Enlightenment Splendors

Important Styles and How They Influenced Life in the 1700s.

Setting the Scene

Imagine you're in a grand palace, adorned with large, dramatic paintings and big sculptures. You walk outside and see an enormous garden. A winding pathway leads you through the foliage, passing by fountains, terraces, and cascades. There's a concert going on at an open-stage. Loud, rousing music is being played and an audience comprised of all classes is listening intently. This was the norm during the Enlightenment (ca. 1600-late 1700s), when the profound style of Baroque was at the forefront of European culture. During a time when a multitude of novel ideas were being formed and thought was becoming more scientific, composers, artists, and architects imbued baroque works with revolutionary passion and flair. The middle-class majority flocked to gatherings where these pieces were showcased. Despite the exposure to new thought and expression, peasant and middle-class life remained the same during the Enlightenment, and only changed after the Age of Revolution.


Baroque music was written in a very romantic style - it was created to evoke emotions from the audience when performed. The use of instruments such as the piano, harpsichord, and especially the organ, helped make performances loud and intense. Polyphonic harmonies added to the music's texture, contributing to its overall beauty. Three composers of the baroque era, all from the Prussia-Austria region, made extreme contributions to this style, writing seminal works that remain popular today:

Johann Sebastian Bach (1685-1750)

Bach is one of the most renowned composers, and his career set the proverbial ball rolling in terms of the Baroque movement. Born in Eisenach, Germany to a musical family, Bach wrote compositions for almost all the prominent instruments of his day (i.e., woodwinds, strings, and chromatic percussion), along with several chorales. Two of his most famous works include Toccata and Fugue in D Minor and The 3rd Brandenburg Concerto. He was truly a prolific composer, writing hundreds of pieces that shaped the Baroque period.

George Frederick Handel (1685-1759)

One of Bach's contemporaries, Handel's most notable works are his oratorios, long and dramatic choral pieces with a religious theme. A native of Halle, Germany, Handel wrote in the romantic style featured in Bach's compositions. The Messiah is his most enduring work, still being sung during modern Easter and Christmas festivals. Handel also composed a series of operas throughout his life, and spend most of his life in England, where he was acclaimed for his works.

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756-1791)

Born at the end of the Baroque era, Mozart paved the way for the next era of music, titled the classical period. An Austrian-born musical prodigy, Mozart began composing at age five. He toured with his siblings during his childhood years, performing at such grand venues as Vienna and Versailles. Mozart composed several symphonies, and is also known for his operas including The Marriage of Figaro and The Magic Flute. This composer's work influenced the likes of Ludwig van Beethoven and Josef Hadyn, among others.

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Handel (above); Below is Bach's acclaimed work, Toccata and Fugue


Bach - Toccata and Fugue in D Minor, BWV 565 by EMIClassicsUS


Art of the early 1700s was also described as Baroque. Paintings were large and dramatic, being very vivid and evocative. The Baroque art movement actually commenced in Rome during the 1500s. People were bored of the orderly and unflashy style of Renaissance art, and thus began to depict more intense scenes in paintings. Michelangelo da Caravaggio and Annibale Carracci were the chief Baroque artists in Italy, spreading the style through paintings and ceiling decorations. In the area of the Netherlands and Belgium, Rembrandt and Peter Paul Rubens were creating several Baroque pieces. And in Spain, Diego Velazquez made poignant works that attracted many.

During the course of the 18th century, the style of art shifted from Baroque to what is called rococo. Rococo art was a scaled-back version of the intense Baroque works, depicting more intimate and intricate scenes. In addition, rococo works incorporated the style of fete galante, or paintings illustrating gatherings in a garden. This art movement received its greatest appeal in France. Painters Francois Boucher, Jean Honore Fragonard, and Antoine Watteau worked for royal and aristocratic clients, creating such paintings as Bathers (Fragonard) and The Island of Cythera (Watteau).

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See the differences between The Battle of the Amazons (above), a Baroque work, and The Island of Cythera (below), made during the rococo period.

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The Lives of the Majority

During the Enlightenment, the majority - middle-class workers and lower-class peasants/serfs - was exposed to a myriad of new ideas and styles of art. Notwithstanding, the lives of these people remained in essence the same throughout the Age of Reason. Serfdom was still widespread, especially in Eastern Europe. Russia and other nations kept the serf system ingrained in society, as serfs continued to be sold and exploited. Peasant life was varied throughout Europe, but virtually none were exempt from hard labor and unpaid services for the state. The late 1700s saw a burgeoning of ideas about social equality and justice for the middle and lower classes. Peasants were mixed on the matter; nonetheless, political turmoil and revolt in the next several decades would greatly alter the lives of the majority.

Works Cited

Kozinn, Allan. “Bach, Johann Sebastian.” Grolier Multimedia Encyclopedia. Grolier Online, 2016. Web. 18 Feb. 2016.

Landon, H. C. Robbins. “Mozart, Wolfgang Amadeus.” Grolier Multimedia Encyclopedia. Grolier Online, 2016. Web. 18 Feb. 2016.

Smither, Howard E. “Handel, George Frideric.” Grolier Multimedia Encyclopedia. Grolier Online, 2016. Web. 18 Feb. 2016.

Zafran, Eric M. “Baroque.” World Book Student. World Book, 2016. Web. 18 Feb. 2016.

⸻. “Rococo.” World Book Student. World Book, 2016. Web. 18 Feb. 2016.