Enlightenment

DEFINITION

Also called the Age of Reason, the name applied to an intellectual movement and zeitgeist which developed in western Europe during the seventeenth century and reached its height in the eighteenth. The common element was a trust in human reason as adequate to solve the crucial problems and to establish the essential norms in life, together with the belief that the application of reason was rapidly dissipating the darkness of superstition, prejudice, and barbarity, was freeing humanity from its earlier reliance on mere authority and unexamined tradition, and had opened the prospect of progress toward a life in this world of universal peace and happiness. In the visual arts, this was the time of the Baroque period.An image of the Enlightenment:William Say (English engraver, 1768-1834), after a painting by Sir Joshua Reynolds (English, 1723-1792), Sir William Hamilton and Society Dilettante, c. 1780s, mezzotint, 25 1/2 x 18 1/2 inches. This is a gathering of the members of the Society Dilettante, an exclusive club of British aristocrats dedicated to studying classical art and knowledge on the Grand Tour and as a pastime. As the men enjoy a drink together, Sir William Hamilton (1730-1806), a prominent collector, shows them one of his ancient Greek and Roman vases and a recently published book of engravings of his vase collection. The members are, left to right: Sir W.W. Wynn, Sir J. Taylor, Mr. Payne Galway, Sir William Hamilton, Mr. Richard Thompson, Mr. Stanhope, and Mr. Smith of Heath. Born to an aristocratic Scottish family, Sir William Hamilton was an enthusiast of the arts and sciences at the height of the Age of Enlightenment. He assembled one of the world's finest collections of Greek and Roman antiquities as British Envoy Extraordinaire to the two Sicilies from 1764-1800. Most of the antiquities he collected came from excavations in Italy, and he later sold most of them to the British Museum. The glories of his vase collection were recorded in portfolios, which served as souvenirs for the great libraries of Grand Tour travelers and patrons, and provided inspiration to decorative art designers in England, such as Josiah Wedgwood (1730-1795). See dilettante.Quote: "Enlighten the people generally, and tyranny and oppression of body and mind will vanish like evil spirits at the dawn of day." Thomas Jefferson (1743-1826), America's third president, author of the Declaration of Independence, designer, farmer, slave-owner, etc. Also see Buddhism, ideal, idealism, inspiration, and knowledge.

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