Reference Entry

Rousseau, Jean-Jacques

Maurice Cranston

in Oxford Art Online

ISBN: 9780199541430
Published online January 2003 | e-ISBN: 9781884446054 | DOI: https://dx.doi.org/10.1093/gao/9781884446054.article.T074208
Rousseau, Jean-Jacques

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(b Geneva, June 28, 1712; d Ermenonville, July 2, 1778).

French writer of Swiss birth. He was the son of a watchmaker in Calvinist Geneva and served unhappy apprenticeships, first with a notary and then with an engraver. An autodidact, he achieved fame in Paris in the 1750s as one of the writers associated with Denis Diderot’s Encyclopédie (1751–75), but was a critic of most of the principles of rationalism and scientific progress that that work proclaimed. He developed his theory of art most systematically in the course of a controversy with the composer Jean-Philippe Rameau (1683–1764) about music, but some of his ideas were made more widely known in his novel Julie, ou la nouvelle Héloïse (1761) and his treatise on education Emile (1762). Rameau was a Neo-classicist in the sense that he developed a modernized version of the classical doctrine that the purpose of art is to discover and disclose the hidden forms that lie behind the chaos and flux of human experience. Art, he claimed, was a science, and as such must rest on the same mathematical principles that govern the natural universe, and must obey analogous rules of rational order. Rousseau agreed that art was a science, which must seek to be true to nature. However, he saw nature not as part of the Newtonian universe of predictable regularities observed through telescopes and microscopes, but as the world everyone could see with his own eyes, something that surrounded man and of which man was himself a part....

Reference Entry.  1022 words. 

Subjects: Aesthetics and Philosophy of Art ; History of Art ; 18th-Century Art

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