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Neoclassical Style Guide

A revival style that looks back to the Classical past and the architecture of ancient Greece and Rome, but unlike the re-interpretation of classical forms seen in the Renaissance, this was a much more academic approach. It began in France from the mid-18th century, with writers and architects theorising over the supremacy of ancient Greece versus ancient Rome, following the rediscovery of the Parthenon and the excavations at Herculaneum and Pompeii. For example, artists Charles-Nicholas Cochin and Jerome-Charles Bellicard published their, ‘Observations sur les antiquities de la ville d’Herculaneum’ from 1753. The same year Abbé Marc-Antoine Laugier, a French Jesuit published his, ‘Essai sur L’Architecture’, which set out to define Classicism as a logical need for shelter, illustrating his interpretation of the origin of the stone temple as a ‘Primitive Hut’, formed out of tree trunks and branches fashioned into columns supporting a triangular shaped roof. In 1762 architects James Stuart and Nicholas Revett, published their Antiquities of Athens’, which was hugely influential in promoting Neo-Classicism in England.

It marked a return to simplicity and an architecture of pure geometrical form, favouring, clarity, proportion, and symmetry. The correct use of the orders from the ancient world, i.e. Doric, Ionic and Corinthian columns as structural, rather than decorative was also encouraged. Characterised by severity of appearance and solidity, Neo-classicism dominated much of European and American architecture until the emergence of the Gothic Revival from the late 1830s.

Features of a Neo-Classical building

  • Purity of form

  • Use of the Orders

  • Symmetry and Proportion

  • References to Classical architecture

Explore these galleries from the RIBA Collections illustrating the main features of Neoclassical Architecture

For further reading on the Gothic Revival below is a selection of books from the British Architectural Library on the subject:

  • Neoclassicism by David Irwin. Library Reference: 7.034(4).8/.88 // IRW
  • The neoclassical source book by Caroline Clifton-Mogg. Library Reference: 729.098.034.8/.88 // CLI
  • English neo-classical architecture by Damie Stillman. Library Reference: 72.034(42).8/.88 // STI
  • Neoclassical and 19th century architecture by Robin Middleton and David Watkin. Library Reference: 72.034(4).8 // MID
  • The Greek Revival: neo-classical attitude in British architecture 1760-1870 by Jan Mordaunt Crook. Library Reference: 72.036.3(41/42) // CRO
  • Neo-classicism by Hugh Honour. Library Reference: 7.034.8/.88 // HON

Style Guide written by Suzanne Waters

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Philipps House, Dinton, Wiltshire

RIBA18147
Wyatville, Sir Jeffry (1766-1840)

Design for an Ionic villa

RIBA20079
Thompson, James

View of the Sala Rotunda at the Museo Pio Clementino, Vatican Museums, Rome, with museum visitors viewing Classical sculptures on display

RIBA21202
Simonetti, Michelangelo (1724-1781)
NOTES: This drawing is believed to be by an unidentified 18th century Italian architect and was formerly attributed to Francesco Costa. The Pio-Clementino Museum occupies the Belvedere Pavilion, adapted as a museum by Michelangelo Simonetti in the 1770s.

Dodington Park, Gloucestershire: the Dower House

RIBA24634
Wyatt, James (1746-1813)

Tyringham House, Buckinghamshire: the gateway

RIBA24643
Soane, Sir John (1753-1837)

Syon House, Isleworth, London: the Great Hall seen from the main entrance with a bronze of the Dying Gaul in the foreground

RIBA28440
Adam, Robert (1728-1792)
NOTES: The 'Dying Gaul' was cast in Rome by Valodier and acquired by the Duchess of Northumberland in 1773.

Congregational Church, Albion Street, Hull

RIBA33503
Lockwood, Henry Francis (1811-1878)
NOTES: The building was largely destroyed by bombing in 1941 and the remains were demolished in 1949.

Bomb-damaged Trinity House next to the Port of London Authority Building, Tower Hill, City of London

RIBA38571
Wyatt, Samuel (1737-1807)
NOTES: A third of the City's buildings were destroyed by aerial attack between September 1940 and March 1945. Trinity House was gutted by bombing in 1940. It was rebuilt in 1953.

Tyringham House, Buckinghamshire: the bridge

RIBA42230
Soane, Sir John (1753-1837)

National Theatre, Munich

RIBA55520
Fischer, Karl von (1782-1820)
NOTES: Originally built by Karl von Fischer in 1811-1815, the theatre burnt down in 1823 and was rebuilt in its original form by Leo von Klenze, reopening in 1825.

Bolshoi Theatre, Teatralnaya Square, Moscow

RIBA58903
Bove, Jospeh (1784-1834)

Design for a ceiling in the second drawing room, Buckingham House (the Queen's House), London

RIBA66883
Chambers, Sir William (1723-1796)
NOTES: The design was made under the supervision of Sir William Chambers between 1762 and 1766 when he was altering and redecorating Buckingham House.

National Gallery, Trafalgar Square, London

RIBA72267
Wilkins, William (1778-1839)

Blaise Castle House, near Bristol

RIBA72268
Cockerell, Charles Robert (1788-1863)
NOTES: The house was designed by William Paty for J. S. Harford from 1795-9 and later extended by C. R. Cockerell in 1832. It is set within a landscape designed by Humphry Repton.

Dodington Park, Gloucestershire: the summer house

RIBA72274
Wyatt, James (1746-1813)
NOTES: Dodington Park was begun in 1796 but not completed until after the architect's death.

Dodington Park, Gloucestershire: the Sodbury entrance and lodge from within the park

RIBA72275
Wyatt, James (1746-1813)
NOTES: Dodington Park was begun in 1796 but not completed until after the architect's death.

Sundridge Park, Bromley, London: detail of decorative plasterwork

RIBA74187
Nash, John (1752-1835)
NOTES: Samuel Wyatt was responsible for the design of the interiors.

Archway at Somerset House, Strand, London

RIBA77837
Chambers, Sir William (1723-1796)

6 Charlotte Square, New Town, Edinburgh

RIBA81106
Adam, Robert (1728-1792)
NOTES: Edinburgh Town Council invited Robert Adam to design Charlotte Square in 1791.Only the north side of the Square was finished before his death in 1792.

Designs for a church for Thomas Johnes, Esq.: plan

RIBA82418
Hardwick, Thomas (1752-1829)
NOTES: This drawing comes from an album entitled by Thomas Hardwick 'Sketches of sundry buildings already executed and original designs on varied subjects', which he commenced in 1773. Thomas Johnes inherited the Hafod Estate in Dyfed in 1780 and developed the house and estate, creating a famous picturesque landscape. This design is probably for that estate.

Designs for St Mary the Virgin, Wanstead, London: ground floor plan

RIBA82421
Hardwick, Thomas (1752-1829)
NOTES: This drawing comes from an album entitled by Thomas Hardwick 'Sketches of sundry buildings already executed and original designs on varied subjects', which he commenced in 1773. Hardwick exhibited a drawing 'Elevation of the new church at Wanstead, Essex' at the Royal Academy of Arts, London, in 1791 (no. 487).

Designs for St Mary the Virgin, Wanstead, London: elevation of the west front

RIBA82423
Hardwick, Thomas (1752-1829)
NOTES: This drawing comes from an album entitled by Thomas Hardwick 'Sketches of sundry buildings already executed and original designs on varied subjects', which he commenced in 1773. Hardwick exhibited a drawing 'Elevation of the new church at Wanstead, Essex' at the Royal Academy of Arts, London, in 1791 (no. 487).

General Post Office, O'Connell Street, Dublin

RIBA93803
Johnston, Francis (1760-1829)
NOTES: The General Post Office was remodelled in 1905-1915 by Pentland and rebuilt 1924-1929, after the 1916 Easter Rising by the Office of Public Building and Works.

St Mary's Roman Catholic Church, Pope's Quay, Cork

RIBA93804
Deane & Woodward
NOTES: The church was built 1832-1839, although the portico was not added until 1861 by Deane and Woodward. They omitted the flanking towers and dome over the crossing that was originally intended. Kearns Deane was the brother of Thomas Deane of Deane & Woodward.

Designs for Sandling House, Kent, for William Deedes Esq: perspective from the south-west

RIBA96337
Bonomi, Joseph (1739-1808)
NOTES: Sandling House, near Hythe, was the most austere of all Bonomi's small country houses. Damaged by a bomb during the Second World War it was demolished in 1945-1946. The unusual relationship of the house and household offices, with a porte-cochere connecting the two parts of the building, is typical of Bonomi and can be seen in his design for Laverstoke House (see RIBA96283 and RIBA96285). This drawing was exhibited at the Royal Academy of Arts, London, in 1799 (no.1019).
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