Culture 1500 - 1780 Project


Grant DeWald and Raquel Pennoyer

King Louis XIV of France


Map of France

Economic Backdrop

In the sixteenth century, France had a mercantilist economy. Mercantilism is the economic theory of commercialism, where a government controls foreign trade. Goods were often taxed, markets were monopolized, and states traded exclusively with each other. This style of government-controlled trade began in France, and later spread to other nations such as England and Holland. In the seventeenth century, Jean-Baptiste Colbert, Louis XIV’s minister of finance, introduced Colbertism, an economic philosophy similar to mercantilism. This philosophy builds on mercantilism, and believes that nations should sell more than they buy. He stated that France should buy goods locally and sell French commodities to other nations. When France gained control of Quebec, they held a monopoly on the fur trade.

Political Backdrop

During this time period, the Capetian Dynasty ruled France. The nation was governed through absolutism, a theory of rule that includes complete control over the politics, economics, and religion at this time period. The French Monarchy had absolute control over everything in their domain. Mercantilism and Colbertism allowed for governmental control over the economy and foreign relations. Rulers such as Henry IV and Louis XIV controlled religion through religious laws such as the Edict of Nantes and the Edict of Fontainebleau.


1572-1610 Henry IV

1598 Edict of Nantes

1618 – 1648 Thirty Years War

1643 – 1715 Louis XIV

1685 Edict of Fontainebleau

Aspects of Culture

Social Backdrop

Before the French Revolution, the French had an almost feudal social hierarchy. Governed by a monarch, the French citizens were divided into four major groups: priests, nobility, the middle class, and peasants (farmers). Priests held the most power bellow the royal level. Below the clergy, the nobility ranked above the middle class, and the peasants held no status. Men generally held a higher status than women, and women did not usually own land. France had about 17 million citizens, making it the most populated area at this time.


During the 17th century and early 18th century, people of religious and legal backgrounds were educated from an early age. Nobles and Clergy were often educated at the highest level. Upper-class men and women could receive private tutoring for a high price. Children of nobles and clergy were educated from a young age; sometimes as young as 5. During the 17th century, there was a high increase in private educational sessions.

Artistic Innovation:

One style of architecture and art during this time period was the Baroque style. The Baroque style painting showed an emphasis on religious figures. The Neoclassical Movement focused on artistic antiquity as well as pictures that illustrated harmony, simplicity and showed proportion. Romanticism has an emphasis on emotion, nature and imagination. Romanticism has great opposition to the Neoclassical Movement.

The Coronation of the Virgin, after 1595, Annibale Carracci (Italian, Bolognese) Baroque Style: This is a great example of the Baroque style painting because in the center of this picture there is a religious figure.

The Preaching of Saint John the Baptist, 1634,Bartholomeus Breenbergh Baroque Style: This is another example of a Baroque style painting, in this picture there is a ruling or a religious figure on top of the hill above everyone else. This demonstrates the figures importance and shows he is a respected figure.

Arretine cup signed by Tigranes, Augustan, Roman, Terracotta Neoclassical Style: This is a common Neoclassical style piece of art. Neoclassical Style art pieces are primarily hand built or are paintings of natural things.
Relief of a dancing maenad Augustan, Roman copy of a Greek relief attributed to Kallimachos Neoclassical Style: This piece of art is a Neoclassical style. This is a proportionate and concord sculpture that shows most characteristics of the Neoclasical style art.
The Start of the Race of the Riderless Horses, by 1820, Horace Vernet Romanticism: This painting shows heroism and imagination which are perfect characteristics of a Romanticism painting.
Sunset 1850, Eugène Delacroix Romanticism: This is a beautiful painting of nature that shows emotion and is realistic. The Romanticism style is based on the mind's eye and shows strong emotion; this painting illustrates those characteristics very well.

Classic literary text

French literature in the seventeenth century follows the style of Classicism, in which personal morals and purpose are clearly implied. One of the better-known pieces was Madame de Lafayette’s La Princesse de Cleves. This novel portrays a married noblewoman who falls in love with another man. The story explores the morals, culture and social traditions of its time.


France was a Christian nation, in which Catholicism was originally the dominant and accepted denomination. The French Protestants, known as the Huguenots, were persecuted and driven from France in the early sixteenth century. In 1598, King Henry IV issued the Edict of Nantes, which civilly accepted and protected Protestants. This edict promised for secularism, and unity. However, Louis XIV issued the Edict of Fontainebleau in 1685, which repealed these rights and restarted the protestant persecution.


Louis XIV earned himself the name “The Sun God” because of the making of the beautiful Versailles. Versailles held thousands of nobles and clergy. It was an honor to be able to live in Versailles and be close to the king.

Observations on What We Have Learned

France has a great deal of similarities and differences between other countries of its time. As a French citizen you would only receive education if you were related to Clergy, Nobles or were of the upper class. If you qualified to receive education you would have daily private lessons focused on literature and mathematics. The making of Versailles by Louis XIV was elementary and earned him the name “The Sun God” Versailles was a massive lodging house that housed the most important Nobles and Clergy. France had many different styles of art. This was a revolutionary period of new techniques and recommendations. The most popular of these art styles were Baroque, Neoclassical and Romanticism style.


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