Neoclassicism was an artistic reaction against the frivolity and excesses of the Baroque and Rococo periods. As the name suggests, the inspiration for this style largely came from the classical art of the Ancient Greeks and Romans.

Ever since the Renaissance, successive generations of artists and architects had turned to classical models for inspiration. But the quest for classical authenticity was undertaken with fresh vigour in the eighteenth century.

This was the age of the Enlightenment, when philosophers saw reason as the guiding principle of life and the main guarantee of progress. The artists of this period similarly demanded a clear art governed by rationale and intelligence.

Their model once again was antiquity, which underwent a revival in the second half of the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. The discovery in the mid-eighteenth century of two Ancient Roman cities – Pompeii and Herculaneum – brought the classical period back to the attention of artists.

But it was not only the artefacts excavated at these ancient cities which appealed to painters, sculptors and architects. The subjects of many Neoclassical works were inspired by Greek and Roman history, myths and legends.

In 1755, German archaeologist Johann Joachim Winckelmann published a work on Greek painting and sculpture, claiming that Hellenic art provided the best example of ideal beauty. Over the next century, Greek themes increasingly pervaded architecture, furniture, interior design and even women’s fashion.

In Russia, Baroque gave way to Neoclassicism partially under the influence of the personal tastes of Catherine the Great. The gilded, capricious twists and volutes of Bartolomeo Francesco Rastrelli’s Baroque palaces were replaced by the strict classical order and geometric interiors of Jean-Baptiste-Michel Vallin de la Mothe, Giacomo Quarenghi and Georg Friedrich von Veldten.

But it was not a simple case of Neoclassicism supplanting Baroque. The two styles peacefully co-existed at Peterhof, for example, where the regular French gardens from the reign of Peter the Great were conjoined by a new landscape park created around the English Palace by Scottish gardener James Meaders.

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