To be a romantic is to be attached to the seen and unseen worlds by many sentimental strings, is to be emotionally at the mercy of nature and all its abundance, wrath and beauty. As for the romantics, there is no separation between the self and nature. And if there is, it only depics the doom of humankind to the lowly abysses of moral corruption.
The word romantic is so easily thrown around in conversations. Conceptually, most people have lost touch with its sentimental and artistic value. It has become an expression of lovers’ gestures of longing and gratitude; like giving someone flowers, writing them a poem or even getting a guitar and singing a Serenada beneath a lover’s window!
Francesco Hayez,The last kiss of Romeo and Juliet, Oil on Canvas, 1823
There is no denying the fact that these are good examples of romanticism, but there is more to being a romantic than just courtship. Romanticism, besides being a historic and artistic period and a literary genre, is a way of perceiving life and the self.
What Is Romanticism?
Romanticism can be defined as a state of being sentimental with an affinity to nature. This state is encompassing and integrated with one’s imagination, emotion and the overall perspective. In the 18th century, romanticism became a widespread movement in the arts and literature. Several romantic poets and artists rose from this century. However, romantics have existed since humans have articulated themselves in forms of expression.
Portrait of Father of Romanticism, Jean-Jacques Rousseau, (1712–1778)
Jean-Jacques Rousseau is titled as the father of romanticism, a man that would have much frowned upon.
“Rousseau repeatedly claims that a single idea is at the centre of his world view, namely, that human beings are good by nature but are rendered corrupt by society. Unfortunately, despite the alleged centrality of this claim, it is difficult to give it a clear and plausible interpretation. One obvious problem is present from the start: since society, the alleged agent of corruption, is composed entirely of naturally good human beings, how can evil ever get a foothold?” - Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy.
The French philosopher wrote several books, including his romantic masterwork The Confessions: Rousseau’s Autobiography.
“It is too difficult to think nobly when one thinks only of earning a living.”- Rousseau, Confessions, 1790.
The intellectual movement was fervent and much akin to the essence of art itself; in an expression of emotional sensitivity and individual subjectivity. During the era, which stretched from the 18th century well into the 19th century, numerous great authors emerged.
The English literature holds treasured fruits of this era, written by celebrated poets and writers like William Blake, William Wordsworth, John Keats, and Lord Byron. The literary movement, however, reached to the continent and beyond.
"I wandered lonely as a cloud That floats on high o’er vales and hills, When all at once I saw a crowd, A host, of golden daffodils; Beside the lake, beneath the trees, Fluttering and dancing in the breeze. " - William Wordsworth, I wandered lonely as a cloud.
The literary romanticism started with expressions of emotional sensitivity often embedded in natural themes. Though the works of second generation romantics were rather salaciously melodramatic and inward-looking.
Rising from literature, romanticism manifested into other artistic ventures, yet withholding to nature as its nucleus. Natural settings became the motif in visual arts, while bringing the historical and mythological paintings to a halt. The English painter J. M. W. Turner, the Spanish painter and printmaker Francisco Goya, the French painter Gustave Doré, the French sculptor Antoine-Louis Barye, only to name a few.
For the romantic artists, nature was an inspiration and a tool of expression that was powerful, giving and yet destructive.
Joseph Mallord William Turner, Venice, from the Porch of Madonna della Salute, Oil on Canvas, 1835
Romantic Movement in music originated at the heart of classicism and by Beethoven. His music bore a strong emotional appeal with characteristics such as narrative and originality. The adventurous trend of romantic music spread like wildfire throughout Europe.
Among other romantic musical masters are; Franz Schubert, Frédéric Chopin, Robert Schumann and Felix Mendelssohn. Soon after, every royal palace, fashionable Parisian salons and English lords’ ballrooms were enchanted by the emotional complexity of romantic melodies.
The movement had a significant effect on opera as well, leaving behind pieces of Giuseppe Verdi and Richard Wagner with a fantastic combination of drama and music.
Are you a romantic? You may think romanticism was only a defined artistic and literary movement, but the idea goes beyond intellectualism. From intellectuals to the most untutored minds, the perspective of an individual can only take two positions; classical or romantic. The latter was shared by the revered artists of the romantics era in their quest to convey the sentimental emotions, enticing expressions, and a love and deep connection with nature and god.
Gustave Courbet, The Desperate Man, Oil on Canvas, 1844-45
Considering the self a part of nature, there is a great acceptance of intuition and senses, even beyond seeking and analysing facts to understand oneself. And if you, dear reader, can relate, you must have felt the contemporary world of realistic and often pessimistic values that are salient to your romantic idealism.
Care Elite, JEAN-JACQUES ROUSSEAU, 2021
Daily Art, Joseph Mallord William Turner, Venice, from the Porch of Madonna della Salute
Portraits of Romanticism, Gustave Courbet, The Desperate Man, 2014.
Duncan Heath and Judy Boreham, Introducing Romanticism, Edited by Richard Appignanesi, Icon Books UK, 1999.
Richard Thomas, Romanticism: Philosophy And Literature, Eldridge Swarthmore College, 2014
Martin Constable, Romantic Painters, School of Art Design and Media Nanyang University.