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Part VI



Historical Background

Welcome to “History through Art”. Today we’ll be looking at the history, art and culture of the Romantic era, rather short but powerful period. It began with the French Revolution in 1789 and lasted until the mid-1800s when, in the Pre-Modem Age, technology began to have a much greater influence on the world and its art.

As its name implies, the Romantic period was full of emotionalism—the expression of feelings such as love, hate, fear, melancholy, and anger. The period immediately preceding the Romantic era was the Enlightenment. In some ways, the Romantics were reacting in an emotional way to the overbearing logic of the Enlightenment; but, in truth, both rationalism and emotionalism usually co-exist in society. Over time, the pendulum swings from one extreme to the other. The periods of art and history in which rationalism was the predominant philosophy include Ancient Greece and Ancient Rome, the Renaissance, the Enlightenment, and the twentieth century. Predominance of the emotional presence in art has a much longer history in years, dating back to the Middle Ages and appearing again in the age of the Baroque, the Romantic period, and in part of the Pre-Modern era.

Romantic philosophy, which is echoed in the art, writing, and music of the time, was represented in America by the ghostly writings of Edgar Allan Рое and the mystical paintings of Thomas Cole, founder of the Hudson River School of painting. Cole and his associates depicted the natural beauty of America's unspoiled countryside in misty landscapes. After America had inspired the French Revolution, France and England became the centers of Europe's Roman­tic movement.

One group of writers and artists, including Jean Francois Millet, focused on the peasant and other poor common workers who were victims of the Industrial Revolution. Other Romantic artists were inspired by the French Revolution itself and its subsequent Reign of Terror. Some, but not all, Romantics celebrated Napoleon's grandeur and his expansion of the French Empire throughout Europe.

One person who did not celebrate Napoleon was composer Franz Joseph Haydn, whose work spanned both the Enlightenment and the Romantic periods. He expressed his profound anger over Napoleon’s march into his native Austria by demanding peace in unmistakably emotional tones in his Mass in Time of War. Other composers, such as Ludwig von Beethoven, Franz Liszt, and Frederic Chopin, also celebrated nationalism, often using simple folk rhythms and melodies.

Other human emotions, such as sensuality and a longing for the simpler, more rural life, were common themes among Romantic poets, such as William Wordsworth, and artists, such as John Constable. As you will see in this programme people during the Romantic era had much to be emotional about. We can share the feelings of the age by studying the artistic works of the time.