Introduction | Early Romantic | Classical

Following the social and political upheaval of the French Revolution and the Napoleonic Wars, Europe enjoyed a short period of relative stability with Napoleon’s exile, the restoration of the Bourbon monarchy in France and the establishment of the Vienna Peace Settlement in 1815.

However, in the early 1820s a number of minor revolts broke out in Naples and the Iberian peninsula, and in 1822 Europe was drawn into the Greek War of Independence.

A second, more serious, wave of revolts occurred around 1830. The Bourbons were overthrown in France, then the Belgians gained independence from the Dutch; these events were followed by risings in Poland, Italy and Germany, by civil war in Spain and Portugal, and by the overthrow of Wellington and the Tories in Britain. This wave of revolts effectively confirmed liberalism as an important political and social force in Western Europe, while the problem of nationalism took precedence over everything else east of the Rhine. Meanwhile, the colonies of South and Central America were gaining independence, and Europe turned its empire-building efforts east.

The following decades built to the crisis of 1848, when revolution broke out almost simultaneously in cities across Europe, triggered by a crisis in agriculture and economics. Although these uprisings were largely unsuccessful, the urge towards national unity was crystallized, and the principles of universal suffrage were established.

Greek War of Independence

Only one of the uprisings in southern Europe during the early 1820s had any lasting success. This was the Greek revolt in 1821, which led ultimately to Greece’s independence from the Ottoman Turks. Despite the risk of widespread unrest in the Balkan states, the four major European powers – Britain, France, Austria and Russia – were initially unwilling to come to the aid of the Greeks. However, public opinion was fully in favour of the rebels; philhellenic committees were set up in Western Europe, and money and volunteer fighters were sent to Greece. The war was viewed primarily as a people’s insurrection, and became the inspiration of international liberalism, effectively rallying the radicals in Europe. The most celebrated philhellene was the English poet Lord Byron, who formed the ‘Byron Brigade’, gave money and inspiration to the insurgent Greeks, and ultimately died of fever while training rebel troops at Missolonghi in 1824.

Many artists, writers and composers were inspired by the revolt. Notable works include paintings by Eugène Delacroix, such as The Massacres of Chios (1824) and Greece Expiring on the Ruins of Missolonghi (1826), and La révolution Grecque (‘The Greek Revolution’, 1825–26), a scène grecque by Berlioz. Maometto II, an opera by Gioachino Rossini (1792–1868), adapted for the Paris Opéra as Le siège de Corinthe (‘The Siege of Corinth’, 1826), was also in part a response to the Greek War.

The Triumph of Romanticism

In France, not only did 1830 mark the year of an important political revolution – the ousting of the Bourbons and the crowning of the ‘Citizen King’, Louis-Philippe; it also marked the moment at which Romanticism was...

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