Coffee, tea and biscuits are included on arrival and during half-time break
The Enlightenment was a watershed moment in European history, society and culture. Individual merit, thought and emotion were celebrated by thinkers such as Rousseau, Kant, Voltaire and Hume, challenging the established order, and economic power was slowly passing into the hands of a new, industrial class. Such upheavals inevitably generated new explorations in the arts – a fresh look at Nature in paint and country estates, projects for philanthropy as well as private splendour, and, in portraiture, a rising class and new family values.
“The series has been excellent. This is the third course I have attended of Nicole Mezey and I really enjoy her sessions. She is informative, interesting and her lectures are well structured”
After an overview of our themes, we will explore the country which was responsible for so much innovative thought, yet resisted it most profoundly: France. In the last generations of the monarchy, with control and patronage firmly in the hands of the court, and much inspired by Madame de Pompadour, painting and design were dedicated to upholding the established order.
A British phenomenon of the century, the Grand Tour was intended to refine callow young men to fulfil their future positions as pillars of society. Leading through France, Italy and maybe further afield, it provided a cultural education and the opportunity to acquire treasures which have become the bedrock of British artistic heritage.
Across Europe, the path of artistic success was increasingly both dictated and controlled through the development of the Academies – or it was, for men. Women were not admitted, and yet so many of them, from Angelica Kauffman to Elisabeth Vigée-Lebrun, surmounted such obstacles to become the most celebrated painters of the day. What does this tell us about the role of women and how does it relate to the birth of the novel?
We associate the 18th C with a great period of royal and aristocratic building but philanthropic instincts were also behind major architectural projects for public good, from hospitals to Foundling Homes, often embellished and supported by artistic donations. Among painters, the devastating satire of Hogarth became the moral commentary of the age.
A new sympathy for the natural world was a significant element of Enlightenment thought, and seen as a measure of harmony and perfection. For the first time, landscape became a focus not only for artists and poets, but for landowners who swept away their formal gardens in favour of the landscapes of Humphry Repton and Capability Brown.
Across Europe, architecture, craft and design all reflected new and extended trade routes, and, notably, contacts with the east stimulated the passion for Chinoiserie. Trade created new wealth, new sources, and a new market for consumer goods and the decorative arts, but also a growing unease, reflected and transmitted in the arts, at the importance of the slave trade to this prosperity.
For many, the light and gracious interiors of the 18th century are the epitome of taste and elegance, informed by studies of antiquity and the discovery of Pompei. Enlightened connoisseurship built remarkable collections of sculpture, painting and books and, for the first time, made these available to a wider audience through the foundation of public collections, from the British Museum to the Uffizi in Florence.
Long regarded as backward and alien, with the 18th century Russia became an acknowledged western power. We will examine the rise of the “Enlightened Despot” and their relationship to the arts, concentrating on Catherine the Great, with whom thought, building and collecting were not only to integrate Russia with European nations but to rival the best of them.
This is the great century of portraiture, of Goya, Batoni, Nattier, Reynolds, Gainsborough, Carriera …… among others. We will examine a selection of their work and the experience and society they captured as well as the art of Chardin, whose unassuming canvases synthesised the spirit of naturalism.
The century ends with the French Revolution and a European war and, in the face of the brutal overturn of the established order and the ravages of conflict, the ideals of Man ruled by Reason were difficult to sustain. This shift was mirrored and explored in the arts but, in summing up the Enlightenment, we will also look further ahead, to understand its enduring legacy.