Antiquity Rediscovered: Innovation and Resistance in the 18th Century features a selection of over one hundred and fifty major works that illustrate the emergence of the so-called “neoclassical” movement, which spurred eighteenth-century Europe to look back to Antiquity once again. Running counter to the formal inventiveness of Parisian rococo and Italian “decorative baroque” trends, which had spread across the continent, this stylistic revival concerned not only the visual arts and architecture but also a way of life, stimulated by archaeological discoveries and academic debate.
However, by the 1760s various alternative trends, based on other historical sources, emerged. They are included in this show under the themes of “baroque revival,” “mannerist revival,” and the quest for the “sublime”—from Rome to Edinburgh and from Stockholm to Paris, artists flaunted their uniqueness by expressing their vision of an imagined Antiquity, one based less on archaeology and more on inspiration from the Renaissance, the seventeenth century, indeed the Middle Ages (associated with France’s own “ancient” history).
The final quarter of the eighteenth century nevertheless saw the lasting affirmation of a more universal idiom whose radical expression focused on heroic values, conveyed here through the themes of the Triumph of Mars, Great Men, the Defense of Virtue, and the Body Magnified. These sections feature masterpieces by David, Fuseli, Sergel, and Canova along with architectural plans, monumental canvases, and large marbles that convey the new aspirations of European society on the eve of Revolutionary upheaval.