The Enlightenment
The Age of Enlightenment, or Age of Reason, is a movement rooted in the "materialistic" philosophy of the Ancient Greeks that focused on observation rather than faith. Church doctrine no longer seemed credible under the close scrutiny of rational inquiry, and scholars accused the popes of intellectual and scientific repression.

The writers and philosophers of the 17th and 18th century used logic to define Man's ultimate purpose in life regardless of what might happen in an afterlife. The concept of a higher power was not wholly discarded but the emphasis was on making this life better through self-improvement, which comes through knowledge.

The writings of Baruch Spinoza, born in 1632, made a profound impact in intellectual circles in Europe, as did John Locke born the same year. Voltaire, Newton, Bacon, Rousseau, Diderot and d'Alembert all participated in the cultural revolution.
In 1751 the scholar, novelist and dramatist Denis Diderot and the mathematician Jean Le Rond d’Alembert started assembling the Encyclopédie. They solicited the help of mathematicians and scientists of all sorts, as well as engineers, artists, writers and philosophers.

Diderot used the encyclopedia as a tool to combat social discrimination (where only the wealthy had access to education). The first ten volumes were banned from publication but Diderot and d’Alembert secretly continued their work. All seventeen volumes were finished and published in 1765, with additions until 1780. 
Voltaire (b 1694) flamboyant French philosopher with the same rational approach to life as Newton and Locke. A prolific writer, his novels, plays and articles reflected the defiant atmosphere of the period. Voltaire, whose real name is Francois Marie Arouet, had a brilliant mind and his stories entertained readers throughout Europe. All the while he encouraged people to have faith only in what is evident.

With the exception of England, which was going through a period of social stability, the rest of Europe’s population lived under the same miserable conditions as the French, dominated by the popes and oppressed by the aristocracy. Though his cry for social change was non-violent Voltaire’s views influenced the American and French Revolutions.

1885: Beaux Arts Style (after Neoclassicism) 

A mix of Classical Greece, Ancient Rome, Baroque-Rococo and Renaissance architecture
Opera de Paris

The Palais Garnier was part of the reconstruction project initiated by Napoleon III and put together by Baron Haussmann. It was built to hold the Paris Opera founded in 1669 by Louis XIV. An unknown architect, Charles Garnier, won the competition.

Construction started in 1860 and lasted fifteen years, work was temporarily interrupted by the 1870 Franco-Prussian (German) War.

Denis Diderot
The Natural Son, or The trials of virtue

Le Fils naturel, ou Les épreuves de la vertu, is a “drame bourgeois” in fives acts performed in 1757. Diderot was accused of plagiarizing Goldoni’s La vera amica but both plays, just as Shakespeare's Midsummer night’s dream, have the generic love theme from New Comedy, popular in Rome around the 3rd century BC. After a complicated series of obstacles the story ends predictably with multiple marriages. Though it was ostensibly written as a comedy the play set a new trend, drama.

Following the performance Diderot wrote an essay entitled Conversations on The natural son Entretiens sur Le fils naturel, with a dialogue between one of the main characters, Dorval , and Moi (Diderot).


Victor Hugo (b. 1802), a child when Bonaparte was proclaimed emporer, was the most notable French dramatist and novelist of the Romantic Period.

He'd make model sets of the play or novel he was working on, with cardboard characters, so he always knew where they were in the story.