Advanced Study in the History of Art — Enlightenments

Permission of instructor
Limited to 15

The European Enlightenment has been described as a “revolution of the mind,” a fundamental turning point in the way Europeans imagined the world and their place in it, and a foundational moment for the emergence of western modernity. What is the role of the arts within this “revolution”?

This seminar investigates how the attempts to place knowledge on new foundations that characterized the so-called age of reason impacted art and architectural thinking and the development of aesthetics. How did new ideas about nature, human nature, and “civilization” shift thinking about the place of the arts and architecture in society, and how, conversely, did the visual arts and architecture help to mediate such new ideas such as progress, public opinion, taste, and the salubrious, planned city? And how were aesthetics and the arts shaped by, and imbricated in, scientific exploration, the expansion of trade and their darker consequences: colonization and slavery?

We will investigate key institutions and monuments of the period, from the public exhibition to the paper architecture of Boullée, Ledoux and Lequeu. Assigned readings balance recent scholarly interpretations with period texts ranging from the proto science fiction of Voltaire and Louis-Sébastien Mercier to works by Diderot, Hume and Kant. Throughout, we will attend to the active role of images – whether painted, drawn, or printed – in constituting the new forms of knowledge and new practices we have come to associate with Enlightenment.

To facilitate museum and collections visits, class enrollment is limited to 15.