The Enlightenment

Sejae Burey

Debbie Graham

Interdisciplinary Arts HU 2301-Online

Victory University

Week Five


The Enlightenment

            The Enlightenment refers to the period that began toward the middle of the 18th century. This period was marked by a new way of critical thinking about the world and humankind, independently of religion, myth, or tradition (Kleiner, 323). It was a period of profound optimism that was filled with the consequent shedding of old superstitions (Smart History).  According to Kleiner, the enlightenment encouraged and stimulated the habit and application of mind known as the ‘scientific method’ and fostered technological development (323). This was as a result of its thinkers who championed an approach of acquiring knowledge based on empirical observation and scientific experiment (327).


The Enlightenment period greatly influenced art. Its ideals and products were profoundly expressed by artists, including those who were merely images of the period or those who were influenced by the principles that governed the period. The Enlightenment is seen in Joseph Wright of Derby’s painting such as A Philosopher Giving a Lecture at the Orrery ca. 1763-1765, which embodies progress of knowledge, science, and technology. Other pieces included the work of Rousseau who argued that arts, sciences, society and civilization in general had corrupted ‘natural man’ (328). His views influenced turn from Rococo which is evident in Jean-Baptiste-Siméon Chardin’s Saying Grace. Saying Grace 1740 portrays a quiet domestic scene aloof form corrupt society.  The ‘naturalistic’ impulse of the period is manifested in Élisabeth Louise Vigée-Lebrun’s Self-Portrait 1790. The painting is natural simple and in essence the opposite of Rococo. The Enlightenment also redefined ‘nobility’ and extended the concept form aristocratic birth to character. This is shown in Sir Joshua Reynolds’ Lord Heathfield 1787. Art such as The Grand Tour and Veduta Painting which covers depictions of Grand Tour, Italy, which is a natural depiction of a scene just reinforces how the ‘naturalness’ emitted during the period influences art.


Enlightenment thinkers condemned Rococo art for being immoral and indecent and strove for new art that was moral, natural and projected the ideals of the period. This was achieved, as a number of artists expressed this in their pieces.

Works Cited


1700-1800 Age of Enlightenment. n.d. electronic print. 23 September 2013. <>.

Kleiner, Fred S. Gardener’s Art through the Ages:A Concise Western History third edition. Boston: Wadsworth, 2014. Print


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