The apparently distinct aesthetic values of naturalism (a fidelity to external appearance) and neoclassicism (with its focus on idealization and intangible essence) came together in creative tension and fusion in much late eighteenth-century and early nineteenth-century sculptural theory and practice. The hybrid styles that resulted suited the requirements of the European sculpture-buying public. Both aesthetics, however, created difficulties for the German Idealists who represented a particularly uncompromising strain of Romantic theory. In their view, naturalism was too closely bound to the observable, familiar world, while neoclassicism was too wedded to notions of clearly defined forms. This article explores sculptural practice and theory at this time as a site of complex debates around the medium's potential for specific concrete representation in a context of competing Romantic visions (ethereal, social and commercial) of modernity.
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