The Role of the Middle Class in the Evolving Arts of the 18th Century

The 18th century saw the growth of economic and social power of the middle class. One of the main causes of this increase of influence is the Age of Enlightenment, which “is an era from the 1650s to the 1780s in which cultural and intellectual forces in Western Europe emphasized reason, analysis, and individualism rather than traditional lines of authority” (wikipedia). According to, “the Enlightenment produced numerous books, essays, inventions, scientific discoveries, laws, wars and revolutions” which led to the advancement and solidification of the middle class. While the arts where not too heavily impacted by the scientific advancements of the Enlightenment, “they were, nevertheless, quite rich and varied, reflecting the increasing wealth, widening perspectives, and rising technical proficiency of European life” (history-world). Many artisans began to focus less on aristocrats as a consumer base, and started to focus instead on appealing to the middle class. The middle class had much different demands than the artisans did, so art, music, and theater saw dramatic changes.


At the start of the century, music was being created for an aristocratic consumer base, and had a “gallant” style (Classical Music). However, the increasing amount of public concerts saw an increasing demand from the middle class for easily recognizable and accessible music, and as the composers continued to distance themselves from aristocratic consumers the music focused less on complexity and more on melody.

Visual Art

PicMonkey Collage

Some artists, such as William Hogarth, even went as far as to openly satirize the aristocratic class that had previously employed them. The middle class had suffered under the aristocracy for long enough, and had become vastly disillusioned. A large portion even hated the ruling class, and tensions were high. These tensions allowed works of art like Hogarth’s Marriage à-la-mode, pictured above, to flourish. This six piece series was worked on from 1743 to 1745 and “was the first of Hogarth’s satirical moralising series of engravings that took the upper echelons of society as its subject” (Marriage A-la-Mode). The series begins with an illustration of a poor Earl marrying off his son to the daughter of a wealthy city merchant, and is already having his new house built. The series ends with the son’s murder and the daughter’s suicide.


According to Neil Grant of Sterling Publishing Company, the most fundamental change to theater in the 18th century “was in the nature of its audience. Theater ceased to be stylized court entertainment or knockabout peasant fun and became more concerned with the lives of its new, middle-class audience. It was more politically aware, and more realistic.” The Beggar’s Opera, a small clip of which can be found above, was the first and most successful instance of Ballad Opera, which took melodies that would be familiar to the mainstream audience and changed the lyrics to provide social commentary.

“Age of Enlightenment.” Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation. Web. 6 Mar. 2015.

The Beggar’s Opera. YouTube, 2007. Film.

“Classical Music.” Art/mus/thr F2000. UAF, 24 Apr. 2009. Web. 6 Mar. 2015.

“Enlightenment.” A&E Television Networks, 2009. Web. 6 Mar. 2015.

Lewis, Hackett. “The European Dream Of Progress And Enlightenment.” The Age of Enlightenment. 1 Jan. 1992. Web. 6 Mar. 2015.

“Marriage A-la-Mode: 1, The Marriage Settlement.” William Hogarth. The National Gallery. Web. 6 Mar. 2015.

Mozart – Requiem. YouTube, 2009. Film.

Neil Grant – History of Theatre 2002 Sterling Publishing Co. , London


Bernini’s David


David is a life-size marble statue composed by the Baroque era artist Gian Lorenzo Bernini from 1623 to 1624. This piece was commissioned by Cardinal Scipione Borghese and depicts the biblical David in the middle of facing off against the giant known in the Bible as Goliath (Wikipedia).

Bernini’s David is one of the quintessential pieces of the Baroque era’s visual art. This piece greatly contrast the other Davids sculpted by Renaissance artists Michelangelo and Donatello. Whereas the Renaissance era depictions of David focus more on the individual, “Bernini shows us a less ideal, and more real David – one who, with God’s help, is actively fighting Goliath” (khanacademy). This difference can partly be attributed to the Council of Trent, a Catholic conference that aimed to “reclaim the moral high ground, and the superiority of the Holy Mother Church, in the wake of the Protestant challenge” (PBS). This council sought to “provide guidance away from the Mannerist style” and declared that depiction of biblical stories through art should be clear, realistic, and showcase emotion (Influences During the Baroque Era).

Bernini’s depiction of David steps over the boundaries of the sculpture towards the viewer, in a way that is almost imposing. We see David in the middle of swinging his sling, something very rare during this time period, as throwing pieces were often avoided.

Botticelli’s Birth of Venus


“Botticelli’s Birth of Venus is one of the most treasured artworks of the Renaissance” (artble).

Commissioned by the Medici family, Botticelli worked on this piece from 1484 to 1486 in Florence (Wikipedia). Widely considered to be one of his best works, the Birth of Venus depicts the birth of the Roman god of love (known to the people of Greece as Aphrodite). According to, “this is a work of tempera on canvas” during a period of time when wood panels were the most popular surfaces for painting. The medium is not the only unconventional aspect of this piece. The Birth of Venus “is one of the first non-biblical female nudes in Italian art” and goes against the humanistic focus on more natural posturing.

Venus’s pose is “reminiscent of the Venus de Medici, a marble sculpture and gem inscription from Classical antiquity in the Medici collection which Botticelli had opportunity to study” (artble). Botticelli draws the viewer’s eye to the supple curve of Venus’s leg by slightly offsetting her to the right of the center of the painting. On her left we see the figure of the wind god Zephyrus, carrying a nymph known as Aura, blowing Venus to shore among a shower of roses. On shore we see a nymph ready and waiting to receive the beautiful goddess of love with a cloak in hand.

The Birth of Venus is by far one of my favorite Renaissance pieces. The radiant beauty of Venus and the way that everyone involved seems to be floating really adds to the serene and ethereal vibe of the painting as a whole. The attention to even the most minute details, as demonstrated by the way that Venus’s hair billows in the wind and how the cloak is pressed up against the leg of the nymph waiting to receive her, really showcase Botticelli’s talent as an artist.

The Abstraction of Pepe the Frog


Pictured above is Pepe, also known as “Sad Frog”, is a picture of a depressed looking frog that dates back to 22 January 2009 and is based off of a drawing by Matt Furie (knowyourmeme). Since its first post, Pepe has slowly made its way across the internet. Many people view this sad frog as a blank canvas for expressing themselves, and it is this accessibility that has led to the popularity that Pepe sees today. Along with many other people on the various forms of social media available, I have seen this image and variations of it countless times. It has gotten to the point where I think of this frog whenever I see any combination of the three main colors that make up the picture.

Get to Know Me!

I spend a lot of my time listening to music and blogging. My favorite genres are hip-hop and indie, and my favorite artists right now are the weeknd, Kendrick Lamar, Death Grips, Danny Brown, Milky Chance, and Slint.

I really love using social media as a way to discover new art, so I am currently running a few blogs. My art blog can be found here, my twitter here, and my facebook here.

My relationship with art has been a somewhat lacking one, if I’m being entirely honest. I played trombone while I was in middle school, but gave up when people started calling me a “trom-boner”. (Pre-teens are ruthless, let me tell you.) I attempted to learn guitar in ninth grade, but it didn’t come easily to me and I didn’t look as cool as I wanted to, so I dropped that hobby pretty fast. I’ve always really wanted to be one of those fashion-conscious, mysterious, artsy guys that people talk about in hushed tones over a glass of chardonnay and a five-course meal, but I’ve never really put the effort in.

I’ve been to three concerts: Kendrick Lamar, Walk The Moon, and a reggae-fest that was really fun. The reggae-fest was my first real concert, and I’m honestly not even all that involved in the reggae scene, but three really nice and attractive people invited me to go with them so I definitely couldn’t refuse. I was a sophomore in high-school at the time and I had never really been around stoners before. I met more that day than I have met in my life since. Kendrick was amazing live, and it really surprised me how short he is in person. This mom and her teenage daughter got in a really intense fist fight like four inches away from me. My encouraging screams of “kick her ass” were not appreciated at all, but concert security broke it up before they slaughtered me.