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Enlightenment Europe

Carved ivory bust of Sir Isaac Newton by David Le Marchand

During the seventeenth century much of Europe was divided by religion as Roman Catholic states fought with Protestants. In the 1640s, England was torn apart by Civil War between royalist and parliamentary (republican) armies.

South-eastern Europe remained part of the Turkish Ottoman Empire whose army reached as far as Vienna in 1683. Spanish power declined, while France under Louis XIV (reigned 1643-1715) came to dominate Europe. Britain began to play a major role during the eighteenth-century.

As international trade developed, states fought for control of trade routes and for world-wide colonies.

The late seventeenth century saw a change in the intellectual approach in Europe that is known as the Enlightenment. Knowledge came to be understood as debatable, as growing from investigation and observation rather than being accepted on the basis of some long respected authority. Enlightenment attitudes led to the foundation of many modern disciplines that are the bedrock of Western culture and learning, and brought about long term effects on society at all levels.

The British Museum was founded in 1753 when the physician Sir Hans Sloane left his collection to the nation. The Museum was a product of Enlightenment thinking - a desire to collect and study objects from every known culture.

The Enlightenment Gallery shows objects related to the intellectual aims of the Museum’s founders. Objects collected or made by seventeenth- and eighteenth-century Europeans can be found throughout the Museum.

Image caption: Carved ivory bust of Sir Isaac Newton by David Le Marchand
London, England, AD 1718

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The Great Court of the British Museum, £9.99

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