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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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Dulwich Picture Gallery, London

Soane, Sir John (1753-1837)

Design for a triumphal arch commemorating the freedom of the seas

Benard, Charles Joachim (b. 1750)
NOTES: This unexecuted design is said to commemorate the Treaty of Versailles of 1783.

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.

Theatre Royal, Haymarket, London

Nash, John (1752-1835)

Ickworth, Suffolk

Sandys, Francis

Casino Marino, Fairview Park, Dublin

Chambers, Sir William (1723-1796)

L'Arc de Triomphe, Paris

Chalgrin, Jean-Francois Therese (1739-1811)

La Madeleine, Paris

Vignon, Pierre-Alexandre (1763-1828)

Pantheon, Paris

Soufflot, Jacques-Germain (1709-1780)

Dulwich Picture Gallery, London

Soane, Sir John (1753-1837)

Dulwich Picture Gallery, London: the mausoleum

Soane, Sir John (1753-1837)

Heveningham Hall, Suffolk: the orangery

Wyatt, James (1746-1813)

Tyringham House, Buckinghamshire: the gateway

Soane, Sir John (1753-1837)

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.

Witley Court, Great Witley, Worcestershire: the giant portico on the south front

Daukes, Samuel Whitfield (1811-1880)
NOTES: Originally built in 1655, Witley Court was remodelled by John Nash in c. 1806. It was remodelled again in Italianate style in 1854-1860 for the first Earl of Dudley by Samuel Daukes. The terraces and the gardens were laid out by William Andrew Nesfield at the same time. The house was devastated by fire in 1937 after which it was stripped and abandoned until taken into the care of English Heritage in 1984.

Salt warehouse, Compiegne

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

6 Charlotte Square, New Town, Edinburgh

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.

Bank of Ireland (former Irish Parliament House), College Green, Dublin: the east front Corinthian portico on Westmorland Street

Gandon, James (1742-1823)
NOTES: The old Parliament Building was designed by Pearce and built in 1729-1739. The east and west porticos were added by Gandon in 1785-1797 and the south curving screen walls by Johnston in 1803 when the building was converted into a bank.

Mussenden Temple, Downhill Estate, County Derry

Shanahan, Michael (fl. 1770-1790)
NOTES: Mussenden Temple was built as a library and modelled on the Temple of Vesta in Rome.

Mussenden Temple, Downhill Estate, County Derry

Shanahan, Michael (fl. 1770-1790)
NOTES: Mussenden Temple was built as a library and modelled on the Temple of Vesta in Rome.

Alternative designs for the Mausoleum, Blickling Hall, Blickling, in memory of the 2nd Earl of Buckinghamshire: elevation of the south front

Bonomi, Joseph (1739-1808)
NOTES: Bonomi's design was based on the tomb of Caius Cestius, Rome. The mausoleum as executed in 1796 was a slightly less austere pyramid without the rusticated plinth.

Design for Hammerwood Lodge, East Grinstead, West Sussex

Latrobe, Benjamin Henry (1764-1820)