15 Characteristics of Romanticism

Romanticism was a cultural, artistic and literary movement that took place in Europe during the passage from the eighteenth to the nineteenth century. Preceded by the German move Sturm und Drang (storm and impetus), its impact was such that it modified the concept and role of art in modernity. This was made possible by the particularly innovative features of the movement. Let’s see.

1. Rejection of neoclassicism and the Enlightenment


Francisco de Goya y Lucientes (1799) Fragment The dream of the reason produces monsters. Etching and aquatint on paper. Original measurements: 189 mm high x 149 mm wide.

Romanticism initially arose in Germany, France, and England as a counterpoint to the intellectual movement of the Enlightenment and its neoclassical artistic expression. In neoclassicism, logic, reason and objectivity were valued, which quickly translated into the standardization of forms and contents.

2. Exaltation of feelings and subjectivity

Consequently, the center of romanticism revolved around the exaltation of feelings and subjectivity, which allowed artists to express their creativity more freely.

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3. Rebellion against the rules of art and literature

The artists of romanticism opposed the rigidity of academicism, separating themselves from the traditional canon and rules, which favored an explosion of artistic innovation.

4. Cult of self and individualism

Caspar David Friedrich (c.1818) Fragment of The walker above the sea of ​​clouds. Oil on canvas. Original measurements of 98 cm high x 74 cm wide.

Many artists used to have to create exclusively according to the commission and limit themselves to the intentions of the patron. During romanticism, artists focused on their individuality, on the expression of their inner “I”.

5. Assessment of originality

Therefore, during romanticism, originality becomes a criterion of artistic evaluation, so the idea that art should respond to tradition, continue it or perfect it is left behind.

6. Sublimity

Against the idea of ​​classical beauty, austere, ordered and balanced, romanticism puts before the idea of ​​sublimity. Thus, they also find beauty in what is terrible and uncomfortable, in what, although not placid, disturbs and moves.

7. Exaltation of fantasy

The romanticist movement is characterized by giving free rein to fantasies, dreams, the supernatural and provocation both in artistic expressions and in literature.

8. Nostalgia for the past

Being a critical movement with its sociocultural context and its contemporary, neoclassicism, romanticism developed a nostalgia for the past, which they saw as a better and more genuine time.

9. Interest in the Middle Ages and the Baroque

The Middle Ages, especially the one that coincided with Gothic art, was for the romantics the symbol of spirituality and mysticism, so they frequently turned to it as inspiration or as a theme.

The Baroque, for its part, represented compositional freedom, the liberation of emotions, effects and exuberance, which was very much in tune with the creative and expressive purposes of Romanticism.

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10. Interest in the exotic

Romanticism seeks to break with the Western tradition in the exotic, that is, in the foreign cultures that they idealized. For example, under the paradigm of the noble savage, they idealized the figure of the American aborigine. Islamic culture was exalted by the current of “Orientalism”.

Another source of nostalgia for the past was expressed in the interest in rescuing popular wisdom, folklore and legends, which gave romanticism a strong emphasis on nationalist sentiment.

12. Nationalism


Eugene Delacroix: Freedom guiding the people. 1830. Oil on canvas. 2.6 x 3.25m.

Nationalism was for the romantics the expression of the collective self, and was closely related to the proliferation of national states in the passage from the eighteenth to the nineteenth century. His emphasis, however, was not on institutionality as such, but on the identity of the village.

13. Assessment of vernacular languages

In romanticism, the vernacular leagues gained great importance, since they became a weapon of nationalist expression. The national literatures enjoyed an extraordinary diffusion, the same as the music. And in the latter, operas in languages ​​such as German, Russian and Czech stood out, which challenged the tradition of writing them in Italian.

14. Themes of romanticism

Among the most frequent topics, the following were addressed:

  • Love, passion and emotion.
  • The nation, the history and the people.
  • Religion, Norse mythologies and spirituality.
  • The fantastic medieval imaginary.
  • Orientalism and the aboriginal world.
  • Death, with an emphasis on suicide.
  • The landscape as a metaphor of the inner world of the subject.
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15. Strong idealism

This movement was extremely idealistic, not only artistically but also politically and socially. It was not uncommon for Romantic artists to become involved with political causes or various spiritual movements.

Works and representatives of Romanticism


  • Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (1749 – 1832). Plays: The Misadventures of Young Werther.
  • Lord Byron (1788 – 1824). Plays: Cain Y The Pilgrimages of Childe Harold.
  • Victor Hugo (1802 – 1885). Plays: The Miserables.

Plastic artists

  • Caspar David Friedrich (1774-1840). Plays: Monk by the sea.
  • Eugene Delacroix (1798-1863). Plays: Freedom guiding the people.
  • Francisco de Goya y Lucientes, transitional painter (1746-1828). Plays: The dreams of reason produce monsters.


  • Ludwig van Beethoven (1770-1827). Plays: Symphony No. 9.
  • Franz Schubert (1797-1828). Plays: Ave Maria.
  • Robert Schuman (1810-1856). Plays: Dichterliebe (Love and life of a poet).


Berlin, Isaiah (2015) The roots of romanticism. Taurus. Madrid.

Heath, Duncan & Boreham, Judy (2000) Introducing Romanticism. Totem Books. Cambridge.

See also: Romanticism and Literature of Romanticism.