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Wanderer above the Sea of Fog, painting (1818) by German Romantic landscape painter Caspar David Friedrich (1774–1840)

Romanticism is an artistic, literary, and intellectual movement that originated around the middle of the 18th century in Western Europe, and gained strength during the Industrial Revolution. It was partly a revolt against aristocratic, social, and political norms of the Enlightenment period and a reaction against the scientific rationalization of nature in art and literature. Characteristics include increased emphasis on the beauty of nature, emotions, the exotic causing strong emotions, the medieval period, personality, the hero/genius, and nationalism (including various related aspects, such as folklore and Romantic nationalism.


God Speed (left) and The Accolade by English painter of historical genre scenes Edmund Blair Leighton. God Speed depicts a princess bidding farewell to a knight before battle. The Accolade depicts the Duke of Breslau Heinrich VI (1294–1335).

The movement stressed strong emotion as a source of aesthetic experience, placing new emphasis on such emotions as trepidation, horror, and the awe experienced in confronting the sublimity of untamed nature. It elevated folk art, nature and custom, as well as arguing for an epistemology based on nature, which included human activity conditioned by nature in the form of language, custom and usage. It was influenced by ideas of the Enlightenment and elevated medievalism[1] and elements of art and narrative perceived to be from the medieval period.

The name "romantic" itself comes from the term "romance" which is a prose or poetic heroic narrative, often with chivalric adventures full of marvelous incidents and heroic deeds, originating in medieval literature and romantic literature. This became contrasted with classicism and stories from Ancient Greece and Ancient Rome.[2][3] The ideologies and events of the French Revolution and Industrial Revolution are thought to have influenced the movement. Romanticism elevated the achievements of what it perceived as misunderstood heroic individuals and artists that altered society. It also legitimized the individual imagination as a critical authority which permitted freedom from classical notions of form in art. There was a strong recourse to historical and natural inevitability in the representation of its ideas.


The term is generally held to have been coined by Madame Anne Louise Germaine de Staël-Holstein in a 1813 work entitled De l'Allemagne, a book about German culture and in particular German Romanticism indirectly criticizing Napoleon.[4] She was the daughter of Swiss Jacques Necker, who was Director-General of Finance for France during the time of Louis XVI. Necker (1732–1804) was the son of Prof. Dr. jur. Karl Friedrich Necker (1686–1762) from the Margraviate of Brandenburg (Holy Roman Empire). The context in which she coined the term, was in glorification of the Sturm und Drang (a proto-Romantic movement in German literature and music that occurred between the late 1760s and early 1780s) poets of the 1770s. The Sturm und Drang were quasi-primitivist in outlook, negating the rules of classical style and stressed rebellion against convention, an enthusiasm for nature and discomfort of man in contemporary society.[4]

The word suggests love, adventure, scenic beauty, improbability, or make-believe. However, something described as romantic does not necessarily possess all of these characteristics. Scenic beauty is not improbable, and adventure is not necessarily make-believe. Another ingredient of the romances of medieval times is the all too familiar fairy-tale element. Romantic in our current culture could be described as the opposite of logical. Romantic possesses a whimsical, creative, and imaginative approach taken by that of a dreamer, while logic adopts a more rational, calculating, and realistic world view. [...] The word romantic is used to describe entire periods of history. In the last years of the eighteenth century in England and Germany, Romanticist designated those who were dissatisfied with the existing culture and who were enthusiastic about new forms in art and thought. But the Romantic movement in art and culture is more than a rare and isolated event in one country or another. It is a phenomenon of Western Civilization. It occurs within historic dates and possesses certain characteristics. Most historians place the most recent romanic movement between the years 1780 and 1905, with a brief resurgence in the 1960's. Some of the most famous historical contributors to the romantic movement are Goethe, Victor Hugo, Wagner, Voltaire, and Clara Schumann. With Goethe's Faust and Victor Hugo's Les Miserables being some of the greatest achievements of the era. The most recent romantic movement had its heyday from 1780 to 1850. Then during the years from 1850 to 1905, it branched out into realism, symbolism (impressionism), and naturalism. The Romantic Era finally came to an end in 1914. Romantic culture generally expresses and exalts mankind's energetic, creative, and expansive tendencies by recognizing that although he is a feeble creature lost in the universe, he has unpredictable powers that develop under stress of desire and risk. It implies that intellect is not enough. Intelligence and reasoning are indeed valuable, but cannot achieve alone what passion in the mind and heart can. Possessing a wealth of talents and inventiveness, Romanticism is a phenomenon quite similar to the Renaissance.[5]

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  1. Medievalism is a system of belief and practice inspired by the Middle Ages of Europe, or by devotion to elements of that period, which have been expressed in areas such as architecture, literature, music, art, philosophy, scholarship, and various vehicles of popular culture.
  2. Romanticism
  3. Romance
  4. 4.0 4.1 National Social Science Press (30 September 2010). "Modern Western Civilisation, From the Rise of Absolutism to the Present - Chapter 6: Napoleon and the New Order in Europe". 
  5. Romantic - The History of a Word