Historical Context and Major Features
The Dutch Protestants and the Flemish Catholics went their separate ways after the later sixteenth century. The situation is so completely different in Holland that it is difficult to imagine how, within such a tiny area, two such opposite artistic cultures could flourish.
Although closer in outlook to the Germans, the Dutch were ethnically the same as the Flemish, who were, in turn, closer in viewpoint to their neighbors to the south - the French. A Catholic, aristocratic, and traditional culture reigned in the Flanders of Rubens.
In Holland, severe Calvinistic Protestantism was puritanical toward religious art, sculptural or pictorial although many of the Dutch were Catholics, including a number of painters.
The churches were swept clean of images, and any recollection of the pagan myths, the material of Classicism, or even historical subjects, was prohibited in art.
During the Middle Ages and the Renaissance, religious subjects and, later, Classical and historical subjects had been the major stimuli for artistic activity.
Liberated of these sources, what remained to enrich the lives of wealthy Hollanders? For they were wealthy!
During the early part of Spanish rule, the Dutch, like the Flemish, prospered The East India Company was formed, and the discovery of the New World opened up further opportunities for trade and colonization. The wars of independence from Spain made Holland the major maritime country of Europe; its closest rival was England, another Protestant power in the times of the Spanish decline.
The great Dutch commercial cities, such as Haarlem and Amsterdam, had been stimulated and enriched, and civic pride was strong. Although it was not internationally recognized until the Peace of Westphalia in 1648, Holland in fact had been independent from Spain since about 1580 and was extremely proud of its hard-won freedom.
The Dutch are 'the envy of some, the fear of others, and the wonder of all their neighbours'. So wrote the English ambassador to the Dutch Republic, Sir William Temple, in 1673.
In the 17th century, the Dutch republic became an economic and military superpower. It was also an era in which Dutch science and arts blossomed. This era is usually referred to as the Dutch Golden Age.
Maurice Quentin de La Tour (5 September 1704 – 17 February 1788) was a French Rococo portraitist who worked primarily with pastels. Among his most famous subjects were Voltaire, Rousseau, Louis XV and Madame de Pompadour.
Contemporary accounts describe Quentin de La Tour's nature as lively, good-humoured, but eccentric. In many of his self-portraits he depicts himself smiling out from the frame towards the viewer and his artistic career he “seems to have produced more glad-faced self-portraits than any other artist” (1).
We chose this portrait as the personification of the Enlightenment and lets see why.
THE ENLIGHTENMENT, Philosophy and Society
The global expansion of European influence was matched by the extension of the boundaries of European knowledge that marks what has been called the Age of Enlightenment. It was in essence a new way of thinking critically about the world and about humankind, independently of revealed religion, of myth, and of tradition.
First comes the science.
We have observed (in the previous article on Baroque) its beginnings in the seventeenth century, with the mathematical and scientific achievements of Descartes, Pascal, Newton, and Leibnitz.
Throughout the century, England enjoyed great material prosperity generated by inventions industry and democratic and agriculture and by international trade.
THE EXPERIENCE OVER DOGMA - Doctrine of Empiricism
The middle-class, democratic values reflected in writings by Locke, whose works became almost the gospel of the Enlightenment. What we know, wrote Locke, comes to us through sense perception of the material world and is imprinted upon the mind as upon a blank tablet. From these perceptions alone we form ideas. Our ideas are not innate or God-given; it is only from experience that we can know (this is called the "doctrine of empiricism"). Human beings are born good, not cursed by original sin. The law of Nature grants them the natural rights of life, liberty, and property, as well as the right to freedom of conscience. Government is by contract, and its purpose is to protect these rights; if and when government abuses these rights we have the further natural right of revolution. (☝French Revolution 1789).
Happiness is to be gained by the rational pursuit of pleasure, which involves regard for the good of others. The founding documents of the United States clearly reflect these principles and these beliefs form the credo of American democracy. The work of Newton and Locke inspired the intellectuals of France.
What is HAPPINESS according to the 18th cent. philosopher?
English poet Alexander Pope, a contemporary of Voltaire had declared: "The proper study of mankind Man!" New philosophies of human beings and of society as part of physical nature were advanced thinkers in France. They criticized the powers of church and state as irrational limits placed upon political and intellectual freedom. They believed that, by the accumulation and propagation of knowledge, humanity could advance by degrees to a happier state than it had ever known. This conviction matured into the characteristically modern "doctrine of progress" and its corollary doctrine of the perfectibility of humankind. By the end of the century, the Marquis de Condorcet, in his Historical Picture of the Progress of the Human Mind, could make of the doctrine of progress a kind of religion of utopia.
THE ENCYCLOPEDIA 1745