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Friday
Oct062017

Classicism: Art Inspired by History and Tradition

Lord Frederic Leighton - Cimabue’s Celebrated Madonna - 1853-55 - Oil on canvas - 222 cm × 521 cm (87 in × 205 in) - National Gallery, London (click photo for larger image)Victorian Classicism was a British form of historical painting that developed during hte mid-to-late nineteenth century. It was largely inspired by the art and architecture of Classical Greece and Rome.

In the 1800s, an increasing number of Western Europeans made the "Grand Tour" to the Mediterranean. There was a great popular interest in the region's lost civilizations and exotic cultures, and this interest fueled the rise of Classicism in Britain.

The Classicists were closely associated with the Pre-Raphaelites, and many artists of the day were influenced by both styles, to some degree. Both movements were highly romantic and both were inspired by similar historical and mythological themes. A key distinction, however, is that the Classicists epitomized the rigid Academic standards of painting, while the Pre-Raphaelites were initially formed as a rebellion against those same standards.

English painter and sculptor Lord Frederic Leighton (1830-1896) was one of the major Classicists—a painter who enjoyed immense prestige during his life. After an education in many European cities, he went to Rome in 1852, where his social talents won him the friendship of a number of celebrated artists. His painting featured here, Cimabue’s Madonna, was exhibited at the Royal Academy’s exhibition in 1855, and was purchased by Queen Victoria. It marked the entry into England a new cosmopolitan and academic manner. The grandeur of scale and forms of classical Greek and High Renaissance extraction were used to embody subject matter of an anecdotal and superficial nature. Leighton came to London in 1858 to enjoy this triumph but did not settle there until 1860.

In 1869 he was made a member of the Royal Academy and became the academy’s president in 1878, During that same year he was knighted. In 1886 he was made a baronet, and, on the day before he died, he became a baron, being the first English painter to be so honored. Since he never married, the titles became extinct upon his death.

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