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Neoclassicism was founded in Rome and flourished from about 1750 until 1800. Its proponents advocated a return to the classic traditions found in ancient Rome and Greece. The movement came about somewhat as a result of the excavations that uncovered Pompeii and Herculaneum.

The German art historian Johann Joachim Winckelmann wrote the first manuscript that stimulated artists to employ the ideas of antiquity: "History of the Art of the Ancients", that was published in 1764. Artists returned to the new classical movement as a protest against the Rococo and Baroque movements. The decoration of Rococo changed from ornamentation on the walls and pilasters to bare exterior walls and columns in Greek and Roman style. Rather than color being primary in paintings, artists relied more on strict outlines in their work, sometimes leaving out chiaroscuro completely and turning instead to concentrating on the lines of a design.

Neoclassicism spread throughout Europe during the eighteenth and the beginning of the nineteenth centuries. Compared to other classical revivals in the world of art, Neoclassicist artists were clear in their return to classic elements and imitated classic art in both composition and style more than any other group of artists. Sculptures were very popular forms of art, and more of them have survived than either painting or architectural works. Houdon's work "Diana", that was completed in 1780, is a prime example of sculpture done during the period. David's "Horatii" is an excellent painting of the period, showing the ancient subject matter as well as teaching a moral lesson for modern people. Other artists active in the Neoclassicism movement were Barry, Canova, Flaxman, Mengs, Piransi, Thorwalden, Vien, West, Valadier, Bianchi, Gabriel, Soufflot, Ledoux, Brongiart, and Chalgrin among others.

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