Representing the “Enlightened Family” in Eighteenth-Century Art

Alexis Ancelin, Dr. Laura Winn, Art History, Jacksonville University, 2800 University Blvd N, Jacksonville, FL 32211

The Age of Enlightenment saw the democratization and classification of knowledge, opening new sources of information and ideas to those beyond the educated elite and ruling class. This changed the political and social structures of eighteenth-century Europe and influenced the roles and representation, of women and children in both life and art. The purpose of this study is to examine the relationship between the Enlightenment’s social and educational revolutions and how they influenced the representation of women and children in academic art. The official art exhibited in the Salon had a moralizing influence on childhood development and the roles of women, thus instructing the mother to play a greater role in education. As information and new ideas became more accessible, the Enlightenment witnessed challenges to long-held values and institutions resulting in philosophical, social, and political shifts based in reasoning and rationality. Rousseau’s influence permeated Enlightenment gender ideals making it fashionable for women of all classes to embrace their role as mothers. This elevated women’s work in the domestic realm but limited their opportunities in the public sphere. Works, such as Jean-Baptiste Greuze’s The Beloved Mother (1769) and Jean-Baptiste-Simeon Chardin’s Saying Grace (1740), display a more common, middle class representation of 18th-century families with a great emphasis on mothers opposed to the more traditional imagery of the father as the head of the household. These philosophical views were based on beliefs of equality and liberty, breaking society away from absolutism. Therefore, art portraying the family shifted from stiff portraits of the elites to a more natural portrayal of middle-class families, family portraiture was used to teach the viewer about morality and virtue, and displayed the roles of mothers, fathers, and children. 

Additional Abstract Information

Presenter: Alexis Ancelin

Institution: Jacksonville University

Type: Poster

Subject: Art History & Visual Arts

Status: Approved

Time and Location

Session: Poster 1
Date/Time: Mon 1:30pm-2:30pm
Session Number: 2092