Morality and the Art of the Classical Era

The 18th century introduced us to the Classical Era. This century created changes and advances to the arts. From The American and French Revolution, The Enlightenment, and the Evolution of Humanism, these movements all had an effect on the arts. While many of these movements had an impact on the arts, there is one element that had a unique effect on more than just the visual arts, morality.

Virtual exhibit of Morality in the Arts of the Classical Era

Presented in this virtual exhibit are two works of visual art, and one work of theater displayed. All the works presented in the exhibit showcase the connection between morality and the arts. An element that supports the connection can be seen in the different art styles that had developed in the 18th century, such as Neoclassicism and Rococo. Another element that is present is a well-known work of Johann Wolfgang von Goethe that displays morality in an art/literature form.

Oath of the Horatii


Oath of the Horatii  Jacques-Louis David 1784

The Oath of the Horatii was created by the artist Jacques-Louis David (1748-1825) in Rome, the painting now resides in the Louvre Museum, Paris. The painting is considered a history painting which portrays two rival cities, Rome and Alba Longa. An artistic style called “Neoclassicism”, is present in the painting. Neoclassicism contains characteristics such as unemotional, heroic, and serious. I appreciate the context of heroism that is displayed in the painting, as well as the contrast in the light and dark shadows. Another element that I enjoyed is the red cloak that the hero is wearing, as it reminds me of a modern day super-hero. These characteristics helped convey moral narrative, which supports the connection between morality and the arts during the Classical Era.

The Swing


The Swing Jean-Honore Fragonard 1767

The artist Jean-Honore Fragonard (1732-1806) created the painting The Swing in 1767, which now resides in the Wallace Collection in London, United Kingdom. The painting was commissioned by  French Baron de St. Julien as a portrait of his mistress on a swing, from this information an educated guess as to where this painting originated from would be France. This painting contains the art style “Rococo”. Rococo was an art movement that was present in the 18th century. While the art style used may not reflect an aspect of morals, the context of the painting contains traces of morality.  The painting depicts the story of the mistress on the swing being pushed by her husband while her lover is hiding in the bushes. The Swing displays the lack of morality of the aristocracy that is depicted in the painting. I enjoyed exploring the background of the painting, as it is appears dream-like on the canvas. I appreciated the use of color by the artist, as it makes the painting reflect the feel of luxury and passion. From these characteristics, they represent the morality in the art in the 18th century.


Faust is one of the best-known works of Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (1749-1832) “a literary leader of Germany” which extended over a period of 57 years. Due to Goethe’s connection to Germany, and educated guess as to where this work originated from would be Germany. Faust is rather a dramatic poem than a piece to be performed on a stage. Within Faust, there is a moral doctrine that Goethe presents that can be considered a theme in Faust. This moral doctrine can be examined in the poem when the old scholar Faust had sinned greatly and agreed to become the Devil’s slave. In the end, Faust had died and the Devil had claimed his soul, but the angels brought his soul to heaven because he had traveled toward the light. This displayed the morality context in Faust. I found the work of Johann Wolfgang von Goethe entertaining yet, the story is complex in its meaning and context. I found Faust influential in its meaning, as each audience member can take away a different moral lesson every time. This aspect of the Faust allows an individual to draw conclusions to the connection between morality and the arts.


The three presented works of art allow an individual to visualize the connection that morality had toward the arts. Morality had an influence over the arts, as it is displayed in the examples given.



Milch, Robert J. CliffsNotes on Faust, Parts 1 and 2. 09 Oct 2016

Collins, Neil, MA LLB. “Neoclassical Art.” Art Encyclopedia. N.p., n.d. Web. 09 Oct. 2016.

Unknown. “Faust.” Theatre Database. N.p., n.d. Web. 09 Oct. 2016.

Harris, Beth, Dr., and Steven Zucker, Dr. “Fragonard, The Swing.” Khan Academy. N.p., n.d. Web. 09 Oct. 2016.

Collins, Neil, MA LLB. “Jacques-Louis David.” Art Encyclopedia. N.p., n.d. Web. 09 Oct. 2016.

Unknown. “The Swing.” Artble. N.p., 2015. Web. 09 Oct. 2016.

Collins, Neil, MA LLB. “Rococo Art Style.” Art Encyclopedia. ENCYCLOPEDIA OF ART HISTORY, n.d. Web. 09 Oct. 2016.

Unknown. “Johann Wolfgang Von Goethe (1749-1832).” Moonstruck Drama Bookstore. N.p., n.d. Web. 09 Oct. 2016.

Collins, Neil, MA LLB. “Jean-Honore Fragonard.” Art Encyclopedia. N.p., n.d. Web. 09 Oct. 2016.

Collins, Neil, MA LLB. “The Oath of the Horatii (1785) by Jacques-Louis David.” Art Encyclopedia. N.p., n.d. Web. 09 Oct. 2016.

Art-mus-thr200. “Introduction to the Classical Era.” ART/MUS/THR F200. WordPress, 24 Apr. 2009. Web. 09 Oct. 2016.


5 thoughts on “Morality and the Art of the Classical Era

  1. Fantastic job connecting all three works of art to the topic! I like your mention of how each audience member can take away a different moral lesson from Faust each time. I completely agree! I really enjoyed viewing the painting Swing and can certainly see the connection to the time period in the light subject matter and the pastel pinks used on the woman swinging. I absolutely agree with your liking to explore the background of the painting in its details.


  2. Oh, how I love the pieces you picked! It really is amazing to see ‘The Swing’ next to ‘The Oath of Horatii’. It really shows the differences in Rococo and Neoclassical. ‘The Swing’ displays this frivolous and hedonic approach to morality that is so typical of the Rococo. I can almost envision the two main people saying, “Let them eat cake!” as they act like there is no suffering in the world. While I am not fond of these overall, I do really love how busy Rococo tends to be. There is so much going on in this piece; so much to take in to tell the story the artist is trying to say. The choice of color is striking as well. The background being shades of blues and greens, with the peachiness of the dress draws your eye like a magnet.

    The stark contrast to Neoclassic art is amazing, really. It isn’t hard to imagine the scene depicted in David’s piece, having happened all across France as families sent their sons off to war. I think the brutal bareness does a lot to tell how those oppressed in that time period felt. There is nothing soft or carefree about this scene. The colors are vivid, the lines are well-defined and the austere background forces the viewer to witness the scene. It really is awe-inspiring.


    • Hallo Robert,Bedankt voor je uitnodiging om op de Uitmarkt te komen staan met mijn “Dierentuin”.Het is leuk om Zeeuws Vlaanderen “de Kunst van het Dierenprepareren ” te kunnen laten zien maar helaas kan ik die dag niet.Ik probeer een mooie presentatie in een etalage of zo te regelen zodat ik er toch wat dieren kan kan laten zien. Als het gelukt is, hoor je het van me .Ik wens je een hele leuke dag en succes met de orltaisanie.GroetjesMarjogein van Viegen


  3. On your opening sentence I believe it is supposed to be ‘are’ instead of ‘is’. It may also help the reader if you define what morality is. I like how you had an example of each style that you mentioned with “Rococo” and Neoclassicism. I agree that the floral colors the artist used are brilliant shades in the ‘The Swing’. I also appreciate the drama that is being displayed in the ‘Oath of the Horatii’. Thank you and have a great day.


  4. I really enjoyed your description of The Swing by Jean-Honore Fragonard! Its probably one of my top favorites of the Rococo paintings, just for the fact that there is so much mystery and deceit hidden in such a simple action. Your description of the painting is spot on and the putti statue in the background is proof of that. Every time I watch the Disney movie Frozen I get a little chuckle when the painting passes by. Great job!


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