Historical background

The age of Enlightenment can be situated between the death of Louis XIV, in 1715, and the coup d'état of the 18th Brumaire (9th November) 1799, when the future emperor Napoléon Bonaparte took power. The intervening period may be divided into several stages: first the Regency (1715-1723), followed by the reigns of Louis XV (1723-1774) and Louis XVI (1774-1791), and finally the French Revolution (1789-1799).

France, at that time the most densely populated country in Europe, was to experience almost eighty years of domestic peace and economic prosperity. With the emergence of the philosophical spirit in salons, cafés and clubs, came the gradual erosion of monarchical authority, undermined by tentative, short-lived reforms and opposition from the aristocracy. Strengthened by their new-found financial power, the capitalistic bourgeoisie showed clear signs of wanting to annex political power, an ambition that would be achieved from 1789 onwards.

In the domain of the arts, the ageing Louis XIV hoped to see "childhood instilled in everything." Under the Regency, this trend of light-heartedness became more pronounced and was to flourish during the reign of Louis XV. The widespread taste for elegance, comfort and beautiful objects even infiltrated the ranks of the bourgeoisie. But, in the second half of the century, the philosophers reacted against society's libertine tendencies, with which they associated the rocaille style. They advocated a return to the virtues of Ancient and Republican Rome , the majority of which would be adopted as the revolutionary ideal.