France was on the brink of its first revolution in 1789.

late 1700s

Beginner's guide

Neo-Classicism means "new classicism." The artists of this period looked back to ancient Greek and Roman art.

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Marie-Guillemine Benoist, <em>Portrait of Madeleine</em>
Marie-Guillemine Benoist, Portrait of Madeleine

This portrait of an unnamed woman speaks volumes about slavery, politics, and gender in revolutionary France.

David, <em>The Emperor Napoleon in His Study in the Tuileries</em>
David, The Emperor Napoleon in His Study in the Tuileries

As the low candles and late hour suggest, Napoleon is short on time. David captures the twilight of his reign.

David, <em>Study for The Lictors Bringing Brutus the Bodies of his Sons</em>
David, Study for The Lictors Bringing Brutus the Bodies of his Sons

Rendering the grief of wives and daughters, David depicts the wrenching domestic aftermath of personal sacrifice.

Antonio Canova, <em>Penitent Magdalene</em>
Antonio Canova, Penitent Magdalene

The novelist Stendhal called this sculpture “the greatest work of modern times.” Canova disagreed.

Soufflot, The Panthéon (Church of Ste-Geneviève), Paris
Soufflot, The Panthéon (Church of Ste-Geneviève), Paris

Uniting ancient Greek purity with Gothic daring, this church marked a new direction for French architecture.

Vignon, Church of La Madeleine
Vignon, Church of La Madeleine

This Neoclassical monument to Napoleon’s army was modeled on an ancient Roman temple in Nîmes, just much bigger.

Antonio Canova, <em>Paolina Borghese as Venus Victorious</em>
Antonio Canova, Paolina Borghese as Venus Victorious

Napoleon’s sister courted controversy and posed semi-nude for Canova, who sculpted her as a modern-day Venus.

Angelica Kauffmann, <em>Cornelia Pointing to her Children as Her Treasures</em>
Angelica Kauffmann, Cornelia Pointing to her Children as Her Treasures

This Swiss-born artist painted Roman stories with moralizing messages. Here, Cornelia provides a model of virtue.

Jacques-Louis David, <em>Napoleon Crossing the Alps</em>
Jacques-Louis David, Napoleon Crossing the Alps

Was this the beginning of the end for David—or a new dawn? As far as portraits of Napoleon go, there’s none better.

Jacques-Louis David, <em>The Death of Marat</em>
Jacques-Louis David, The Death of Marat

This idealized portrait celebrates Republican ideals and memorializes a Revolutionary martyr in the pose of Christ.

Neoclassicism, an introduction
Neoclassicism, an introduction

Rejecting the Rococo, artists valued moderation and favored a clear drawing style more in line with the times.

Jacques-Louis David, <em>Oath of the Horatii</em>
Jacques-Louis David, Oath of the Horatii

In style and story, this rigorously organized canvas looked back to antiquity; it soon became an icon of Revolution.

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