Angelica Kauffmann 

Cornelia Presenting Her Children as Her Treasures (1785)


Jacques-Louis David 

Oath of the Horatii (1784)





The 18th century in the West, typically referred to as the age of Enlightenment, was a time of great technological and sociological development. The experiments of Isaac Newton “confirmed the regular and ordered nature of the universe” and the theories of John Locke (1632-1704) propelled society to think empirically - using the senses and observation to come to understand the world.3 Their work was a catalyst for societies to fight for the freedom of thought, for the independence from the church, and to do a way with aristocratic rule. The model became, as many times in history it became, the Roman Republic - the Golden Age. The classical principles of a natural and mimetic art return once again - the perfect proportions of the human body, the moral and civic virtues, and with a “social mission who appealed to the beholder’s moral sense instead of merely giving pleasure, like the frivolous artists of the Rococo!”4 These aesthetics can be clearly seen in Angelica Kauffmann’s (1741-1807) Cornelia Presenting Her Children as Her Treasures (Figure 1) and Jacques-Louis David's (1748-1825) the Oath of the Horatii (Figure 2). 

As much as any other art, music looked to ancient classical world and sought to “understand and explain the world of appearances.”5 In his On Playing the Flute, Johann Joachim Quantz (1697-1773) compared musical executions to the delivery of an orator, implicitly elevating the art form to be on par with that of rhetoric.6 Musical language throughout the centuries developed a tradition that became full of symbolism and allegory, as exemplified by the Doctrine of Affects - showing the “mental state, that is, the feelings or "affections" of man… represented in music by certain tonalities and meters as well as by distinct melodic, rhythmic, and harmonic turns and figures.”7 Numerous treatises at the time were written not only about composition or execution, but also about music’s scientific and theoretical properties, as Joseph Sauveur (1653-1716) did with his studies of acoustics and overtones.8


Sapere aude was the motto of the time, daring people to “determine their own lives.”9 This phrase was used by Immanuel Kant (1724-1804) to emphasize that people must take responsibility for their actions; if they do not, they cannot be held responsible, and “if they are not responsible they are not fully moral beings.”10 His notion of self-imposed morality and self-imposed existence was accompanied by the belief that the idea was to be the “basis for knowledge” - the materialistic approach to the world and knowledge began shifting towards one of idealism.11 This created repercussions in ways that Kant could not have foreseen.12 Although he is remembered as the major figure and symbol of the Enlightenment, he played a big part in the ideology of the Romantics, despite his revulsion for extravagance and mysticism.13 These two (on the surface) seemingly incompatible movements share more in common than what one would expect. After all, the people involved shared a common existence and past.  For this reason, central figures of this age of reason, like Kant, along with Denis Diderot (1713-1784), Voltaire (1694-1778), and Jean-Jaques Rousseau (1712-1778), can be considered the fathers of Romanticism.



















        3   Duncan Heath and Judy Boreham, Introducing Romanticism: A Graphic Guide (London, Icon Books Ltd: 2010): 7.

        4   Janson, History of Art, 619.

        5   Paul Henry Lang, “The Enlightenment and Music.” Eighteenth-Century Studies 1, no. 1 (1967), 99. doi:10.2307/3031668.

        6    Johann Joachim Quantz, On Playing the Flute, trans. Edward R. Reilly (London: Faber and Faber Limited,1985), 119.

         Lang, “The Enlightenment and Music,” 96, doi:10.2307/3031668.

        8   Thomas Christensen, Rameau and Musical Thought in the Enlightenment (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1993), 137.

       9   Isaiah Berlin, The Roots of Romanticism (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1999), 145.

       10   Berlin, The Roots of Romanticism, 148.

       11    Heath and Boreham, Introducing Romanticism: A Graphic Guide: 28.

       12   Berlin, The Roots of Romanticism, 158.

       13   Ibid., 142-143.