Louis XV and Louis XVI: 1724-1789 PDF Print E-mail


The History of Paris – Architecture, Urbanism, Society - Part 5:

The Age of Enlightenment: Louis XV and Louis XVI, 1724-1789

Course Schedule:  Fridays 10:30 am – 12:00 noon. Coffee and tea served at gallery sessions at 10 am.

14 Jan.  -

Gallery - Rococo! Paris and Versailes under Louis XV and Madame de Pompadour.

21 Jan.   -

Visit    - Musée du Louvre : Rococo art and sculpture. Meet inside pyramid by information desk.

28 Jan.  -

Gallery - Neoclassicism! Paris and Versailles under Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette.

  4 Feb.    -

Visit    - Musée du Louvre : Neoclassical art. Meet inside pyramid by information desk.

11 Feb.   -

Visit    - Neoclassical architecture on the Left Bank, from the Pantheon to the School of Surgery.

                Meet on the steps of the Pantheon 75005 (closest metro RER Luxembourg or buses 84 and 89)

                                   Please bring 8€ in change for Pantheon ticket and a metro ticket for the bus.



Anthony Sutcliffe, Paris, an Architectural History (Yale University Press)

Michael Levey Rococo to Revolution: Major Trends in Eighteenth-Century Painting (World of Art)

Nancy Mitford Madame de Pompadour (New York Review Books Classics)

Antonia Fraser Marie Antoinette: The Journey (Doubleday or Anchor)


The Reign of Louis XV 1724 - 1774


1724 - The court returns to Versailles.

1725 - The king marries the Polish princess Marie Lezczinska.

1726 - Cardinal Fleury named Prime Minister. Opening of a period of stability in home and foreign affairs.

1733-36 - War of the Polish succession.

1738 - First balanced state budget in decades.

1741 - Beginning of war of the Austrian Succession.

1743 - Death of Fleury.

1746 - Madame de Pompadour becomes official mistress of the king.

1748 - Peace of Aix-la-Chapelle ends war. Montesquieu publishes L'esprit des lois.

1751 - Beginning of the publication of the Encyclopédie.

1756 - Beginning of Seven Years war in alliance with Austria against Prussia and England.

1757 - Damiens attempts to assassinate the king who is growing increasingly unpopular.

1758 - Choiseul named Prime minister. Next dozen years prosperous and stable.

1763 - End of war. France loses Canada and India to England.

1764 - Jesuits expelled from France. Death of Madame de Pompadour.

1765 - Death of the Dauphin.

1769 - Madame du Barry becomes the official royal mistress.

1770 - Choiseul fired. New Dauphin marries Austrian princess Marie-Antoinette.

1774 - Death of Louis XV. He is succeeded by his grandson, Louis XVI.


Arts and Arcitecture: Decoration and painting (Boucher) are dominated until 1760 by a light, frivolous and refined style, an evolution from the Régence style, the Rococo or style rocaille favouring curves, natural motifs, rustic themes and a slightly artificial easy grace.  Realism, much discouraged at the time of the Louis XIV academies, affects the details of rococo painting, the portrait (La Tour, Liotard) and mainly the still lives and the scenes of domestic life painted by Chardin  inspired by Dutch 17c art. Classicism disappears except on the fronts of royal and public buildings modelled on the old fashioned grandeur of the place Vendôme.

The return of the classical style, called Neo-Classicism, begins in architecture (1755), followed by decoration (1765) and finally painting (1780).  A certain nostalgia for the glories of the Grand Siècle but also the influence of the philosophers and critics preaching a return to virtue and utility favour at first a royal Neo-Classicism (style Gabriel- 1755) dignified but less weighty than the Grand Style of Louis XIV, followed by an increasingly austere and grave  Neo-Classicism  (Soufflot, Gondoin, Chalgrin - 1770) inspired directly from Greco-Roman antiquity, ending in a severe even eccentric evolution just before the Revolution (Ledoux - 1785).

The rococo style will survive longer in painting (Fragonard).  Its aristocratic and urbane elegance is  openly contested for the first time by Greuze (1760) in paintings that are  narrative, provincial  and  realistic.  David from 1780 will re-introduce into art classical subjects inspired by Roman history in a severe but tense style, thus prefiguring the almost romantic exaltation and feverish atmosphere of the revolutionary period.



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