Essential Reading: 18th Century ‘Enlightenment and Liberty’ – WHA Chapter Fourteen

Political, economic or social factors

Despite being the Age of Reason, Christianity still prevailed across both Protestant & Catholic countries in the 18thC, now concentrating on personal devotion & piety (reflected by simplicity of external forms of religious buildings). In France, in 1699, Louis XIV requested that paintings be more light-hearted & youthful for Versailles so Rococo style developed, rebelling against the Academy whose biennial salons were the only important art exhibitions at the time, it reasserted its authority by the 1750’s though. Elaborate open air festivals had played an important part in European court life ever since the Renaissance, combining entertainment with instruction about the magnificence, wisdom and power of princes. Hence the creation of Zwinger in Germany. p617 In England, George I (1714-27) developed a constitutional monarchy which gave political power to land-owning oligarchy & Classicism & Roman republican virtues of Cicero taught in schools, ideas over the landscape garden began to change. Love seen as a ‘natural’ passion but one which should be restrained within the social convention. “Natural signified not the wild and lawless, but the divinely ordered universe, as revealed by Newton, in which everything had its appointed place. Liberty could be regarded as natural only within this structure, which provided the model of the social system“. p623 New discoveries at Herculaneum (1738) & Pompeii (from 1748) fed new insights into ancient culture into Classicism. Museums regarded for first time as institutions for public education. Artistic works were commissioned for sole purpose of improving public morality eg “The Oath of the Horatii” work by political painter Jacque-Louis David (1748-1825). The subject, the nobility of ancient roman stoicism & patriotism would have been approved by Louis XVIs minister for the arts but became a symbol for impending revolution. The latter half of the 18thC was characterised by wars & revolution. 1754-63, 7years war started by conflict between Britain & France. Art increasingly used as propaganda, America’s Declaration of Independence meant US became the promised land of the Enlightenment. Classicism was regarded as being in line with their political ideals, Benjamin West’s Death of General Wolfe, 1770, was a poster child & popular print representing a turning point in modern history, in contemporary dress (reportage) but painted in the Grand Style.  French Revolution! 1789 saw the Bastille demolished, the King of France lost control of Paris & subsequent political changes (including formation of a national assembly, declaration of rights of man, abolition of feudal rights, nationalisation of church property, riots) forced every voting Frenchman to take a side. Jacobin club extremists administrated the Terror, the guillotine saw a lot of action including Louis XVI & Marie Antoinette. When more moderate views came in many were imprisoned, including JL David. Napoleon Bonaparte rose in prominence, leading a coup in 1799. Venetian government on point of dissolution during life of Francesco Guardi & Canaletto, finally falling to Napoleon in 1797.

Changes to status or training of artists

In 18thC France, private collectors were prominent enough to provide work for artists. A dispute between those who favoured drawing over colour because it appealed to the intellect (Poussinists) & those who believed colour was needed to imitate nature making an impression on the senses (Rubenists) bisected the French Academy. Louis XIV changed favour from those artists who supported the Academy to those who dissented. Engravers respected & well paid because they produced prints of the works of artists, spreading their fame. Venetian Fresco painter Giovanni Battista Tiepolo (1696-1770) was greatest & most expensive of the time. Collaborations between architects, painters & sculptors meant integration of skillsets. Robert Adam (1728-92) set the tone for architects ruling supreme whilst craftsmen merely carried out his designs, the gap between artists & craftsmen widened especially in England where industrialisation was more advanced. In Josiah Wedgwood‘s (1730-95) pottery factory for example artisans followed predetermined patterns. Artists demanded recognition of superior status resulting in Royal Academy (RA) founding in 1768 with first president being Sir Joshua Reynolds (1723-92), knighted year after founding, who was obsessed with status. He elevated status of portraiture, posing his sitters in classical poses of mythical figures. Angelica Kauffman (1741-1807) was only one of 2 women founders of the  RA until 1920s. She was commissioned to paint 4 large oval self-portraits for the ceiling of the lecture hall covering the 4 elements of painting, colour, design, composition & genius of invention. Sculptor Antonio Canova (1757-1822) refused state sponsored training in Rome to copy the Greek masters because he didn’t want to be a mere copyist so he went self-funded on his own terms. He was given a block of marble to carve as he wished, rather than prescribed by a patron, Theseus & the Dead Minotaur was a success, he was awarded important commissions in Rome despite his youth.

Development of materials and processes

Industrialisation was the theme for 18th C processes, factory-like efficiency pervaded. The world’s 1st factory created (1717 -1721), the Silk Mill by the River Derwent, for twisting or doubling silk into thread. The 1st spinning machine was patented in England in 1738, the first spinning mill in 1771 which was developed by Richard Arkwright in Derbyshire. In Rome, Antonia Canova developed an efficient studio practice where he modelled statues firstly in clay, then took plaster casts which were marked at points from which assistants could roughly carve the marble blocks, then he could finish with chisels, drills & rasps allowing for more output. Duplicates of Houdon’s sculptures were churned out in his studio in various sizes & media as propaganda for the ‘cult of great men of modern times that was promoted by thinkers of the Enlightenment’. p628.

Styles and movements

Music in the 18th C was mostly religious despite chamber music and opera developing, notable artists included Bach (1685-1750), Handel (1685-1759), Mozart (175-91), Haydn (1732-1809). In painting, secular works were in minority but the innovative art of the time, more romantic themes emerged. Antoine Watteau (1684-1721) painted fête galantes, fanciful paintings of well-dressed people frolicking outdoors. Early 18thC style of architecture (as seen in French townhouses and German churches) was one of a plain exterior and lavish interior, more concerned with manipulation of space than with form.  French Rococo was ‘delicate, sensual and often capricious’, ‘a frivolous confection of shells and shell-like forms’. p608, & later in the 18thC was dismissed as catering to the whims of the upper classes. It was criticised at the time for being at odds with the rational thought of Enlightenment, but its spontaneity & novelty deviated from the demands of academic rules. ‘Its genius lay in nuances, subtle juxtapositions of forms, gentle gradations and mingling of colours, the elusive dancing rhythms of only slightly differentiated motifs’ p609. It introduced taste to small rooms such as boudoirs & a more intimate feel for larger. Spaces which fit the inhabitants, eg ‘A reading of moliere’ by Jean francois de Troy (1679-1752), p611, Rococo interior which reminded me of some of the rooms in Hylands House. Genre pittoresque was a decorative style created by Nicolas Pineau (1684-1754) & Juste-Aurele Meissonier (c1693-1750), with pictorial motifs such as shells and tendrils with defined structure. Lightness, elegance & gaiety, p612 Eg Hotel de Soubise in Paris. The curvilinear forms also lent themselves to sensual and carnal paintings, intended to be for boudoirs, e.g. ‘Hercules and Omphale’ by Francois Boucher (1703-70). Jean-Simeon Chardin (1699-1779) on the other hand painted ‘downstairs’ scenes & used more earthy, wholesome colour palette often with moral overtones & of new themes showing the middle class life. Both appealed to the same patrons though. Louis XV’s mistress Mme du Barry commissioned Jean-Honore Fragonard’s work ‘The Progress of Love’ (4 parkland scenes), which palpitated with a new life and amorous energy, but it was rejected in favour of 1 by Joseph-Marie Vien (1716-1809) whose work was more solemn and classical in style and almost a direct critical opposition to Rococo. German Rococo developed from exuberantly Italianate Baroque (Borromini and Guarini) and the difference between the two in Germany & Italy is slight & can only be measured subjectively. Church interiors were designed to give a vision of heaven. French trained Francois Curvillies (1695-1768) introduced Genre picturesque to Germany. Johann Balthasar Neumann (1687-1753) was a prolific German architect who designed the lavish Rococo staircase of the Residenz, Wurzburg, Germany, Tiepolo’s painting on the ceiling above the stairs was designed to be seen from multiple viewpoints whilst climbing. ‘Painting, architecture, and sculpture (stucco figures and huge shells in the corners) interpenetrate to create a total environment masking the frontier between realty and fiction.‘ p619. Neo-Palladian style of architecture developed from the English distaste of baroque, Scottish architect Colen Campbell (1676-1729) was one of several architects who wanted to return to Classical principles by way of Andrea Palladio. The style showed off social standing amongst the wealthy by the classicism of implied Roman republican virtues. ‘A Neo-Palladian house declared its owes respect for propriety and decorum and with its dressed stonework , columns and pediment, marked his social standing far move obviously than the 17th century brick-build gentlemen’s house’ p622 It can be seen in paintings by William Hogarth which also show Italianate pictures on the wall & Rococo style interior. The landscape park (as seen in Gainsborough’s work Mr and Mrs Andrews 1749) was the most important British contribution to visual arts, seen as a symbol of liberty, contrast with the rigidly formal gardens of Versailles. The ditch which separated gentleman’s park from land beyond was called a ‘ha-ha’. These picturesque English gardens often had a classical temple to lend them a note of nostalgia for one’s Grand Tour which rounded off a classical education for the wealthy where they could see old masters painted in the grand style. In America, enlightened thinkers demanded moral rectitude, simplicity, clarity & logic. True style developed, founders of the US were depicted as god-like figures from mythology but Jefferson (1743-1826) & George Washington were depicted in contemporary dress (by Jean-Antoine Houdon (1741-1828), leading sculptor of his day). Houdon’s sculptures were a return to nature. Contemporary dress in art suggested reportage or ‘truth’ of the moral message. Rococo finally renounced in 1750s, seen simultaneously in France, Germany and England. In Neoclassicism, an extension of the True style, compounded by Wincklemann’s writings, mythological scenes were portrayed which had  not actually been described before, classicism no longer a slavish imitation, eg Canova & JL David. Canova  revived sculpture, with a style that was less personal & gentle liberating it from architectural settings, designing work to be seen from a revolving plinth. His were the first great works of art to be was specifically intended for Museums. David’s style of painting fused classicism with contemporary reportage, and secular intensity almost religious & political propaganda (examples include commemorating the martyrs of the French revolution such as Marat, recording the Tennis Court Oath & equestrian portrait of Napoleon crossing the Alps). Architectural parallels to David’s work can be found in designs of Etienne-Louis Boulee (1728-99) and Claude-Nicolas Ledoux (1736-1806). There was a return to antiquity with new boldness & simplicity, no frivolities only unbroken contours , clean-cut lines, right angles & simple shapes. The emphasis on geometry as opposed to free-flowing space.

Inside and outside influences

In the 18th C, thinkers, critics & writers of the Enlightenment inspired artists. Artists, architects & thinkers alike were influenced by Descartes & Isaac Newton (1642-1727), who was seen as hero of the enlightenment, eg Etienne-Louis Boulee. Artists inspired each other, Antoine Watteau inspired artists such as Boucher, Gainsborough & Goya who in turn was influenced by Rubens & various Venetian artists. The sensitivity of Chardin & sensuality of Boucher influenced Jean-Honore Fragonard (1732-1806). Bavarian sculptor Ignaz Gunther (1725-75) was influenced by Italian Mannerism, late 16thC German statues & heir to traditional German naturalistic style dating back to Middle Ages. Bolognese were influenced by their own early 17thC masters. Venetian’s including Francisco Guardi (1712-93) looked back at titian, Veronese & Tintoretto. Tiepolo’s ceiling was a tribute to his own Venetian school & the art of Paolo Veronese. Demand from English patrons for Canaletto’s cool clear views of Venice & Rosalba Carriera’s portraits. Classical influence on architects & artists with Gothic & Chinese affording amusing deviations to emphasise the classical norm. Rome was dominated by classicism of the High Renaissance & a classical education & Grand Tour influenced everyone. Classical influence on Americans after Independence, not because it was in fashion in Europe but because of the republican political morals perceived by it. Wincklemann’s reappraisal of art had a pervading  influence everywhere but especially in Rome, Canova & JL David had full artist conversion. Canova also influenced by Scottish painter Gavin Hamilton (1723-98) , Wincklemann’s friend.

Critics, thinkers and historians

18th C thinkers questioned Christian teaching but didn’t actually rejected religion. In 1784, German philosopher Immanuel Kant declared ‘Dare to know! … the motto of the Enlightenment’ (p.608). John Locke (1632-1704) wrote Concerning Human Understanding essay, 1690, outlining beliefs on colour. Claiming nothing was innate & all ideas were derived from experience. John-Baptiste Dubos (1670-1742) furthered this, writing what appealed to the senses outweighed what appealed to the mind. In 1711, Alexander Pope wrote a key essay on Criticism. Francois Marie Arouet Voltaire (1694-1778) thought that this could only be judged by ‘taste’, which was a preserve of the educated class. Denis Diderot (1713-84), art critic, novelist, essayist & editor of the French Encyclopédie, reviewed Paris Salons in 1760’s. His style of writing deemphasised the theory, it was if he were standing in front of the art, dismissive of Boucher, but pro Greuze & Chardin. Leading journalists in 1712 , Joseph Addison & Richard Steele, preached about secular moral attitudes, e.g. love as ‘natural’ passion within a social framework & inspired satire in artists such as Hogarth (1697-1764). Sir Joshua Reynolds delivered Discourses every year at the RA. Jean-Jacques Rousseau (1712-78) was a fierce critic of ‘evils of contemporary social life’, p.628, he advocated cultivation of natural sentiments & called for didactic art to commemorate the men who had defended their country or those who had a great genius. Johann Joachim Wincklemann (1717-68) completely reappraised the art of antiquity in his first hugely influential book, ‘Thoughts on Imitation of Greek Works of Art’, 1755, written from point of view of a man of the Enlightenment, it discussed statues as living works of art & endorsed imitating antiquity only with a shift in emphasis from form to spiritual essence, art as an expressive medium rather than mimetic. Journalist Jean-Paul Marat, (immortalised in JL David‘s painting The Dead Marat, murdered in his bath by Political rival Charlotte Corday), extolled ‘the despotism of liberty‘.



The notes are a bit long for the assignment but since they for my reference at this stage it doesn’t matter too much, I’ll do a bit more of the section and hopefully be able to shorten them at the end when I have all three chapters covered, I think this chapter runs nicely into the next with artists like JL David following Napoleon’s career trajectory. I wanted to keep it long so I could pull bits out as per the A3 feedback to use separate set of responses on the blog to “develop short sections of analysis (examine how key components in each chapter fit together and relate to each other), comparison (explore the similarities and differences between the ideas you are reading about), and synthesis (bring together references to different sources or viewpoints).” I should probably introduce a new category or tag for these to mark them clearly but for now (until I’ve read all three chapters) I’ll keep them in here in long form..

I must say, I should have studied this section before my visit to Hylands house! It will certainly help me with the write-up and background reading on what I saw. ‘A reading of moliere’ by Jean francois de Troy (1679-1752), p611, Included a Rococo interior which reminded me of some of the rooms in Hylands.  p622 has some useful looking quotes  re Hogarth and the décor for example. I pity the fact that I couldn’t visit the grounds though (with a grumpy child and pushchair  in tow it wasn’t practical), the concept of the garden was as important as the building for a neoclassical country houses as I’m now coming to realise so perhaps I can check that bit out from above in google maps when I come to write up the visit in more detail.

The 18thC clearly splits stylistically into two, the fancy, twiddly Baroqueish Rococo style, which was all the rage with the very fashionable and the very rich European élite (it’s very over the top as many things of fashion are!) and then a return to classical in the latter half of the century when demands for liberty were widespread and they needed an art for free people, ordinary people and looked back to the ancient republics. This was the Age of Reason, due to the Enlightenment, the philosophical movement which swept Europe much as humanism had done in the previous century. The condemnation of despotism, criticism of the established church and state ended up with demands for liberty and political representation culminating in the revolutions, both American and French. I noticed that painters of the time are much more politically involved and this is shown in their art, especially JL David. I found his painting of The Tennis Court Oath really interesting because of the reportage contemporary look but with poses from antiquity making the scene like so many new Romans gathered. This age seems so much more ‘modern’ to me than much or the other chapters I’ve studied because every day I’m surrounded by (probably 18th C) classical buildings and columns whilst walking to work in the heart of the city in Bank, also when you watch the news from America’s political race its all set in and around the buildings which look like this, so its old, but it’s actually still a modern setting today. The images we see today are often politically motivated in the same sort of sense, lots of propaganda. Ditto the landscape, this was the age of the more natural looking landscape garden in England and much of the beautiful picturesque views that I drive past when I visit family in Dorset probably came out of these ideals. On a different note, I was unsurprised to learn that Canaletto’s work was a favoured by English patrons. I love his work, it was a fav of  my Grandma who passed that on to me from a young age of seeing the reproductions in her house. It helps that much of the famous views in Venice still look like that when you visit them now (except filled with modern tourists).



Honour, H & Fleming, J. (2009) A World History of Art. (7th Ed), London, Laurence King Publishing


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