The Romantic and Realist eras were sharply differentiated in terms of style and content of art. Yet, they are united in being born as reactions to styles precedent to theirs. Romanticism, for example was born as a reaction to the rational-scientific emphasis of the Age of the Enlightenment. Where Romantic art differed from scientific disposition is in its novel approach to creation. While science seeks to “explain what exists, art seeks to create something new—but something that bears a distinct relationship to what exists.” (Benton & Diyanni 2011) Likewise, the Realist era was inspired by the perceived excesses of the Romantic style. It is not for us to judge if one stylistic movement is superior to the other. They both sprung from a natural artistic longing for novelty and experimentation. It is fair to say that Western civilization is richer for these periodic upheavals in art. Both Romanticism and Realism showcased different sets of tendencies and aspirations in art and philosophy. The two movements nourish and instruct contemporary artists and patrons in their own ways.
It is commonly believed that Romanticism as a distinct artistic ethos is most marked in music and painting. In contrast, Architecture, by virtue of being foremost a utilitarian craft, could not afford the luxury of radical experimentation. Indeed, many novel expressions of architecture that Romanticism encouraged are to be found in paintings of medieval castles and palaces. Two exponents of this fashion are JMW Turner and Caspar David Friedrich. They took German and English landscape painting to new heights respectively. They transformed regular country sightings into scenes of heroism. The power and awe of nature is a consistent theme in their art. Artists like these gave the relegated genre of landscape painting a new breath of life. (Bowra 1949)
Some of the most pronounced expressions of Romanticism in visual arts are to be found in representations of Gothic architecture in particular. France was an important centre of Gothic revival architecture. The year 1828 was significant in this regard, as Alexandre Brogniart revived Gothic architecture in the country. The royal chapel that he built for King Louis-Philippe was the first major undertaking to showcase Gothic complexity and beauty. Beyond merely a renewal of an ancient art form, the revival is also hinged on the philosophies inherent to Romanticism. For example, Arcisse de Caumont was a key scholar who furnished intellectual content to visual forms of Gothicism. His founding of the influential Societé des Antiquaires de Normandy allowed Gothicism to be institutionalized. Some of his books like Cours d’antiquités monumentales professé à Caen` and Histoire sommaire de l’architecture religieuse, civile et militaire au Moyen Âge expounded on the philosophical underpinnings of Gothic architecture. These works thereby offered credibility and reason behind some of tendencies witnessed under Romanticism.
It is perhaps no coincidence that Victor Hugo based his masterpiece Notre Dame de Paris (The Hunchback of Notre-Dame) upon the theme of Gothicism. Not only does this epic novel serve as a eulogy to Gothicism, but is equally a celebration of Romanticism. The novel is a unique amalgamation of the glories of medieval architecture with the excitement of romantic love. Indeed the head-over-heels love of the crippled Quasimodo toward the beautiful aristocrat Esmeralda served as a reference point for romantic love in literature. Beyond the particular manifestation of romantic love, the details of Quasimodo’s absolute devotion and passion served as a template for Romanticism’s philosophy. The philosophy behind Romanticism is born of an opposition to the stifling demands of science and rationality. (Ferber 2010) During the Age of the Enlightenment, science had questioned the dogmatic views of religion. This is undoubtedly a necessary revolt, at a time when religious authority was stagnating progress of the human mind. The influence of the philosophy of the Enlightenment was so widespread that it also affected all art forms.