The word ‘romantic’, today, is often correlated with the word ‘love’, and is used to describe either the genre of movies or a person. But, where does this word and the concept of Romanticism come from? Romanticism was an intellectual, social, and literary movement that started in the 18th century, originating from Western Europe. Romanticism was the attitude or the ‘way of doing’ which characterized works of art, literature, architecture, painting, music, etc. in Western civilization and continued till about the second half of the 19th century.

The elements of Romanticism had been present since before the 18th century, but the entire era started through the works of literature. It was the publication of a form of a collection of poems written by William Wordsworth and Samuel Taylor Coleridge called the ‘Lyrical Ballads’ in 1798. Literature was one of the forms of art which was influenced largely by Romanticism. The Romantic Movement is said to have emerged in Germany, although the main source of inspiration came from the events and ideologies of the French Revolution. The Industrial Revolution, which began during the same period, is also said to be responsible for the development of this movement.

The concept comes as a rejection of the ‘Age of Enlightenment’ or Classicism; rejection of the ideas of rationality, idealization, harmony, order and calm, making way for the ideas of individuality and experimentation. Romantics challenged the idea of intellect and rationality with emotions. It was about placing human emotions, instincts, feelings and intuition above logic and expectations. It was about the creative instinct, instead of sticking to particular forms of expressions and formats of writing or having a limited scope of topics; it was about freely composing literature without inhibition or pre-set rules. It was about trusting emotions and going with what the heart feels. It is not possible to define these concepts in a word or a line, but Romanticism was about glorification. Not the glorification of a person or an individual, but of complex ideas and concepts of hope, despair, survival, heroism, awe and other emotions that are evoked in humans. It was about intangible ideas, spirituality, nature and democracy, concepts that are open to one’s interpretation.

With Romanticism, artists and literature gradually started gaining more importance and popularity. The era of Romanticism can be studied in two phases; the first phase from the mid of 18th century to the starting of 19th, and the second phase till the mid of the 19th century. There are so many ‘romantics’ that emerged during these times, some of them being, Friedrich Holderlin, the early Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, Jean Paul, Novalis, Ludwig Tieck, A.W. and Friedrich Schlegel, Wilhelm Heinrich Wackenroder, and Friedrich Schelling, belonging to this first phase.  In Revolutionary France, the Vicomte de Chateaubriand and Mme de Staël were the chief initiators of Romanticism, by virtue of their influential historical and theoretical writings. Poets and artists like John Keats, Lord Byron, Percy Bysshe Shelley, Victor Hugo and Alfred de Vigny, were dominant in the second phase of romanticism.

Apart from the predominant thought of ‘emotion over rationality’, Romanticism brought in the importance of nature. Love for nature was something which was portrayed through paintings, poems and other works of art. Romantics tried to portray the feelings that were evoked by nature, the feeling of awe and amazement from witnessing its beauty, and that of horror, considering its power and superiority. It was not just about the visual beauty of nature, not just about the colours of flowers, or the setting sun or waves in the ocean. It was about the power of nature, what man can learn from it and what it brings to humankind. The onset of the Industrial Revolution had changed the order of living, with lesser interaction with nature, and Romantics tried to show the importance of nature and their love for it through different art forms.

Not just poems, but visual arts and music reflected the ideas of Romanticism, within which was another rising feeling and expression of Nationalism. The romantic artists borrowed and took inspiration from local art and folklore. It was about singing and writing for the commons, and hence deriving art from folklore. With the rise of Nationalism, it was about creating art for everyone, not just the rich. Before Romanticism, art was meant for the rich, the wealthy and the high-class. The visual art was tough to comprehend, and the poetry and songs used words not easy to understand by those who weren’t highly-educated, and thus, not meant to be enjoyed by masses. But the Romantics didn’t follow such rules and norms. As art was gaining popularity among commons, romantic music emerged as artists adopted folk tunes and ballads focusing upon tradition, culture and heritage of one’s country. These pieces were sung at night within groups of people evoking the feeling of nationalism and pride in one’s ethnicity.

Today, we have many bestseller books and some of our favourite shows and movies based on supernatural activities and gothic romance stories. The genre of Supernatural and Gothic Romance is from the very era of the Romantic Movement. As the Romantics glorified the concept of imagination and free thinking, they explored the unseen and scary. Horace Walpole’s 1764 novel The Castle of Otranto, started the emergence of gothic fiction, the belief in supernatural increased while mixing them with old said traditions and folklore. Another prominent work of literature exploring spiritual presence was ‘The Rime of the Ancient Mariner’ by Samuel T Coleridge. It was almost like exploring the irrational, spontaneous visionary and the transcendental. It was not as same as the genre we see today, the supernatural they portrayed was not exactly the unknown mystic creatures but more through the strangeness of something.

Although the cultural movement of Romanticism gradually ended towards the second half of the 19th century, the works of the Romantics are read by millions to this date. The movies we watch, the paintings we see, the music we listen to, the stories we hear and read, and the poetry we read and write, everything contains an element of Romanticism. The concept still influences and inspires artists in some form or the other. The movement changed the way we looked at things, the way we thought and felt about art and most importantly, created a platform for every individual, irrespective of their education, income and ethnicity, to enjoy art.

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