Chapter Eleven
and Rococo
The Claims of Reason and the Excesses of Privilege
The English Enlightenment
• After the Great Fire that devastated London in 1666, architect
Christopher Wren proposed a grand redesign scheme that would have
replaced the old city with wide boulevards and great squares
• Although his plans to redesign the entire London city center proved
impractical, he did receive the commission to build 52 of the churches
destroyed in the blaze
• His St. Paul’s Cathedral rises above them all, a complex yet orderly
synthesis of the major architectural styles of the previous 150 years:
classical Gothic, Renaissance, and Baroque
Christopher Wren,
St. Paul’s Cathedral
The New Rationalism
and the Scientific Revolution
The new London was, in part, the result of the empirical thinking that
came to dominate the Western imagination in the late seventeenth
According to these new ways of reasoning, Scientia, the Latin word for
“knowledge,” was to be found in the world, not in religious belief
The leading advocate of the empirical method in the seventeenth
century was Francs Bacon, who, along with a group of men, formed “The
Royal Society of London for Improving Natural Knowledge.” Their
organization continues to this day as the Royal Society
As opposed to Bacon’s inductive reasoning, René Descartes proceeded to
his conclusions by the opposite method of deductive reasoning
The Scientific Revolution
Johannes Kepler, a German mathematician, had made detailed records of
the movements of the planets, substantiating Copernicus’s theory that
the cosmos was heliocentric (sun-centered), not geocentric (earthcentered)
Kepler’s friend Galileo Galilei had improved the design and magnification
of the telescope
Dutch lensmaker Antoni van Leeuwenhoek was able to grind a lens that
magnified 200 times, quite a jump from the earlier compound
microscope that was able to magnify objects only about twenty or thirty
times their natural size
Isaac Newton computed the law of universal gravitation in a precise
mathematical equation, demonstrating that each and every object exerts
an attraction to a greater or lesser degree on all other objects
Joseph Wright, An Experiment
on a Bird in the Air-Pump
Oil on canvas, 6'  8', 1768
Soon experiments
demonstrating the laws of
physics became a popular
form of entertainment
This painting depicts a
scientist depriving a white
cockatoo of oxygen by
creating a vacuum in the
glass above the pump
The children are clearly upset
by the bird’s imminent death
The Industrial Revolution
From 1765 until 1815, a group of prominent manufacturers, inventors, and
naturalists known as the Lunar Society met in and around Birmingham
each month on the night of the full moon to discuss chemistry, medicine,
electricity, gases, and any and every topic that might prove fruitful for
Many of their inventions and innovations launched the Industrial
Josiah Wedgwood pioneered a new production process for the
manufacture of ceramic ware, greatly increasing the speed of production
The flying shuttle (John Kay), the water frame (Richard Arkwright), the
steam engine (James Watt), and the use of coke to fire cast iron (Abraham
Darby I and Abraham Darby III) revolutionized the textile and
metalworking industries
Absolutism Versus Liberalism:
Hobbes and Locke
• Following the Civil War led by Oliver Cromwell and the subsequent
Restoration of a greatly disempowered monarchy, one of the most
pressing issues of the day was how best to govern the nation
• Thomas Hobbes argued in Leviathan that the people needed to
submit to the authority of a ruler to prevent anarchy. The social
contract gives up individual sovereignty in exchange for protection
from depravity
• John Locke argued that a ruler has limited authority; if the ruler fails
to protect the people’s rights, then the people have the right to rebel
and reclaim their freedom from government
John Milton’s Paradise Lost
• The debate between absolutism and liberalism also informs what is
arguably the greatest English poem of the seventeenth century,
Milton’s Paradise Lost
• The subject of the poem is the Judeo-Christian story of the loss of
Paradise by Adam and Eve and their descendents
• However, it also clearly deals with the issues of rule and liberty
outlined by Hobbes and Locke that were such divisive concerns of
England in the seventeenth century
Satire: Enlightenment Wit
• The orderly society of George I and his prime minister, Robert
Walpole, demonstrated what is probably the fundamental principle
of Enlightenment thought—that social change and political reform
were both desirable and possible
• Thoughtful commentators who looked beneath the surface
detected a cauldron of social ferment and moral bankruptcy—the
“dark side” of the Enlightenment
• Satirists like William Hogarth, Jonathan Swift, and Alexander Pope
sought by means of irony and humor to return England to its proper
William Hogarth, Gin Lane
Engraving and etching, 14"  11-7/8", 1751
• By 1743, thousands of Londoners
were addicted to gin, their sole
means of escape from a life of
• Hogarth emphasizes the reality
of London at its worst
• Hogarth recognized that his work
appealed to a large popular
audience, and that by
distributing engravings he might
make a comfortable living
Jonathan Swift
• Jonathan Swift was perhaps the most biting satirist of the English
• After a modestly successful career as a satirist in the first decade of
the eighteenth century, Swift in 1713 was named Dean of Saint
Patrick’s Cathedral in Dublin
• In Gulliver’s Travels (1726), which played off the travel adventure
narrative, Swift commented on human behavior
• Reacting to the terrible poverty he saw in Ireland, in the brief, almost
fanatically savage A Modest Proposal (1729), Swift proposed that Irish
families who could not afford to feed their children breed them to be
butchered and served to the English
Alexander Pope
• A classical poet whose early work involved translating and editing
Homer and Shakespeare, Pope became a wealthy man due to the
popularity of his work
• In 1727 he turned to satire, producing The Dunciad, which opens
with a direct attack on King George II
• Against what he believed to be the debased English court, in An
Essay on Man (1732-1734) he argues for honesty, charity,
selflessness, and the order, harmony, and balance of the classics
• In the end, for Pope, humankind must strive for good, even if in its
frailty it is doomed to fail
Literacy and the Rise of the
English Novel
• By 1750, at least 60 percent of adult men and 50 percent of adult
women in England could read
• Although not invented in eighteenth-century England (Cervantes’s
Don Quixote, written a century earlier, is considered the first novel in
Western literature), novels flourished. Read by people of every
social class, they claimed to be realistic portrayals of contemporary
life and provided respite from the drudgery of everyday life,
certainly a healthier addiction than drinking gin
• Among the more popular novelists of that time were Samuel
Richardson (Pamela), Henry Fielding (Shamela), Daniel Defoe
(Robinson Crusoe, Moll Flanders), and Jane Austen (Pride and
The Enlightenment in France
• All hôtels, or Paris townhouses, of the French nobility had a salon, a
room designed especially for social gatherings
• These salons became the center of French culture in the eighteenth
century, and by 1850 they were emulated across Europe
• The most influential Parisian thinkers of the day, the so-called
philosophes, frequented the salons and dominated the intellectual
life of the French Enlightenment
• Not philosophers in the strict sense of the word because they did
not concentrate on matters metaphysical, the philosophes turned
their attention to secular and social concern
Germain Boffrand,
Salon de la Princesse de Soubise
Hôtel de Soubise, Paris, ca. 1740
The Rococo
• The decorative style fostered by the French court in the eighteenth
century and quickly emulated by royal courts across Europe was
known as the Rococo
• The term is thought to derive from the French rocaille, a type of
decorative rockwork made from rounded pebbles and shells. But it
also derives from barocco, the Italian word for “baroque”
• Rococo is an artistic style in all media that is associated with
decorative elaboration, employing S- and C-curves, shell, wing, scroll,
and plant tendril forms, and rounded, convex, often asymmetrical
The Fêtes Galantes
• The fêtes galantes are paintings whose subject matter is generally
gallant, amorous celebrations by elite groups in pastoral settings
• Such works epitomize Rococo painting
– Subject matter often frivolous
– Generally asymmetrical
– Color range is light, emphasizing gold, silver, and pastels
• The Rococo found its most eloquent expression in France in the
paintings of Jean-Antoine Watteau, ironic because he did not have
aristocratic patrons and was little known during his lifetime beyond
a small group of bourgeois buyers
Jean-Antoine Watteau,
The Embarkation from Cythera
Oil on canvas, 50¾"  76-3/8", ca. 1718-1719
Madame de Pompadour
• Madame de Pompadour was born into a middle-class family. A great
defender of the philosophes, she was also mistress to Louis XV
• She was the king’s trusted advisor and the subject of many erotic paintings
done at court depicting her as Venus
• Madame de Pompadour’s favorite artist was François Boucher, Watteau’s
heir as master of fêtes galantes
• Two views of Madame underscore the dual roles (intellectual and erotic)
that she played in the French court
François Boucher
Madame de Pompadour
The Toilet of Venus
Oil on canvas, 79-1/8"  61-7/8", 1756
Oil on canvas, 42-5/8"  33-1/8", 1751
Jean-Honoré Fragonard
• Jean-Honoré Fragonard, a student of Boucher, took Rococo
principles into the next generation
• His most famous work, The Swing, suggests an erotic intrigue
between young lovers (supposedly emblematic of Louis XV and his
mistress, Madame du Barry)
• The composition permits the viewer to share, somewhat, the young
man’s voyeuristic pleasure
• Subtly, and ironically, the composition echoes the central panel of
Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel, the Creation of Adam. The male
lover assumes Adam’s position, and the female lover God’s,
although she reaches toward Adam with her foot, not her hand
Jean-Honoré Fragonard, The Swing
Oil on canvas, 32-5/8"  26“, 1767
The English Garden
• Becoming popular in England beginning in about 1720, such gardens
tried to imitate rural nature
• Instead of the straight, geometrical layout of the French garden, the
walkways of the English garden are “serpentine meanders”
• Inspiration for such gardens was found in the writings of Roman
authors and seventeenth-century landscape paintings by Claude Lorrain
• These gardens, in turn, inspired the landscapes of Watteau’s fêtes
galantes and Fragonard’s The Swing
"Garden as Landscape"
Video will play automatically.
From Landscape: The Invention of Nature (length: 2:26). Item #36454
The Philosophes
• Most philosophes were Deists,
great believers in natural law and
generally opposed to organized
religion and monarchy
• The philosophes had a simple
proposition, stated plainly by
Diderot: “Men will not be free
until the last king is strangled
with the entrails of the last
• Notable philosophes included
Denis Diderot, Jean-Jacques
Rousseau, and François-Marie
Arouet (Voltaire)
Jean-Baptiste-Siméon Chardin,
A Philosopher Occupied with His Reading
Oil on canvas, 54-3/8”  41-3/8”, 1734
Diderot and the Encyclopédie
• The crowning achievement of the philosophes was the Encyclopédie,
a 35-volume text, written between 1750 and 1772 by more than 180
writers. Its editors were Denis Diderot and Jean le Rond d’Alembert
• It represents a fundamental principle of the Enlightenment: to
accumulate, codify, and preserve human knowledge
• The work was unpopular in the French court; Louis XV claimed that
it was doing “irreparable damage to morality and religion” and twice
banned its printing
• Funded by 4,000 subscribers, the Encyclopédie was probably read by
100 times that number
Rousseau and the Social Contract
• Rousseau believed in the natural goodness of humankind, but also
thought that goodness was corrupted by society and civilization
• “Man is born free, and everywhere he is in chains” is the famous
opening line of his work, The Social Contract, in which he describes an
ideal state governed by a somewhat mystical “General Will” of the
• Rousseau was not a social being, even though his writings on social
issues were among the most influential of the age. He ultimately
withdrew from society altogether, suffering increasingly acute attacks
of paranoia, and died insane
Voltaire and French Satire
• A voluminous writer in multiple genres, Voltaire, the pen name of
François-Marie Arouet, was a witty, well-schooled, distinguished
ornament to several courts, embodying his era for many
• Even as he was supported by Louis XV and Frederick the Great, he
satirized them and their courts, earning himself stints in prison or
• Freedom of thought was most important to him, as seen in his most
famous work, Candide, a prose satire based in part on the
philosophical optimism of Alexander Pope’s Essay on Man
Cross-Cultural Contact
• The impact of the Enlightenment’s encounters with other cultures
should not be underestimated
• During the eighteenth century, China was still the largest empire in
the world and, in many respects, it was more advanced than any
society in the West and its people better educated
• In India, religious tolerance supported a society in which Christians,
Jews, Hindus, Buddhists, and others were invited to debate with
Muslim scholars
The South Pacific
• Both Chinese and Indian cultures were relatively well known in Europe
in the eighteenth century, but the South Seas remained unexplored
• On August 26, 1768, Captain James Cook, sponsored by the Royal
Society and the British Admiralty, set sail from Plymouth, England, for
the South Pacific in order to chart the transit of Venus, the moment
when the planet Venus crosses directly between the sun and the earth
• The philosophes, notably Diderot, had argued that the natives of Tahiti
were truly Rousseau’s “noble savages.” Cook, on his return, took
exception to this picture, pointing out the highly stratified social
hierarchy, the private ownership of island property, and the morally
strict sexual lives of the Tahitians
Francis Parkinson,
Portrait of a Maori
Wash drawing, 15½"  11-5/8", 1769
• One of the most distinctive art
forms that Cook and his crew
encountered in Polynesia was
• The islanders believed that
individuals were imbued with
mana, a spiritual substance that
is the manifestation of the gods
on earth
• A person might increase his or
her mana by wearing certain
items of dress, including tattoos
Europe’s Chinoiserie Craze
• By 1715 every major European trading nation had an office in Canton
• Chinese goods—porcelains, wallpapers, carved ivory fans, boxes,
lacquerware, and patterned silks—flooded the European markets,
creating a widespread taste for what quickly became known as
chinoiserie, meaning “all things Chinese”
• Artists such as Boucher imitated the Chinese blue-on-white style in oil
paint, and chinoiserie furniture was especially popular
• The Chinese Pagoda in London’s Kew Gardens became a model for a
whole new kind of garden architecture
Islamic India
• The synthesis of indigenous art traditions with Western conventions is
apparent in Indian art
• The reason has much to do with the tolerance practiced by India’s Muslim
leaders in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries
• A group known as the Moguls had established a strong empire, promoting
a synthesis of religious and artistic traditions: Hindu art (and religion),
Islamic art, especially influenced from Tabriz in Persia, and Western art
• The British East India Company, which had exclusive trading rights in the
East Indies, provided the force behind the growing interest in portraiture
Bichitr, Jahangir Seated on an
Allegorical Throne
Watercolor, gold, and ink on paper, 10"  7-1/8", ca. 1625
• The Mogul ruler Jahangir,
whose name means “World
Seizer,” is seated between
the two pillars
• The stiff formality of the
figures, depicted in profile
facing left and right toward a
central axis, make a sharp
contrast to the variety of
faces with different racial
and ethnic features

Chapter Eleven Enlightenment and Rococo