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Dictionary of Art and Artists


The Early Modern Period

16th - 18th century


The smooth transition from the Middle Ages to the Modern Age is conventionally fixed on such events as the Reformation and the discovery of the "New World," which brought about the emergence of a new image of man and his world. Humanism, which spread out of Italy, also made an essential contribution to this with its promotion of a critical awareness of Christianity and the Church. The Reformation eventually broke the all-embracing power of the Church. After the Thirty Years' War, the concept of a universal empire was also nullified. The era of the nation-state began, bringing with it the desire to build up political and economic power far beyond Europe. The Americas, Africa, and Asia provided regions of expansion for the Europeans.

Proportions of the Human Figure by Leonardo da Vinci (drawing, ca. 1490)
is a prime example of the new approach of Renaissance
artists and scientists to the anatomy of the human body.



France: From the Wars of Religion to the Eve of the Revolution


Historical Context

1589 - 1610 Henry XIV King of France
1610 - 1643 Reign of Louis XIII
1643 -1715 Reign of Louis XIV
1715 - 1774 Reign of Louis XV
1774 - 1792 Reign of Louis XVI
1793 Loius XVI & Marie Antoinette tried for treason and beheaded


The Wars of Louis XIV

In his attempts to enlarge France's borders, Louis XIV drew other European states into a series of conflicts. The War of the Grand Alliance and the War of the Spanish Succession were inconclusive but nonetheless showed that France could not maintain its hegemony on the continent.


Louis XIV, with the help of his generals Conde, 1 Turenne, 2 Vauban, and Vendome, waged numerous wars of aggression.

1 Henri de La Tour d'Auvergne, Count of Turenne,
painting by
Charles Le Brun, 17th ñ

see also collection

Charles Le Brun

2 Plan of the city of Freiburg showing the
defenses established by Vauban,
ink sketch, 1685

Although territories were gained in the campaigns against Spain and the Netherlands—Spain, for example, was forced to relinquish Burgundy and parts of its Dutch territories in the Peace of Nijmegen in 1679—French expansionism led to a permanent alliance among the Habsburgs and most of the German princes, England, and the Netherlands. Louis used the death of the Palatinate elector as an opportunity to make hereditary claims in the name of his sister-in-law, Elizabeth Charlotte, duchess of Orleans.

In 1688 he occupied the Palatinate and other parts of the Holy Roman Empire, and in the process his armies pillaged a number of cities, including 4 Heidelberg.

4 The Castle of Heidelberg, seized by the French army during the War of the Grand Alliance

This aggression ensured the unity of the Grand Alliance against France. A drawn-out war followed, in which the French navy was destroyed by a combined Anglo-Dutch fleet, but France held its own on land. The 1697 Treaty of Ryswick did little other than restore the pre-war status quo.

The 5 War of Spanish Succession began in 1701 after the line of the Spanish Habsburgs died out, and the throne was claimed by both the Avistrian Habsburgs and the French Bourbons.

Louis wished to place his grandson, Philippe Duke of Anjou, on the Spanish throne, while the Habsburgs backed a non-Bourbon candidate. Despite the defeat of the French armies in the war that followed, Philippe was confirmed king of Spain in 1713 at the Peace of Utrecht. However, he was removed from the French line to prevent a union of France and Spain. The Austrian Habsburgs also gained most of the former Spanish territories  in the Low Countries and Italy.

5 Victory of the Austrians and British, led by Prince Eugene and the Duke of Marlborough, over the French army at Malplaquet, 1709

Prince Eugene of Savoy by Jacob van Schuppen.
Prince Eugene was the greatest of the Habsburg commanders.
He fought alongside Marlborough at   Blenheim, Oudenarde and Malplaquet.
The Duke of Marlborough was the commander of the English, Dutch and German forces.
He inflicted a crushing defeat on the French and Bavarians at the Battle of Blenheim.

Despite Louis XIV's attempts to expand his dominion through war and diplomacy, a policy that placed a 3 heavy burden on the French population, French supremacy was replaced by a new balance of power in Europe, with the Habsburgs and English kings able to counterbalance France.

3 Collecting the taxes: "The nobleman is the spider, the peasant the fly",
satirical cartoon, 17th ñ



Liselotte of the Palatinate

Princess Elizabeth Charlotte, "Madame," was married to Philippe I, duke of Orleans and brother of Louis XIV, in 1671. The completely unpretentious duchess was known as "Madame."

She had a difficult position at the French court alongside "Monsieur," her husband, who did not bother to conceal his numerous homosexual affairs.

She vented her anger in innumerable often caustic letters to her German relatives: "Being a Madame is a wretched trade."

Elizabeth Charlotte of the Palatinate, Duchess of Orleans



France under Louis XV and Louis XVI

Louis XIV's heirs possessed neither his political ambition nor his abilities, but they were confronted by endemic financial crises. At the same time the institution of absolutist monarchy came under increasing attack from radical writers inspired by the ideas of the Enlightenment.


Louis XIV outlived both his son and his grandson and was followed to the throne in 1715 by his five-year-old great-grandson 8 Louis XV.

8 Louis XV, painting by Maurice-Quentin de La Tour, 18th century

see collection:

Maurice-Quentin de La Tour

Even after coming of age. Louis XV left the running or the government to the acting regent Cardinal Fleury.

The cardinal cleaned up the state finances and tried as far as possible to keep France out of international conflicts. Louis's marriage to 6 Maria Leszczynska—daughter of the Polish king Stanislaw I, who had been deposed and wanted to - regain his throne—was the only entanglement.

Instead of his throne, Stanislaw received the duchy of Lorraine in 1737, which reverted to France after his death in 1766.

After the death of Fleury in 1743, Louis increasingly came under the influence of his mistresses.

Perhaps the most significant of them was the 13 Marquise de Pompadour.

6 Maria Leszczyńska,
by Pierre Gobert

13 Madame de Pompadour,
portrait by Francois Boucher, 1756-58

see collection:

Francois Boucher

She originated from the bourgeoisie and maintained an influence over French policies—even after her sexual relationship with the king ended—for almost 20 years, until her death in 1764.

She was influential in France's alliance with Austria against Prussia and England in the 10 Seven Years' War (1756-1763), which ended in defeat and humiliation for France.

10 French Quebec in ruins after bombardment
by the British fleet in 1759 during the Seven Years' War

Seven Years’ War
European history

(1756–63), the last major conflict before the French Revolution to involve all the great powers of Europe. Generally, France, Austria, Saxony, Sweden, and Russia were aligned on one side against Prussia, Hanover, and Great Britain on the other. The war arose out of the attempt of the Austrian Habsburgs to win back the rich province of Silesia, which had been wrested from them by Frederick II the Great of Prussia during the War of the Austrian Succession (1740–48). But the Seven Years’ War also involved overseas colonial struggles between Great Britain and France, the main points of contention between these two traditional rivals being the struggle for control of North America (see French and Indian War) and India. Britain’s alliance with Prussia was undertaken partly in order to protect electoral Hanover, the British ruling dynasty’s continental possession, from the threat of a French takeover.

The hostilities of the Seven Years’ War were immediately preceded by a reversal of traditional alliances in Europe. Austria had long been friendly toward Britain and hostile toward France, but because Austria seemed unlikely to protect Hanover from French or Prussian aggression, Britain in January 1756 allied itself with Prussia to obtain such security. In response, an outraged France contracted an alliance with Austria that was soon joined by Russia. This alignment of Austria with France and of Great Britain with Prussia marked a reversal of longstanding enmity between those countries in what became known as the “Diplomatic Revolution.”

By the summer of 1756, the major powers of the Austrian-led alliance were poised for an attack on Prussia. Frederick the Great, a believer in attacking first, invaded Saxony on August 29 to detach that country from its alliance with the Austrians. He occupied Saxony’s capital, Dresden, and the Saxon forces capitulated not long after. In the spring of 1757 Frederick again advanced south into Bohemia, defeating the Austrians at the Battle of Prague on May 6, 1757. A month later, however, he was forced to retreat from Bohemia, having suffered a heavy defeat on June 18 at the hands of the Austrian field marshal Leopold Joseph, Count von Daun, in the Battle of Kolin.

Frederick now faced a war on several fronts. In the west the French defeated a Hanoverian army led by the Duke of Cumberland, a younger son of Britain’s King George II, and in September they forced Cumberland to disband his army. The French then advanced on Prussia’s western frontier. Furthermore, Sweden attacked Prussian Pomerania after having joined the Austrian alliance in March. A Russian army entered East Prussia in July and won a major victory there in August, and Austria moved on Silesia. Gambling for success against France and her allies, Frederick met a Franco-German army at Rossbach in Thuringia on November 5 and, although outnumbered two to one, fought a two-hour battle that cost his enemies 7,000 men as against 550 Prussian troops. He then turned to meet the Austrians in Silesia and, again heavily outnumbered, won his greatest victory at Leuthen on December 5.

In April 1758 the British government under William Pitt the Elder signed a new treaty with Prussia providing it with much-needed financial support, and on June 23 an Anglo-Hanoverian army defeated a much larger French force at Krefeld. Pitt realized the importance of the colonial theatres of the war and devoted most of Britain’s military and naval efforts to achieving success against the French in India and, especially, North America. In the meantime, Frederick beat back the Russians in a bloody battle at Zorndorf on August 25, but his attempt to save Saxony from the Austrians was only partially successful, and he was forced to retreat into Silesia. The Austrian and Russian armies operating in the east were finally able to link up in the summer of 1759, and when Frederick attacked them at Kunersdorf, east of Frankfurt, on Aug. 12, 1759, he suffered a disastrous defeat, losing 18,000 men in six hours of battle and watching Daun take Dresden.

The main fighting in 1760 took place in Silesia, where Frederick scored marginal victories against the Austrians at Liegnitz (now Legnica) and Torgau but remained hopelessly on the defensive. By December 1761 Frederick, his armies all but exhausted by a series of rapid maneuvers against multiple enemies, was near despair. But at that point, the death of the Russian empress Elizabeth saved him. Her successor, Tsar Peter III, was an admirer of Prussia and not only made peace with Frederick but also mediated a peace between Prussia and Sweden and finally joined Frederick in an effort to oust the Austrians from Silesia. Though Peter was soon afterward assassinated, his successor, Catherine II the Great, did not renew hostilities against Prussia. Frederick then drove the Austrians from Silesia while his ally, Ferdinand of Brunswick, won victories over the French at Wilhelmsthal and over the Saxons at Lutterberg and captured the important town of Göttingen.

The principal theatre of war in the German states now quieted, but the fighting for empire continued overseas in the Americas, the West Indies, Africa, and India, with Britain winning some important victories. By late 1762 the end of the war was in sight. Austria saw nothing to be gained from continuing its struggle against Prussia without Russian support. France had no interest in further supporting a war over Silesia, and Britain came to similar conclusions about supporting Prussia. By the Franco-British Treaty of Paris (Feb. 10, 1763), Britain won North America and India and became the undisputed leader in overseas colonization. Five days later at the Treaty of Hubertusburg, Frederick maintained his possession of Silesia and confirmed Prussia’s stature as a major European power.

Encyclopaedia Britannica

The huge expense of fighting against England in the New World, where France lost her last colonial possessions, took a massive toll on the royal finances.

The court was maintained in luxury at enormous expense, while the living standards of the 11 common people, on whom most tax burden fell, remained low.

11 Old Peasant Couple Eating, painting by Georges de La Tour , ca.1620

see collection:

Georges de La Tour

At the end of Louis' reign, France was virtually bankrupt. At the same time, the ideas of the Enlightenment were gaining currency.

7 Voltaire, Montesquieu, ideas of a just and enlightened society and attacked the despotism of absolutist monarchy.


see also text


"Age of Louis XIV", "Candide"

see also


Many minor writers popularized these ideas in satirical poems and pamphlets that stirred up resentment towards the king's lifestyle.

Louis XV's successor in 1774 was his grandson 14 Louis XVI, who had been married since 1770 to 12 Marie Antoinette, a daughter of Maria Theresa.

14 Louis XVI

12 Queen Marie Antoinette, portrait by Elisabeth-Louise Vigee-Lebrun, 1783

She was widely attacked in the radical press, which dubbed her "the Austrian bitch."

As the financial situation worsened, Louis looked to reform but failed to win the cooperation of the nobility, who sought to protect their 9 privileges.

In an attempt to break the deadlock, the king summoned the States General in 1788, an assembly of the clergy, nobility, and commoners that had not met since 1614. Radical populist figures, backed by the hungry crowds of Paris, quickly came to dominate the assembly, firing the opening salvos of the French Revolution.

9 A peasant carries the nobility and clergy
on his back, cartoon satirizing the social
order, 18th century

Caricature of Louis XVI

Cartoon satirizing Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette


Marie-Antoinette dans la gazette Galerie des Modes






This caricature contrasts 1778 and 1793 styles for both men and women, showing the large changes in just 15 years.


This caricature contrasts the hoop-skirts (and highheeled shoes) of 1742 with the high-waisted narrow skirts (and flat shoes) of 1794.



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