The Enlightenment


The seventeenth and eighteenth centuries turned toward an "Age of Reason" termed The Enlightenment. During this time, many scholars, philosophers, writers, and artists used rational thought to expand their understanding of the natural world. This rational thought conflicted continuously with aristocratic customs and religious beliefs that were prevalent throughout Europe.



Louis XIV’s changes to the governmental structure of France and his personal style brought many changes to high society, which became overly indulgent. The aristocracy commissioned much artwork for their palaces and mansions. The style termed "Rococo" became the style of the age and was associated with the regency that followed the death of Louis XIV. The style was typically overly extravagant, and highlighted youthful bliss through playful themes and a lightened color palette. Interiors became overly ornate and such style was similarly mirrored in the fashion of the time.


Hotel de Soubise Salon de la Princesse, Paris

The Rococo style exteriors of buildings were typically simple, but the interiors became extravagant. The Salon de la Princesse located in the Hotel de Soubise in Paris demonstrates how the strong architectural lines are turned into luxurious curves. Space is further multiplied by mirrors. The room looks permanently decked out for festival uses, and the mirrors allow guests to check on their fashion and become part of the atmosphere. Rococo rooms tended to feel like a large stage set where everything from the silverware, to the furniture, to the decorativeness would match the costume and music to form a unified whole.

Analienburg in the Garden of Nymphenburg Palace Hall of Mirrors, Munich

The Hall of Mirrors from the Nympehnburg Palace in Munich demonstrates the reach of the French Rococo style in Germany. The room is an ensemble of architecture, stucco relief, silvered bronze mirrors and crystal. Everything seems organic, growing and in motion.

Antoine Watteau (1684-1721)

Antoine Watteau L'Indifferent, 1716

Watteau is a French painter most often associated with the French Rococo. In his painting, L'Indifferent, meaning "the indifferent one," there is a noted difference in style and theme from the earlier baroque in the nature of the delicate form. Rococo painting seems lighter. The figure seems like a dancer alighting onto a stage. There is also a difference in the patronage as during the Baroque period the main patronage was royalty and the Church; in the Rococo period, with more wealth in the upper echelon of society, the aristocracy became leading patrons of art.

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Antoine Watteau Return from Cythera, 1717-19

Return from Cythera is described as a “fête galante” painting as it describes the outdoor entertainment or amusements of upper-class society. This particular painting was the painting that became Watteau's acceptance piece to the French Royal Academy. Its acceptance marks the split in the Royal Academy between the “Poussinistes" and the "Rubenistes." According to Le Brun, for the "Poussinistes," or students of Nicolas Poussin, form was the most important element in painting while color was used for persuasion. By contrast, the "Rubenistes,” or students of Rubens, believed in the natural supremacy of color and understood coloristic style as the artist's proper guide.

This particular painting demonstrates a group of lovers preparing to depart from the island of eternal youth and love. The youth move gracefully from the protective shade toward a golden barge. The painting is elegant, showing graceful movement emphasized by the poses and the atmosphere. Watteau’s works seem to also have a sense of melancholy about them as it seems like he is meditating on the fleeting nature of youth and pleasure. His paintings however were done completely to the taste of the wealthy patrons.

François Boucher (1703-1770)

François Boucher Cupid a Captive, 1754

François Boucher rose to the dominant position in painting following Watteau’s death. He created primarily graceful allegories. In Cupid a Captive, Boucher creates a sort of pyramid of flesh set off against a cool background. The draperies are more revealing than hiding nudity. The design consists of criss-crossing diagonals and curvilinear forms. The painting thus demonstrates a dissipation of the baroque drama into a sensual playfulness. Fantasy is meant as a reflection on the aristocracy's past times. As the patrons grew older, they looked to these youthful images to escape.

Jean-Honoré Fragonard (1732-1806)

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Jean-Honoré Fragonard The Swing, 1766

Jean-Honoré Fragonard was François Boucher's student. The Swing is an example of one of the “intrigue” pictures that he painted. These became popular as their themes often added to the escapism of the Rococo style. In this particular painting, the young gentleman has managed an arrangement where a bishop swings his lover higher while he stretches out in a perfect position on the ground to look up her dress without the bishop knowing. The girl kicks off a shoe flirtasiously toward the statue of cupid who holds his finger to his lips in silence. It also demonstrates a Watteau-esque landscape evidencing the extent of Watteau's influence over generations.

Clodion (Claude Michel) (1738-1814)

Clodion (Claude Michel) Nymph and Satyr Carousing, 1775

In Clodion's Nymph and Satyr Carousing, Bernini’s baroque styles of sculpture also changed in theme and intent. The piece is allegorical and playful and still contains the sense of motion in space. The demonstrated asymmetrical rhythm and balance from the baroque is still existent, but the theme has moved away from the dark drama of before.

The Enlightenment

Scientific Method, developed by Rene Descartes's Discourse in 1637, described a new way of thinking critically about the world and about humankind, independently from religion, myth or tradition. The method was based on using reason to reflect on the results of physical experiments and involved the critical analysis of texts. Knowledge is thus grounded in empirical evidence and there is a stout rejection of unfounded beliefs.

Scientific thought and the new reliance on emprical data led to “The Doctrine of Empiricism” formed by John Locke, which stated that our ideas are not innate or God-given -- that it is only from experience that we can know. This same thinking formed the methods of people like Isaac Newton who made advancements in all areas of physical science as he rejected supernatural or metaphiscal answers to questions dealing with the world.

The reliance on empiricism further led to other philosophical movements such as “The Doctrine of Progress” given the designation by French intellectuals in eighteenth-century europe. Several of these philosophers shared a conviction that the world's problems could be remedied by applying reason and common sense. They thus criticized the powers of the church and state as irrational limits placed on political and intellectual freedom. Where previous societies perceived the future as inevitable, they understood the future to be in the hands of man. They thus took on the task of gathering knowledge and making it accessible to all who could read to control future events.

The FrenchAmerican, and Industrial Revolutions all happened during the end of the 18th century as a result of the Enlightenment. These movements also led to the concept of Manifest Destiny, an idealogical justification for continued territorial expansion. The Industrial Revolution, spurred by scientific thought and notions of machine productive practice, led to inventions such as the steam engine and electricity, among other industrial products that changed the worldview on production and products.

Voltaire (François Marie Arouet) (1694-1778)

Voltaire is considered the most representative figure or personification of the Enlightenment. He was instrumental in introducing Newton and Locke to French intellectuals. His writings continually attacked the monarchy and the church with the conviction that obstacles toward progress should be removed. His ideas led directly to the French Revolution (which he probably would not have approved of). He did not believe in the credo of Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Thomas Jefferson, and the Declaration of Independence: “all men are created equal.” He believed instead that progress was made by removing obstacles from those who had the ability to lead that progress forward.

William Hunter (1707-1788)

Willam Hunter Child in Womb, 1774

The Enlightenment led to a search to document the world and learn. There are many recorded images from dissections, botany, and other natural sciences, which were compiled into encyclopedias. Drawings and other forms of illustration became an important instrument for education. William Hunter's Child in Womb stands in contrast to Leonardo Da Vinci's earlier dissection drawings in that it demonstrates a stark realism without the care to artistic idealization as Da Vinci's seems to provide.

Joseph Wright of Derby (1734-1797)

Joseph Wright of Derby A Philosopher Giving a Lecture at the Orrery, 1763-65

Joseph Wright of Derby's painting, Philosopher Giving a Lecture at the Orrery is a wonderful representation of the time. Wright loved subjects bathed in a single light source similar to Georges de La Tour's earlier Baroque paintings. The model in the painting demonstrates the reason in the orbits of the planets and how they work like a clock circling around the light source, the sun. This also stands in stark contrast to La Tour's use of candle light demonstrating the light of God. In Wright's painting, an ordinary lecture takes on elements of a history or religious painting in its sense of drama and detail much like would be seen in Rembrandt's works.

“Natural” Voltaire vs. Rousseau

Jean-Jacques Rosseau was the representative of the French Enlightenment who declared that the arts, sciences, society, and civilization in general had corrupted “natural man.” Natural man was, to him, considered people in their primitive state. He believed that salvation lay in a return to something like “the ignorance, innocence and happiness” of man's original condition. Essentially, the revolutions were diminishing man's capacity for feeling, sensibility, and emotions that were evident prior to this age of reason. His beliefs led to a turn from ostentatious, artificial Rococo styles to more natural forms and themes that exalted the simple life, the joys and sorrows of “uncorrupted” people.


Jean Baptiste Siméon Chardin (1699-1779)

Jean Baptiste Siméon Chardin Grace at Table, 1740

Much in line with Rosseau's thoughts, Chardin's work often includes narratives that taught moral lessons in simple, quiet scenes. Grace at Table is emotional, honest, and subdued in comparison to the Rococo. The painting remains somewhat contrived and artificial. The odd fact about this work is that it was actually owned by Louis XV who was, in contrast, considered the royal personification of Rococo in his life and taste.

Elisabeth Louise Vigée-Lebrun (1755-1842)

Elisabeth Louise Vigée-Lebrun Self Portrait, 1790

Several female artists including Elisabeth Louise Vigée-Lebrun rose to distinction during these times. Lebrun rose to distinction in her portraiture. She was one of few women admitted to the French Academy before the revolution, but was removed afterward as they no longer welcomed women to the organization. She is seen here at work on one of her portraits of Queen Marie Antoinette.


William Hogarth (1697-1764)

Hogarth was an English painter showing the taste of the prominent middle class. He personally waged a campaign in favor of English art, opposing the continental artists who came to renown in England. He frequently painted moral and satirical subject matter during a time of much satirical writing. He often made series of narrative paintings and prints like chapters in a book.

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William Hogarth Marriage à-la-Mode (Series) and Breakfast Scene, 1745

Breakfast Scene is a scene from a sequence of six paintings called Marriage à-la-Mode. The paintings demonstrate a satire on the loyalty of marriage of the day. All actions in the painting lead the viewer to believe in the unfaithfulness and failure of this marriage. It was designed to be printed and reproduced with the mindset of democratization of knowledge and mass production to create a broader visual culture.

Thomas Gainsborough (1727-1788)

Thomas Gainsborough Mrs. Richard Brinsley Sheridan, 1787

Thomas Gainsborough's paintings demonstrate a blend of naturalism with Rococo settings. He had a keen interest in landscape settings much like Watteau. The naturalism is demonstrated in how he integrates natural human likenesses into such settings. His style demonstrates the "Grand Manner portraiture" which elevated the sitter by conveying refinement and elegance. The painting utilizes large scale figures relative to the canvas in controlled poses with a low horizon line increasing the sitter's implied importance relative to the viewer. There is a certain degree of artifice involved in these paintings.

Sir Joshua Reynolds (1723-1792)

Lord Heathfield, 1787

Sir Joshua Reynolds specialized in portraits of contemporaries who participated in the great events of the latter part of the century. Lord Heathfield shows a general standing in front of a curtain of smoke holding the key to the fortress at Gibraltar which he defended from the French and Spanish. Reynolds melds portraiture with heroic themes, combining the elevated history painting themes with the less artistically respected realm of portraiture.

Benjamin West (1738-1820)

Benjamin West The Death of General Wolfe, 1771

Benjamin West was an American artist sent to Europe to study art and gain popularity in England and was cofounder of the Royal Academy of the Arts. The Death of General Wolfe depicts a mortally wounded English commander after his defeat of the French in the decisive battle of Quebec in 1759, which gave Canada to Great Britian. It is a complex and theatrically ordered composition that suggests the death of a great saint as it resembles previous deposition compositions depicting Christ's removal from the cross. There is thus an idea of martyrdom mixed with modern realism in its depiction of the scene.

(Students of Benjamin West)

John Singleton Copley (1738-1815)

Portrait of Paul Revere, 1768-1770

John Singleton Copley is an American from Massachusetts. He emigrated to England and worked in Grand Manner portrait styles. Portrait of Paul Revere was painted before he left Boston. Copley maintained a faithfulness to visual fact. This particular painting demonstrates a plain setting in his every day profession as a silversmith before he was well known for the revolution. There is a sense of informality and sense of the moment. There is a stark difference in the “down to earth” characteristics of American taste and style rather than European extravagance.

Antonio Canaletto (1697-1768)

Antonio Canaletto View of St. Mark

Antonio Canaletto was an Italian known for his documentation of Northern Italy and especially Venice. His "Vedute" (views) were eagerly aquired by British tourists to remember the places that they travelled. He painted the Venetian landmarks with almost photographic precision in perspective. These paintings were occasionally painted from life, but he often worked from drawings in his studio and used a camera obscura as a visual aid. He also exercised great selectivity about what details to include and which to omit to make a coherent and engagingly attractive picture.


Late in the eighteenth century there was a revival in classical antiquity spurred by the concepts of rational thought, and excavations of Pompeii and Herculaneum that began in 1738 and 1748. Neoclassicism was a movement that incorporated the subjects and styles of ancient art. The artwork and architecture from this time demonstrate the traditions of liberty, civic virtue, morality and sacrifice, and served as ideal models during a period of political upheaval. The ancient world became the focus of scholarly attention.

Angelica Kauffmann (1741-1807)

Cornelia Presenting her Children as her Treasures, 1785

Angelica Kauffman created images of simple figure types in homely situations but transformed the “natural” scenes with Neoclassical taste for antiquity. She was a student of Joshua Reynolds and a founding member of the Royal Academy of the Arts. Cornelia Presenting her Children as her Treasures is a painting drawn from Greek and Roman history in similar temple setting. The theme is moral as one lady shows off her fine jewelery while Cornelia shows off her children as her treasures. There is a simplicity and firmness similar to low relief carving. The soft lighting removes any sense of true drama that would have been emphasized in the earlier Baroque and the contrasting Rococo styles.

Antonio Canova (1757-1822)


Antonio Canova Pauline Borghese as Venus, 1808

In sculpture, classical models were prevalent under Napoleon. Antonio Canova left a successful career in Italy to settle in Paris. In the sculpture of Pauline Borghese, the sister of Napoleon, Canova initially had suggested depicting her as Diana, goddess of the hunt, but she insisted on being a representation of Venus. The theme is derived from Greek and Roman Art and shares many similarities to early Roman and Etruscan sarcophagi and Titian's Venus of Urbino. Pauline was known as being very promiscuous and had many affairs after her arranged marriage to a Noble Roman Family. The sculpture was kept secretive by the official patron, her husband.

Jacques-Louis David (1748-1825)

All lingering echos of Rococo disappear in Jacques-Louis David’s work. David was a painter and ideologist of the French Revolution and Napoleonic Empire. He openly rebelled against the Rococo and “artificial taste.” He desired to elevate the classical ideals of beauty of perfect form and order but is still influenced by the naturalism of the Enlightenment. He believed that the subjects and themes in art should have moral ideals and “should be presented so that the marks of heroism and civic virtue offered the eyes of the people will electrify its soul, and plant the seeds of glory and devotion to the fatherland.”

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Jacques-Louis David Oath of the Horatii, 1784

Oath of the Horatii depicts a story from the Pre-Republican Rome, the heroic phase of Roman history. The story is of conflict between love and patriotism recounted by Roman historian Livy. The narrative recounts that the two cities were to settle their conflict by sending representatives from each side to face off rather than destroy each other through war. The Horatius brothers were pitted against the Curatius brothers even when one of the Horatii was set to marry one of the Curatii and one of the Horatii sisters was married to a Curatius.

The story of the Horatii would have been readily identified by the public at the time. The theme and subject matter is of patriotism and sacrifice. The style presents the figures as statuesque in a highly structured composition. It was painted under royal patronage but the style and subject matter became a symbol of the voice of the French Revolution. During the revolution, David was involved in creating propaganda and organizing political pageants and ceremonies to promote the revolution and educate the public.

Jaques-Louis David The Death of Marat, 1793

The Death of Marat recorded an important event to the revolution and provided inspiration and encouragement to the forces. Jean Paul Marat was a radical, a writer, and David’s personal friend. He was stabbed to death by Charlotte Corday, who was from a rival political faction, while he sat in his medicinal bath, soothing a particularly painful skin disease. David depicts the muder scene with clarity and directness. He organizes the composition toward the bottom with an oppressive negative space and elevates the narrative details: the writing quill, knife, wound, and letter. The pose reminds us of Michelangelo’s Pieta and gives Marat a heroic sense of martyrdom.

Jacques-Louis David The Coronation of Napoleon, 1805-08

David was imprisoned during the Revolution and after his release in 1795, he worked hard to resurrect his career. Napoleon Bonaparte had exploited the revolutionary disarray and ascended to power. Napoleon offered him a position as First Painter of the Empire. The Coronation of Napoleon documents Napoleon’s coronation in December of 1804. It is a monumental piece measuring 20 x 32 feet. David was subsequently used to construct Napoleon’s public image. David worked to portray the images with accuracy, but changed things per Napoleon’s request.

In The Coronation of Napoleon, the Pope raises his hand in blessing, which never happened. Napoleon's mother is depicted in attendance when she refused to be there, and other compositional and narrative liberties were also taken. David retains the structured composition and, similar to the image of Justinian in Ravenna, Napoleon is depicted between the Church to the right and the imperial court to the left. Napoleon chose to crown himself over concern about the relationship between church and state. Napoleon also embraced links to the past and classical sources of symbolic authority which developed in all forms of art during his reign.

David’s stature and the popularity of Neoclassicism led David to take on many students. He demanded that his students select strictly classical subjects which extended the Neoclassical tradition. Though he was demanding, he still encouraged students to find their own artistic identities.

Antoine-Jean Gros (1771-1835)


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Antoine-Jean Gros Napoleon at the Pesthouse at Jaffa, 1804

Antoine-Jean Gros was a student of David, but took on his own style and eventually became a major painter for Napoleon. He was commissioned to paint Napoleon’s response to an outbreak of the bubonic plague. Napoleon looks confident amid the death and decay. He makes reference to Napoleon’s healing touch. Napoleon had actually ordered his stricken troops to be poisoned and this painting was a form of damage control. The painting is formally structured much like David’s paintings. The painting also presents the fascination with the exotic Near East and emotive rendering of the scene which moves toward the style of Romanticism.

Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres (1780-1867)

Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres was another of David’s students but was short lived as he disagreed in matters of style. He adopted what he believed to be a truer and purer Greek style than that employed by David. He adopted the linear forms from those he found on Greek vase painting. His figures were thus placed typically in the foreground like low relief sculpture.

Jean-Augueste-Dominique Ingres Apotheosis of Homer, 1827

Apotheosis of Homer is a single statement of the ideal form and Neoclassical taste. The scene shows generations of artists who remained true to classical style. Raphael’s School of Athens may have had an influence on the subject and composition. As Ingres developed as an artist, he turned more to Raphael and shunned the turn to the Romantic and the Realistic styles that developed.

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Jean-Augueste-Dominique Ingres Grande Odalisque, 1814

Grande Odalisque further demonstrates Ingres's commitment to ideal form and careful compositional structure. The reclining nude is a traditionally classical concept. Ingres however demonstrates a debt to mannerists in the elongated body and proportions. The setting further demonstrates the thematic interest in Orientalism. Orientalism refers to the taste for the exotic that had been flooding the collector's market with colonial expansion and trade.

Ingres's combination of classical form with Romantic themes led to extreme criticism until the mid 1820s when Eugene Delacroix appeared on the scene. He then came to see himself as a conservator of good and true art and a protector of line and order while criticising the later Romantic movements.


Architecture served as a vehicle for consolidating authority through its public presence. Neoclassical architecture became streamlined and balanced which was meant to symbolize good, democratic government.

Jacques-Germain Soufflot Pantheon1755-1792

Soufflot's Pantheon is a testament to the revived interest in Greek and Roman cultures. This structure is the first revelation of Roman grandeur in France. It formally melds Gothic engineering with a classical style.

Pierre Vignon The Church of La Madeleine, 1807-42

The Church of La Madeleine in Paris was intended as the "temple of glory" for Napoleon’s armies and as a monument to the newly won glories of France. It was later reverted to a church. The structure actually hides 3 domes as the interior and the exterior have different styles.

Richard Boyle and William Kent Chiswick House, 1725

In England, Richard Boyle and Willam Kent also demonstrate the Neoclassical stylistic tastes. Chiswick House holds an association with morality, rationality, integrity and democracy, appreciated by England as well. The architects looked to the order of Vitruvius and Andrea Palladio, recalling the Palladian Villa Rotonda. The baroque interior stands in contrast to the classical order of the exterior.

Robert Adam Etruscan Room, 1761

Robert Adam became well known for his 18th-century neoclassical interiors that were also directly inspired by the newly discovered Pompeii. Etruscan Room Demonstrates direct stylistic influences form early Pompeiian murals.

In America, the qualities of neoclassicism similarly represented morality, idealism, patriotism and civic virtue that led to the revolutionary aspirations of the new American republic.

Thomas Jefferson Monticello, 1770-1806

Thomas Jefferson admired Palladio and read carefully his Four Books of Architecture; he also studied architecture and city planning in France. He designed his own home, Monticello, inspired by Palladio and similar to the Chiswick House in England.

Jefferson also played a large part in the original plans for Washington, DC, around 1800. Jefferson continued his plan of a classical style for the capital, Washington DC. The final plan was conducted by Major Pierre L’Enfant. Though Jefferson appreciated Roman style, he replaced many of the Roman symbols with American ones. The Roman eagle turned to the bald eagle, acanthus leaves on the columns turned into corn, and the sculpted representation of Liberty was constructed without her original attire and with a liberty cap and holding a constitution.


There was a vast appeal of Neoclassicism due to its reinforcement of the concepts of the Enlightenment, though Rousseau’s ideas were the predominant influence on a "romantic" style, Romanticism. According to Rousseau, “Man is born free, but is everywhere in chains!” There was an overwhelming desire by many for freedom in every form which had its effect on visual form. The path to freedom was through imagination rather than reason and functioned through feeling rather than through thinking. The Romanticists showed interest in the Medieval and in the sublime as those were the “dark ages” shrouded in mystery.

Giovanni Battista Piranesi (1720-1778)

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Givoanni Battista Piranesi The Round Tower: Plate 3 of Carceri, 1749

The Round Tower comes from a series of prints done of imaginary prisons. They are romatic visions of complicated architectural spaces. Piranesi emphasizes these spaces as overwhelming in their menace and hopelessness. At the end of the Rococo era, these demonstrate a dark and sinister side of the Rococo.

Henry Fuseli (1741-1825)

Henry Fuseli The Nightmare, 1781

Henry Fuseli's artwork specialized in night moods of horror and dark fantasy. He contrived a very distinctive manner to describe fantasies of his vivid imagination. The Nightmare plays on a pun because of the horse. He continually makes an attempt to map the dark terrain of the human subconscious which influences artists in the 20th century. There are elements of neoclassicism but in subject and pose the painting can still be integrated with romantic themes.

William Blake (1757-1827)

William Blake Ancient of Days, 1794

William Blake was a poet, painter and engraver. He often incorporated classical references as he admired Greek art. He was especially drawn to the middle ages and derived inspiration from many of his poems and dreams. He believed more in the spiritual side of humanity than the rational. In Ancient of Days, Blake's depiction of God leans forward from a fiery orb and unleashes his power on earth in rays of light forming an architect’s measuring instrument.

Franscisco Goya (1746-1828)

Franscisco Goya was a Spaniard who dismissed the Neoclassical for a more romantic style. His work often deals with strong historical and personal statements. Gwyn Williams states, “As for the grotesque, the maniacal, the occult, the witchery, they are precisely the product of the sleep of human reason; they are human nightmare. That these monsters are human is, indeed, the point (Fineberg ?).”

Franscisco Goya The Sleep of Reason Produces Nightmares from Los Capricos, 1798

Goya often produced series of etchings. In The Sleep of Reason Produces Nightmares, certain symbols become apparent. Bats represent ignorance, owls folly. Goya looks inward to the emotions and creative process. This particular image is part of a complete series of satirical images of the time that can be viewed here: Los Capricos.

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Franscisco Goya The Family of Charles IV, 1800

Goya was appointed Painter to the King. The Family of Charles IV depicts King Charles IV, his queen and their children. The painting looks back to Velazquez who was his predecessor. There are mixed interpretations as to how this painting was received. At the time there was much turmoil in Spain as there was much dissatisfaction with Charles IV. The Spanish pushed for Ferdinand VII (Son of Charles IV) to step up. They soon enlisted the aid of Napoleon, who instead installed his brother on the Spanish throne, at which point the Spanish finally recognized the French as invaders. On May 2, 1808 the Spanish attacked the French.

Franscisco Goya The Third of May, 1808, 1814

The French response to the Spanish attack was an execution of many Spanish civilians. Goya produced an emotionally charged painting of the scene. The composition has a clear focus on the victims of the massacre. The firing squad is depicted as inhumane in that we don’t see their faces and they are rigid and methodical in their stance. Goya demonstrates his power of driving narrative using darks and lights. Following the civil war, Goya next painted for Ferdinand VII who soon took back the throne but he in turn restored an authoritarian monarchy like his father. The atrocities of war did not stop, and Goya depicted them in a series of etchings: Disasters of War

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Franscisco Goya Saturn Devouring One of His Children, 1819-23

Toward the end of his life, Goya became disillusioned and pessimistic. He became isolated and produced a series of frescos called the Black Paintings. They were painted for personal viewing and therefore could be an insight into his personal beliefs at the time. They have been interpreted as the despair over passages of time as his painting, Saturn, Kronos (Saturn) sounds much like the Greek word for time. All of these paintings describe intense emotive impact.

Théodore Géricault (1791-1824)

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Théodore Géricault Raft of the Medusa, 1818-19

Théodore Géricault was a French Romantic. His work abandons the idealism of neoclassicism in favor of a commentary on an actual historic event in Raft of the Medusa. The painting depicts a shipwreck that took place off the African coast in 1816 due to the incompetence of the captain who was politically appointed to the ship. 150 survived and made a make-shift raft that drifted for 12 days and there were only 15 survivors when the raft was spotted and rescued.

Géricault took 8 months to complete the work and he pushed for naturalism and realistic documentation by doing studies from body parts from the morgue, interviewing the survivors, and even creating a model of the raft. The painting depicts an "X" shaped composition with a mass of bodies. Some have interpreted this painting as a comment on the practice of slavery as there is a black soldier at the top of the heap of bodies flagging down the ship. Géricault indeed mixes his realistic study with emotive impact.

Théodore Géricault Insane Woman, 1822-23

Portraits of the irrational were common for those looking to rationalize the world around them. The romantics studied the insane, whose sprit they appreciated and whom they believed to be closer to nature and emotion in their madness. Such paintings by Géricault and others demonstrate the continued connection between the Romantic tradition and the empiricism of the enlightenment.

Eugène Delacroix (1798-1863)

Eugène Delacroix was the polar opposite of Ingres and was stated as such during their time. There was a heated rivalry between them on the artistic debate over line versus color. Products of Delacroix's view were the powers of imagination would in turn capture and inflame the viewer’s imagination, a fairly romantic view of the painting process.

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Eugene Delacroix Death of Sardanapalus, 1826

Delacroix's Death of Sardanapalus demonstrates the grand drama of romantic painting. It illustrates the last hour of the Assyrian king where he had his concubines and possessions brought into his chamber to be sacrificed before he too committed suicide by fire. The painting melds together many elements of romantic tradition: drama, antiheros, emotion, historical events and orientalism.

Eugene Delacroix Liberty Leading the People, 1830

The Revolution of 1830, where the Parisians rose up against the rule of Charles X, was depicted allegorically by Delacroix in his painting, Liberty Leading the People. In the painting, Liberty charges with the republic’s tri-color banner. In the revolution, all social types are banded together to rise up and are depicted here together: a freed slave, a boy, and an intellectual dandy. There is smoke and haze as they are in the heat of battle standing over the martyred. This painting became an iconic image of French democratic freedom.

Eugène Delacroix Tiger Hunt, 1854

As a true romantic, Delacroix sought out oriental experiences. He visited North Africa where he discovered Moroccans, landscapes, and wild animals. With this inspiration, he painted many romantic conflicts of these wild beasts with men and with other beasts. His sense of painting directly with color influenced future generations dramatically, as it gives off an improvisational and instinctive technique. His technique would be to work his paintings as a whole rather than starting with a technically precise drawing. This often gave way to furious working methods that matched the drama of his compositions.

François Rude (1784-1855)

François Rude La Marseillaise, 1833-36

François Rude's La Marseillaise, located on the Arc de Triomphe on the western end of the Champs Elysées in Paris, depicts an allegory of the glories of revolutionary France. The sculpture depicts classically dressed heroes personifying the people who fought in 1792. The relief is characterized by violence, motion, overlapping masses, and a composition too chaotic to be considered classical. 

Romantic Landscape

In the 18th century, landscape emerged as a fully independent and respected genre, no longer suordinate to history painting and portraiture. The notion of the picturesque with an aesthetic mood and the poetic nature of landscape tying into the emotion of the viewer helped to elevate this painting theme under Rousseauian ideals.

Caspar David Friedrich (1774-1840)

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Caspar David Friedrich Abbey in the Oak Forest, 1810

The Germans believed in nature as “the living garment of God.” German painter Caspar David Friedrich found transcendent meanings arrived through the feelings that landscapes inspired. For him, landscapes were temples and the paintings were altarpieces. In Abbey in the Oak Forest he depicts the ruins of a Gothic church with its almost skeletal remains. Freidrich himself states, “Why, it has often occurred to me to ask myself, do I so frequently choose death, transience, and the grave as subjects for my paintings? One must submit oneself many times to death in order some day to attain life everlasting (Kleiner ?).” The painting lacks the theatricality of the French romantics, but speaks to a deeper meditative impact.

John Constable (1776-1837)

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John Constable The Haywain, 1821

The Industrial Revolution in England led to a growth of urban centers and a displacement of the rural peoples and disillusion of the people involved. John Constable's paintings look toward the pastoral in a poetic, romantic way. The Haywain depicts a placid, picturesque scene of the countryside. The muted colors are treated with delicacy. The farmers are depicted as having a oneness with nature that poets sought. The painting gives a true sense of reality from the meticulous studies he would do from nature. The painting thus also has a sort of nostalgic air during a time of social turmoil, much like later paintings created by Norman Rockwell.

Joseph Mallord William Turner (1775-1851)

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Joseph Mallord William Turner The Slave Ship, 1840

Joseph Mallord William Turner was another English painter who created work that responded to industrialization. His turbulent paintings are often described as consisting of “frothy” pigment. They combine a sense of awe mixed with terror -- qualities referred to as a confrontation with the sublime. His painting of The Slave Ship is based on accounts of a captain who, in finding that he would not be reimbursed for slaves unless lost at sea, had the sick and dying thrown overboard. The scale of the human forms and the ship in relation to the painting’s seascape shows the forces of nature and allows for Turner to be expressive with the emotive impact through his use of pure color. His hazy brushwork and emotive style directly influenced the Impressionists of the next generation, as well as the abstract painters of the mid-20th century. 

Thomas Cole (1801-1848)

Thomas Cole The Oxbow, 1836

In America, landscape was beneficial as much of the country was uninhabited and the desires of manifest destiny were at work. Thomas Cole comes from a group of painters that came to be known as the Hudson River Valley School, who focused mostly on the landscape of the area. In the paintings from this school, man is often dwarfed by the scale of the landscape.

Albert Bierstadt (1830-1902)

Albert Bierstadt Among the Sierra Nevada Mountains, California, 1868

Albert Bierstadt traveled west in 1858 and produced paintings of the Rocky Mountains, Yosemite Valley, and other sites in California. Among the Sierra Nevada Mountains, California is a panoramic view measuring nearly ten feet wide. It calls attention to the uniqueness of the region and the ideas of manifest destiny. His major patrons tended to be those interested in moving westward.

Fredric Edwin Church (1826-1900)

Fredric Edwin Church Twilight in the Wilderness 1860s

Fredric Church was also associated with the Hudson River Valley School. He traveled all over the world and depicted scenes of the Romantic sublime. Twilight in the Wilderness is another panoramic view painted during The Civil War in the United States. Despite the war, there is no sense of turbulence or discord.


Architecture seems to have taken on a very eclectic nature. The expansion of territory and trade along with the influences of the Industrial Revolution allowed architects to incorporate the influences of the many cultures that they were encountering in the world along with the advances in materials such as iron and steel.

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Charles Barry and AWN Pugin, Houses of Parlament, 1835

John Nash, Royal Pavilion, 1815-1818

JL Charles Garnier The Paris Opera, 1861-74


Henri Labrouste, reading room of the Biblioteque Sainte Genevieve, 1843-1850

Joseph Paxton, Crystal Palace, 1850-1851

These architectural monuments are all examples of the innovation of the time, both stylistically and industrially. The final one, The Crystal Palace by Joseph Paxton, demonstrates a culmination of design and industry as it housed the First International Exposition of the Industry of all Nations, staged in Hyde Park, London, an exposition that continues to this day.


This module was produced by Professor Josh Yavelberg utilizing a mixture of open educational resources and notes from:
Kleiner, Fred. Gardner's Art through the Ages: The Western Perspective,|. Vol. 2. Cengage Learning, 2013.

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