Art historians frequently rely on terms denoting historical periods (such as ‘the Renaissance’ or ‘Enlightenment’) or styles (e.g. ‘Classicism,’ ‘Realism’) as a way of interpreting the history of artistic practices. Some terms are employed to describe both a period and a style (such as ‘Gothic,’ or ‘Baroque’). These concepts have proven to be hugely influential in shaping the understanding of art, and a critical understanding of how they are used is a vital part of art historical knowledge.
This module considers the concept and period of the Enlightenment. Examining a range of works of art as well as textual sources, it explores some of the defining practices of the Enlightenment, such as: the Grand Tour; landscape and the picturesque, natural philosophy and secularism, sexual morality and violence. The module also considers more recent debates within both art history and history as to the viability of the Enlightenment to denote a historical period of ‘reason’ and examines what the term means as an art historical concept.