Romanticism was established in Europe around 1830 and had different individual features in each nation. Romanticism gave new importance to passion, irrationality and feeling which had been disregarded by the rationality of the neoclassical period. Individual genius and inspiration became important. Whereas neoclassicism was based on art from the classical ages, romanticism loved the Middle Ages, even if, until then, they had been considered a dark and decadent period.
For the Romantic movement nature does not produce ideal beauty but images which can inspire two fundamental feelings: ‘the picturesque’ and ‘the sublime’.
According to Burke’s theories the feelings aroused by ‘the picturesque’ and ‘the sublime’ are opposites. ‘The Sublime’ is not born from beauty but from the horror and fear caused by emptiness and infinity. For Kant the feeling caused by ‘the sublime’ is the result of the conflict between sensibility and reason and of the feeling of fragility and dismay felt by men when great natural catastrophes occur.
‘The Picturesque’ is the aesthetic category of landscapes and the feeling of ruin stemming from all human things coming to an end. This imbues the observer with sadness for times gone by.
In Italy romanticism (which historically coincides with the wars of independence, between 1820 in 1860) was not as strongly felt as in the rest of Europe. There was no mystic and religious tension and the love for horror and gloom was not nearly as strong as in northern Europe. Civil and political feelings in this period bring all the arts (from literature to painting and music) together. Together with literature, painting is the most important art of the time.
Romantic painting is generally inspired by great historical events, in particular those related to the fight for independence and freedom, and to everyday events. Landscape painting also became popular. Important painters of historical events were: Francesco Hayez, Giuseppe Bezzuoli, Massimo d’Azeglio; important landscape painters were Giacinto Gigante, a representative of the School of Posillipo, and Antonio Fontanesi.
Another important movement in Italian Romanticism is Scapigliatura (“bohemianism”), whose major representative was Giovanni Carnovali known as Piccio.