An Age of Enlightenment


The Swing by Jean-Honoré Fragonard

This is a painting by Jean-Honoré Fragonard in the French Rococo style which comes out of the 18th century. Though it is not as opulent as the early 17th century style, it is still lavish. It is interesting to begin the 18th century with this painting from France. The subjects of the painting are of the upper class and seem care free. By the end of the 18th century in France, the monarchy and the total social order had been overthrown by the French Revolution. The 18th century saw the birth of the Enlightenment and a call for rational thought. It also saw monarchs like Louis XIV and Louis XV of France who were some of the most powerful monarchs in Europe. Yet by the end of the century, a drastic shift occurred in history. The French Revolution shook up Europe so powerfully that it marks the end of the Early Modern period and the beginning of the Modern period we know today.

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The Reader by Jean-Honoré Fragonard

This painting is also by Fragonard who painted The Swing. It shows a young woman reading a book. This displays the increased general knowledge during the day. Women as well as men were reading more and debating in intellectual circles about new philosophies or scientific theories. 


A Rake's Progress: The Gaming House by William Hogarth

A Rake's Progress takes us away from France and away from the upper classes. This painting by William Hogarth shows the less refined society of Europe, and comes to us from England. The painting was actually originally an engraving, in a series of eight showing the fall of an immoral man, or rake, into poverty and poor society. In this painting, the rake is in a gambling houe, losing his fortune among other immoral men. The fact that the paintings were engravings allowed them to be printed and widely circulated. This speaks to the growing popular culture that was emerging during the time.


The Oath of the Horatii by Jacques-Louis David

The last painting is of the oath of the Horattii who were Roman soldiers. Painted by David during the movement known as Neoclassicism, the painting encapsulates many trends of late 18th century. It is full of symbolism of the number three, which was important to the Enlightenment movement and also shows ancient Roman personages, which coincides with the movement to return to the simple style of the Ancient Greeks and Romans. If you think of buildings constructed during this time, they were built in a Greek or Roman style. A prime example are the early federal buildings in Washington D.C.

Now that you have looked at paintings from the Renaissance to the end of the 18th century, what do you think are the major way that art has change? How do you think art has reflected society over the centuries and how has the conection between and society changed?