Romanticism "Art With a Heart"

Romanticism was an era not about love, but about evoking passion, and expressing strong beliefs and feelings to an audience through visual art, music, and literature. Artists stressed strong emotions through the use of aesthetic experience and sublimity, putting an emphasis on spirituality (but not organized religion), free-expression, imagination, and intuition. Lasting from about 1760 to 1870, this period in history was influenced by several cultural and political events occurring during this time, such as the French Revolution, the Industrial Revolution, and a rejection of the idea of rationalism, which stemmed from the Enlightenment period.

The French Revolution

The French Revolution (starting in 1789 and ending in the late 1790’s) was strongly influenced by the Enlightenment era. During this period of time, the French monarchy was overthrown by the people and the ideas of the Roman Catholic Church were radically redefined. According to New World Encyclopedia (2015), “It drew upon the French Revolution's rejection of aristocratic social and political norms. Romanticism elevated the achievements of what it perceived as misunderstood heroic individuals and artists that altered society, and legitimized the individual imagination as a critical authority which permitted freedom from classical notions of form in art”.

The Industrial Revolution

At the start of the Industrial Revolution, a new market economy based on technology was introduced and human tools and animal power was quickly forgotten. With the process of production quickly taking over, “there were those who looked back on the past longingly, seeing it as a romantic period before people were commoditized and nature blighted and destroyed” (The Art of Manliness, 2008).

The Enlightenment Period

The Enlightenment period, or “The Age of Reason”, consisted of ideas concerning God, reason, nature, and humanity. Artists celebrated the idea of reason with knowledge, freedom, and happiness as goals. “Nature was especially celebrated as a classroom for self-discovery and spiritual learning, the place in which mysteries could be revealed to the mind of man. Romantics emphasized a life filled with deep feeling, spirituality, and free expression, seeing such virtues as a bulwark against the dehumanizing effects of industrialization. They also extolled the value of human beings, which they believed to have infinite, godlike potential” (The Art of Manliness, 2008).


The Monk by the Sea (Friedrich)

The beautiful painting, “Monk by the Sea" by Caspar David Friedrich, focuses on the beauty and vastness of nature. It represents artists moving away from everything the Enlightenment period represents and more towards the idea of nature and spirituality. The monk himself and his size represent the spirituality and shows how small we are compared to the universe, whereas, the darkness of the sea represents how large, dark, and almost cold nature can be. The video by Khan Academy breaks down the meaning of the painting and explains the sublimity and aesthetic beauty behind this piece.

The Nightmare (Fuseli)

The uniquely, dark painting, “The Nightmare” by Henry Fuseli, portrays a young woman draped over a mattress with an incubus crouching on her chest. An incubus is an evil spirit that lies on top of people who are sleeping and even to have sex with young women in their sleep. This painting displays the deep feeling, free expression, and the spirituality that is the Romantic Period which was created by the rejection of the Enlightenment period at the start of the Industrial Revolution.

Salome (Strauss)

Strauss was able to not only create music that was loud and adventurous, but he could create soft music that brought, what seemed to be, brightness and hope for the future, but strangely melancholy, such as the piece he created for his wife. What he made him memorable as a rebel was Salome, which was staged in 1905. He uses discords and “angry music” to create a dramatic, tragic, or triumphant scene within the opera, which all challenges previous musical eras and/or composers which musical pieces usually consist of harmonies. I think this particularly changes how music could be conceived because it’s not about God or religion or love anymore, but rather promiscuity and drama is brought in (especially in Salome), changing the mood of whatever situation that is taking place.

The Firebird (Stravinsky)

Stravinsky was another composer who was significant to this era. Stravinsky’s pieces (The Firebird to be more specific) combine the fantastical world (fairytales and magical creatures) to the natural world (humans). This is extremely different compared to previous eras because their pieces either focused on chords rather than story or weren’t about fairytales, but rather than real life events and/or feelings. He also uses the octatonic scale (nonwestern), an idea that came from his teacher. This scale is used to create sounds to recreate the fairytale theme, as well as creating a mysterious sound.

Frankenstein (Shelley)

Frankenstein, a novel written by Mary Shelley, is the story of a young scientist who goes off to a university, only to create a monster that quickly learns he is rejected by mankind. This work of art illustrates the significance of nature and fantastical creatures throughout the novel. SparkNotes brings up a great theme used throughout the book, showing the use of a sublime natural world. “The sublime natural world, embraced by Romanticism as a source of unrestrained emotional experience for the individual, initially offers characters the possibility of spiritual renewal. Mired in depression and remorse after the deaths of William and Justine, for which he feels responsible, Victor heads to the mountains to lift his spirits. Likewise, after a hellish winter of cold and abandonment, the monster feels his heart lighten as spring arrives. The influence of nature on mood is evident throughout the novel…” (SparkNotes).


Like said before, the Romantic era first made its appearance out of defiance of the Enlightenment period. The Enlightenment period is often described as the “Age of Reason” consisting of ideas concerning God, reason, nature, and humanity. Romanticism was an era not about love, but about evoking passion, and expressing strong beliefs and feelings to an audience through visual art, music, and literature. Artists stressed strong emotions through the use of aesthetic experience and sublimity, putting an emphasis on spirituality, free-expression, imagination, and/or intuition. So, “whereas the Enlightenment stressed reason, Romanticism stressed feeling” (Veith Jr., 1991, p. 73). Romanticism also differed from Neoclassicism in that Neoclassicism believed nature was “the order of things, harmony, rationality, and the real world as we experience it” and Romanticism believed that “The external world is beautiful, nature is creative and moral, and nature inspires human imagination” (MyTeachersPages Comparison Chart).

Death of Socrates by Jacques-Louis David

At the start of the Romantic period, began the idea of passion, strong beliefs, and emotions, which set up eras that followed this one. Romanticism began to slowly move away from reason, but still held on to the idea of spirituality and nature with a focus on hardships. With the Modern era, artists began to move away from spirituality and replace it with the idea of “self”. Romanticism set up Modernism in that it was the start of using art to portray emotions that the artists were feeling because before that it was all about God, reason, and humanity, but now it’s more about thoughts and emotions which lead to realistic scenarios and problems within society (Modernism).

Nighthawks by Edward Hopper


I learned a lot about this period through the notes posted online and the videos that went along with them (I really enjoyed the videos). One of the three most compelling things I learned about the modes of artistic expression was something I mentioned before when talking about the life of Igor Stravinsky. I mentioned that he used the octatonic scale during some of his pieces, which wasn’t really heard of during his time; this was something that he learned from his teacher. If you play 4 of the notes on the octatonic scale and then the other 4 notes on the scale at separate times, they create a happy sound, but if you use all 8 notes at the same time (creating a chord), the sound becomes more dark and menacing.

Another thing that I learned about the certain artistic expressions used during the Romantic era was the use of nature and inanimate objects to express certain emotions or to express hardships/events that the artists faced during their lifetime. For example, in Friedrich’s “Wanderer Above the Sea of Fog”, the fog represents the unknown and unforeseen future, creating an, almost, overwhelming feeling. The eerie fog can also be used to create a religious and/or spiritual feeling.
Finally, the third compelling mode of artistic expression is the use of colors and size throughout an artists painting. As shown in Frederic Edwin Church’s painting, “Aurora Borealis”, the mountains and the sea are painted dark colors, as well as the clouds and sea on the horizon, giving off an eerie vibe. The size of the boat compared to the size of the mountains is a reminder of how small and almost insignificant humanity is compared to the large, vastness of nature.



@. (2015). The Basic of Romantic Art | The Art of Manliness. Retrieved December 10, 2016, from Romanticism. (n.d.). Retrieved December 10, 2016, from Veith, G. E. (1991). State of the arts: From Bezalel to Mapplethorpe. Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books.


Created with images by creativelines - "Friedrich"

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