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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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Unexecuted designs for interior decoration of a country house, Burley-on-the-Hill, Rutland, for the 8th Earl of Winchelsea: plan of the book room

Bonomi, Joseph (1739-1808)
NOTES: Bonomi's designs are for a series of three rooms (drawing room, book room and saloon) disposed along the south front of the house, to the east of the dining room of circa 1770.

Porte Desilles, Nancy

Melin, Didier-Francois-Joseph

Dulwich Picture Gallery, London: the mausoleum

Soane, Sir John (1753-1837)

Dulwich Picture Gallery, London: the mausoleum

Soane, Sir John (1753-1837)

Swiss Re, 30 St Mary Axe, City of London: the reception area

Foster & Partners
NOTES: Known colloquially as The Gherkin.

Guildhall, Andover

Langdon, John Harris (1777-1853)

Ruins of the chapel, Palais des Tuileries, Paris, after the Commune

Percier, Charles (1764-1838)
NOTES: The chapel was located in the northern wing of the now demolished Palais des Tuileries and was constructed as part of the remodelling by Percier and Fontaine of the Louvre in 1806-1811 for Napoleon I. It was destroyed during the Paris Commune uprising 1871.

Albert Dock, Liverpool: the Dock Traffic Office

Hardwick, Philip (1792-1870)
NOTES: The Tuscan style columns on the portico are made from cast iron, each column cast in two sections over 17 ft (5.2 metres) high, with the architrave a single casting. The Dock Traffic Office was designed by Philip Hardwick in 1848. Another storey (just seen) was added in 1849 by Hartley.

Newark Park, Ozleworth, Gloucestershire: the hall with apsidal ends

Wyatt, James (1746-1813)
NOTES: Former hunting lodge enlarged to private house. Built circa 1550 for Sir Nicholas Poyntz of Iron Acton, reputedly with stone from the destroyed Kingswood Abbey. It was enlarged in the early 17th-century into an H-plan. Formed into a square and remodelled by James Wyatt in Gothick style probably in 1790s for the Reverend Lewis Clutterbuck, a service wing was added in 1897. The house was bequeathed to the National Trust in 1949 and restored from 1970-1984.

Chatham Dockyard: the main entrance to the Old Admiral's Offices

Holl, Edward (d. 1824)
NOTES: Chatham Dockyard was established as a Royal Dockyard from 1567. It closed in 1984, but has a number of surviving historic structures ranging in date from the early 18th century to the early-mid 20th century. It is now managed as a visitor attraction.

Dulwich Picture Gallery, London

Soane, Sir John (1753-1837)

Dulwich Picture Gallery, London: the Mausoleum

Soane, Sir John (1753-1837)
NOTES: See RIBA119073 for a black and white version of this image.

Dulwich Picture Gallery, London

Soane, Sir John (1753-1837)
NOTES: See RIBA119081 for a black and white version of this image.

Dulwich Picture Gallery, London: the Mausoleum

Soane, Sir John (1753-1837)
NOTES: See RIBA119088 for a black and white version of this image.

Somerset House, Strand, London: the Nelson Staircase (formerly the Navy Staircase)

Chambers, Sir William (1723-1796)
NOTES: Restored after 1940 bomb damage by Sir Albert Richardson.

All Souls Church, Portland Place, London

Nash, John (1752-1835)

St Ludwig Church, Ansbach: the nave

Schmidtner, Leonhard (1800-1873)

Kenwood House, Hampstead, London: the library or Great Room

Adam, Robert (1728-1792)
NOTES: Built in the 17th century, Kenwood House was remodelled by Robert Adam in the 1760s. The Great Room or library was created in 1767-1769. This photograph shows the painted panels by Antonio Zucchi enclosed in Adam's delicately decorated ceiling.

Dulwich Picture Gallery, London: the mausoleum

Soane, Sir John (1753-1837)

Heveningham Hall, Suffolk: the orangery

Wyatt, James (1746-1813)

Temple of Friendship and Iron Bridge, Pavlovsk

Cameron, Charles (1743-1812)
NOTES: Construction on this country residence of the Russian Imperial family began c.1780 and was completed c. 1825. Its design was typical of the country mansion of the period and was created by a succession of architects, painters and sculptors, notably Charles Cameron who designed the central Great Palace in 1782-1786.

Salt warehouse, Compiegne

Ledoux, Claude-Nicolas (1736-1806)
SOURCE: L' architecture de C. N. Ledoux (Paris, 1847), vol. 1, pl. 107

Syon House, Isleworth, London: the Great Hall seen from the ante-room with a bronze of the Dying Gaul in the foreground

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

Royal Palace, Corfu (Kerkika), Island of Corfu: the antechamber to the throne room

Whitmore, General Sir George (1775-1862)
NOTES: This Neoclassical mansion was built in 1816-1823 to serve as treasury of the newly created order of St Michael and St George and residence for the British Lord High Commissioner. The building became known as the Royal Palace when it was handed over to King George I of Greece on the departure of the British in 1864. It fell into disrepair after 1913. One wing now houses the Museum of Byzantine and East Asian Art.

Horse Guards riding school, St Petersburg

Quarenghi, Giacomo Antonio Domenico (1744-1817)
SOURCE: Giacomo Quarenghi. Edifices construits a Saint-Petersbourg (St Petersburg, 1810), pl. 2