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These wars, along with the political and social turmoil that went along with them, served as the background for Romanticism.

The more precise characterization and specific definition of Romanticism has been the subject of debate in the fields of intellectual history and literary history throughout the 20th century, without any great measure of consensus emerging.

That it was part of the Counter-Enlightenment, a reaction against the Age of Enlightenment, is generally accepted in current scholarship.

Its relationship to the French Revolution, which began in 1789 in the very early stages of the period, is clearly important, but highly variable depending on geography and individual reactions.

Romanticism was characterized by its emphasis on emotion and individualism as well as glorification of all the past and nature, preferring the medieval rather than the classical.

It was partly a reaction to the Industrial Revolution, The movement emphasized intense emotion as an authentic source of aesthetic experience, placing new emphasis on such emotions as apprehension, horror and terror, and awe—especially that experienced in confronting the new aesthetic categories of the sublimity and beauty of nature.

The application of the term to literature first became common in Germany, where the circle around the Schlegel brothers, critics August and Friedrich, began to speak of romantische Poesie ("romantic poetry") in the 1790s, contrasting it with "classic" but in terms of spirit rather than merely dating.

Friedrich Schlegel wrote in his Dialogue on Poetry (1800), "I seek and find the romantic among the older moderns, in Shakespeare, in Cervantes, in Italian poetry, in that age of chivalry, love and fable, from which the phenomenon and the word itself are derived." In both French and German the closeness of the adjective to roman, meaning the fairly new literary form of the novel, had some effect on the sense of the word in those languages.

Samuel Taylor Coleridge and others believed there were natural laws that the imagination—at least of a good creative artist—would unconsciously follow through artistic inspiration if left alone.The importance the Romantics placed on emotion is summed up in the remark of the German painter Caspar David Friedrich that "the artist's feeling is his law".To William Wordsworth, poetry should begin as "the spontaneous overflow of powerful feelings," which the poet then "recollect[s] in tranquility," evoking a new but corresponding emotion the poet can then mould into art.It also promoted the individual imagination as a critical authority allowed of freedom from classical notions of form in art.There was a strong recourse to historical and natural inevitability, a Zeitgeist, in the representation of its ideas.

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