further reading K. Clark, The Gothic Revival: an Essay in the History of Taste.



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Other Terms : Musical Acculturation | Rule Of Law | Panentheism
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