How did the Enlightenment develop, and what were its common tenets?

Empiricism and a rationalistic doctrine of natural rights formed the core of the Enlightenment. An empiricist believes to derived their ideas from experience. But they also held a rationalist fashion that man had natural rights determined by examination of the human conscience.

With a few exceptions, the philosophers believed that all people were essentially equal, in that they all possessed reason. As a creature of reason and equal to every other person by nature, every individual had the right to life, liberty, and a chance at happiness. Associated with these natural rights were others like the right to freedom of speech and to religious liberty.

Philosophers during this time viewed the Church as a source of superstition, ignorance, and subservience. They held tolerance for the Protestants but little respect for Christian doctrines. They called their own form of religion deism, influenced by Descartes, they held that God had created the world and set it running on its own as a watchmaker makes a watch. Heaven and hell were not to be found in the hereafter but on this earth.

Although their ideas were to influence revolution, the majority of the philosophers politically were proponents of despotism, or rule by one enlightened person, a harking back to Plato's notion of the philosopher-king.

Examples: Diderot (1713-1784) and Voltaire (1694-1778)

Both felt that progress was made through education. If human beings are to be enlightened, to be able to use their reason to unmask lies and superstitions, then they must know. Creators of the Encyclopedia. Both believed that society could and should be changed.

Montesquieu (1689-1755) Charles-Louis de Secondat, the baron de Montesquieu.

Had a tremendous impact on American government, while little impact on France. Montesquieu developed a theory of separation of powers among legislative, judicial, and executive agencies; he insisted that the individual could be free only where the power of one of these branches of government was checked by the other two. Tremendous impact on the conception of the United States Constitution.

In The Spirit of the Laws, he dealt with the issue of slavery which did not take effect in America until much later. Seventeenth c. absolutists and capitalists had accepted slavery in the course of their trade; Montesquieu and other philosophers scrutinized the institution under the light of reason, found it unnatural and evil. It is clear that slavery would be abhorrent to those who believed in the natural rights of human beings.

bl_bar.gif - 1.2 K


Mary Wollstonecraft (1759-1797)

The eighteenth c. witnessed several challenges to the inferior status of women. The rhetoric of the French Revolution supplied fuel for the feminist fire.

Wollstonecraft's A Vindication of the Rights of Woman, published in 1792, in many way prefigures some of the feminist ideas that have become common currency in our own time. A middle-class woman who shared the Enlightenment thinkers' disdain for the decadent aristocracy, Wollstonecraft worked as a governess and a teacher, attempted to found a school. She eventually married her old friend, the English social thinker William Godwin, and had with him a daughter, Mary Wollstonecraft Godwin. She died at the age of thirty-eight of "childbed fever". Her daughter went on the marry the poet Shelly, becoming Mary Shelly, the author of Frankenstein.

bl_bar.gif - 1.2 K



The philosopher's demands for a more just and equal society were to culminate in an upheaval that would change the face of Europe forever: the French Revolution.

The American Revolution, far less bloody, had in a sense served as a prelude to the French one. the American experiment demonstrated to Europeans that Enlightenment ideas could be realized in practice.

France was the most populous and most prosperous in Europe. It was a troubled society in the last half of the eighteenth century. Louis the XV (1710-1774) was not concerned with government, but rather women and eating. Louis the XVI was weak and dominated by his wife, Marie Antoinette. of the 24million people, only 2% belonged to the nobility and clergy. The third estate - the artisans, peasants, and bourgeois (middle class) made up the other 98%. Bankers, merchants and other members of the middle class accumulated great wealth but were banned from the nobility, and footed most of the tax burden.

Financial crisis was the most immediate cause of the revolution. Because some of the wealthiest elements in the country were exempt from taxation, the state could not balance is budget.

On July 14, 1789, the common people stormed and captured the Bastille (the king's prison in the city). and the revolution was on. The king was not officially deposed until August 1792, when France was declared a republic. The king and queen were executed in 1793 by the guillotine.

Emphasis was on the freedom and equality of every man.

By 1796, one of the revolutionary generals, Napoleon Bonaparte abolished the whole government and declared himself the First Consul of France.

Napoleon had been deeply influenced by the Enlightenment. He said that he was the revolution. He reformed laws to enable more equality. There were no tax exemptions. it is fair to say that Napoleon realized in his government most of the goals of the Enlightenment. Napoleon almost succeeded in conquering all of continental Europe. He penetrated Russia as far as Moscow in 1812, but lost 500,000 men, and surrendered.

The effects of the revolution left a lasting mark on Europe. The law codes destroying legal privilege, were permanent, the old legal class structure abolished.

The figure of napoleon became a symbol of the creative, mysterious, and at times demonic personality that fascinated the first generation of the nineteenth c.

bl_bar.gif - 1.2 K


An interest in society and science are found in the arts as well as philosophy.

Cytheris.jpg - 11.1 K


These couples move through the forest of the enchanted island of Venus are not arriving, but leaving, to return to the real world. Watteau has given a sense of melancholy to the beautiful but shallow world of entertainments and parties that seemed more and more to occupy the life of the nobility.

bl_bar.gif - 1.2 K


We have reached the really modern times which dawned when the French Revolution of 1789 put an end to so many assumptions made about art.

Artists viewed the "style" differently. In former times, the style of the period was simply the way in which things were done. Now artists were more self-conscious about style, and became more ecclectic particularly with architecture.

Walpoles.jpg - 6.0 K


Horace Walpole, son of the first Prime Minister of England, decided that it was boring to have his countury house on Strawberry hill built just like any other "correct" Palladian villa.

  1. he had a taste for the quaint and romantic
  2. he was notorious for his whimsicality
  3. he decided to have Strawberry Hill built like a Gothic Castle from the romantic past

bl_bar.gif - 1.2 K


Later in the 18th a new movement called Neo-Classicism replaced the frivolity and melancholy of a lost era, with the rise of revolution, a stronger, bolder art took foothold. With the discovery of Herculaneum and Pompeii and new interest in classicism arose. Also, the ideals of the Roman Republic - freedom, opposition to tyranny, valor, all held special appeal for the 18th c. revolutionary, becoming the characteristic art of the French Revolutionary and America.

  1. Artist began to look for new types of subject-matter. The majority of older pictures represent religious subjects, some mythologies, allegorical subjects, etc.
  2. Suddenly in the eigtheenth century artists felt free to choose their own subject, anything that appealed to the imagination and aroused interest. This disregard for the traditional subject-matter of art is one of the few things that the lonely rebels (artists) had in common.
  3. Artist became interested in history, particularly in France, as the revolution was brewing.
Marats.jpg - 5.1 K



(sometimes considered the "official" artist of the french revolution)

Marat was a leader of the French Revolution. He was killed in his bath by a young woman named Charlotte Corday of the opposition. David painted him as a martyr who had died for his cause

Marat had a skin disease (one that is not shown here) and he habitually worked in his bath. The scene does not lend itself to heroics, yet David manages to create just that. It seems heroic.

David also kept to the actual details of the police report, you could solve the murder by viewing the painting.

David used classical modeling of the figure to create a figure of noble beauty. He leaves out all details which are not essential. The aim is simplicity, grandeur.

colorbar.gif - 4.5 K

Horatios.jpg - 7.6 K


The painting coveys revolutionary sentiments. Based on a story from Livy, The Oath places loyalty to the state above all other concerns, even those of the family. The painting shows heroic male figures in a stark architectural setting. The figures are somewhat idealized but retain a degree of intense realism through an almost photographic rendering of flesh and muscle.

The composition unfolds parallel to the picture plane, and the foreground figures are solid and as immobile as statues. They are determined to fight for their cause. They are heroic. This is opposed to the female figures, who are also classically rendered, but are crumbled from worry. These figures represent the less idealized values such as love, family.

The lighting is sharp, casting precise shadows.

bl_bar.gif - 1.2 K

The Enlightenment in America

French philosophers were ardent supporters of the American Revolution. Thomas Jefferson and Benjamin Franklin were considered "enlightened" individuals and lived for long periods in France.

In 1776, the New World declared themselves politically independent. In 1787, the Constitution was written to create a union between the 13 colonies.

The political leaders thought themselves as the heirs to the republican tradition of ancient Rome. Americans often signed their letters of protest against English tyranny with Roman names. We drew on Latin phrases like president and senate, and the Great Seal of the new nation and its coinage were marked with Latin phrases and classical emblems.


Classicism was born. Jefferson borrowed from Greek and Roman architecture to create his buildings. This "Greek revival" was quickly adopted for other public buildings in America.

Jefferson believed that art and architecture reinforce and perpetuate strong, appropriate images for ideals, when building the University of Virginia.

The heart of the university is a rectangular quadrangle bounded on each of its long sides by a one-story covered colonnade broken at intervals by the two-story houses of the professors. Students lived in rooms off the colonnades; professors held classes downstairs in their living quarters. The east end of the quad is closed by the library, a domed porticoed rotunda. Very similar to the Roman Pantheon.

This university was a monument to free thought.

Jefferson believed that if you educate the individual, oppression leaves the mind and body.

bl_bar.gif - 1.2 K


Romanticism is usually understood as a separate entity of Neo-classicism, sometimes coexisting. Generally, the Romantic period begins with the turn of the century, c. 1800. The Romantics did inherit the high seriousness of Neo-classicism and its revulsion against frivolous or merely decorative art (i.e. Rococo).

The main difference between Romanticism and Neo-classicism is that the Romantic artist placed more emphasis on the individual soul, and went beyond the boundaries of logical discourse. The Romantics “led inward.”

For the romantics, the rules of art had to be put to the test. Caspar David Friedrich declared the artist’s only law to be his feelings.

An American painter, Washington Allston wrote “Trust your own genius, listen to the voice within you, and sooner or later she will make herself understood not only to you, but she will enable you to translate her language to the world, and this it is which forms the only real merit of any work of art.”

It seems natural that during this period, the autobiography became a popular means of expression.


The Romantic period of art was a response to the impact of the age of Enlightenment and the Revolutions. Orthodoxies were gone, old certainties were undermined, philosophy questioned the logical order of the universe; new doubts were raised and left unsolved. By the close of the eighteenth century, it gradually took its toll on the artists and society in general.

The logic, ordered, rational was gradually replaced with the magnitude of the imagination, the possibilities of intuition, the importance of the emotions, and the uniqueness of the individual.

Summary - The artistic movement that we call Romantics was divergent and yet shared some common characteristics:


FRANCISCO GOYA (1746-1828)

Francisco Goya was a Spanish painter influenced by Velasquez and Rembrandt but not at all by antiquity or the Renaissance.

He is unique even among a time of remarkable individualistic artists.

SMALL7.JPG - 16.0 K

The Third of May represents a tumultuous time for Spain. In 1808, Napoleon's army had conquered and occupied Spain. Goya, along with the rest of Spain's citizens, tired of the corrupt monarchy, had hoped that the Emperor would bring the liberal, badly needed reforms of the debased Spanish courts.

However, the Spaniards were soon disappointed. The Napoleon army's barbaric behavior caused a citizen's resistance.

The Third of May, 1808, 1814-1818

Goya concentrated on a new subject - the bestiality and utter futility of war.

The Third of May is a representation of the bitter citizen's resistance, and the tragic results which were a series of executions of Spanish patriots.

Goya depicts the execution of a group of Madrid citizens. It was commissioned by a liberal group to show the underside of Napoleonic conquest.

This is the first time art is used to protest against barbarian invasions and conquests. Later, social protests of art became common.

A shift in emphasis from victor to victim has occurred here.

These martyrs are not dying for religion but political tyranny. This image will be recast many times in our modern era.

colorbar.gif - 4.5 K


Gericault was the most talented French painter of the early Romantic movement. Like Goya, he also responded to a social/political contemporary event.


His most ambitious painting was entitled:
The Raft of the "Medusa" 1818-1819

This painting is a response to a modern tragedy of epic proportions that caused a national scandal.

Gericault was attracted to the event because the ship was a government vessel, and he, like many French liberals, opposed the monarchy that was restored after Napoleon's defeat.

Gericault researched the incident with great care, like an investigative reporter. He studied corpses in the morgue, and even built a raft to scale in his studio. He interviewed the survivors. Thus the painting is extraordinary in its realistic detail similar to David's "Death of Marat."

But here, for the first time, the grand style and the heroic scale were taken up for the first time to record the sufferings of ordinary people.

The painting depicts the few remaining survivors on their makeshift raft. An exciting moment is chosen: the weak figures struggle to alert a rescue ship on the horizon, frantically signaling for help.

The ship in the distance was called the Argus. It did not sight the raft until the following day.

Gericault depicted a great psychological tension of false hope.

The result is a heroic depiction of man against the sea or elements. The men should have been more emaciated, sickly, instead of the bulging muscularity that we see here. In fact, the men were not heroes at all. They survived by the crucial animal instinct of survival - resorting to cannibalism. The artist did not want his audience to feel the immediate emotional response to a specific event - which emaciated, pitiful figures would have induced. Instead, the artist transposes a specific event into a universal cry against the establishment. This is how an artist can turn a catastrophe into art, transcending time and holding universal appeal. The viewer thinks of the timeless problems of heroism, hope, despair, suffering, and is not provided with an answer.

colorbar.gif - 4.5 K

Gericault died in 1824 from a riding accident, and Eugene Delacroix became the leading Romantic artist. Delacroix produced many works that are exemplary of the Romantic movement.

Romanticism gave Western art a new restless dynamism. The word "Romantic" came increasingly to be attached to what was rejected. The Romantic revolution which began in the 1790s was like a battle which "men fight and lose". Soon the impatient and bravado of the Romantics would be replaced by the Realist and, then, the Impressionistic movement.