History of the World in Objects and Art

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History of the World in Objects and Art Timeline

Marked by great changes-such as the rise of Protestantism and the proliferation of scientific discoveries-the 250 years between the Reformation and the Enlightenment in Europe were a time of upheaval and violence. As the 18th century drew to a close, it was clear that the political and intellectual transformations that had taken place had irrevocably changed European society.
In 1517, acting out of dissatisfaction with the Catholic Church, a German theologian called Martin Luther nailed 95 theses (or propositions for debate) to the door of a church in Wittenberg, Germany. His actions ignited a radical social transformation that led to the emergence of Protestant Christianity, as well as decades of war throughout Europe. This period also saw a transition from the medieval world to a more modern society, eventually resulting in the republican and secular ideas of the mid-18th century Enlightenment.

Protestantism was not a single united movement. Over the course of the Reformation, a number of different sects emerged. These included the Lutherans, Baptists, Puritans, and Calvinists. All of them broke with Catholic theology and rejected the infallibility of the pope, embracing unorthodox ideas such as predestination. In England, King Henry VIII cut off relations with Rome and established the Church of England in the 1530s. The Catholic Church was forced into self-examination, resulting in the reforms of the Council of Trent (1545-63) during the Counter-Reformation, which took place around the same time. Catholic religious orders, however, were looking outward, spreading Catholicism through the Americas, which Spain had begun to colonize after the Italian explorer Christopher Columbus had set sail and claimed the West Indies in 1492.


The Reformation sparked a series of conflicts—the Wars of Religion (1562-98) in France, as well as the wider Thirty Years War (1618-48), which affected much of Europe. As these conflicts drew to a close, another was beginning in England. Tension between the parliament and the monarchy of Charles I—who later dissolved the parliament—hit a crisis point in the 1640s. In 1642, a battle erupted between the supporters of the king (Royalists, or Cavaliers) and those who supported the parliament (known as Roundheads for their short hair). This continued over a series of wars until 1651.

In 1653, Oliver Cromwell, who had led the forces against Charles I, set himself up as Lord Protector of the Commonwealth of England. After Cromwell's death in 1658, the Commonwealth faltered, and by 1660, Charles II had reclaimed the throne.


Although the 17th and 18th centuries continued to be plagued by warfare and violence, another transformation was taking place. Driven by reason rather than religion, new intellectual currents started circulating around Europe by the mid-1700s—a period generally known as the Enlightenment.
Scientific enquiry and philosophical discourse—often inspired by classical Greek and Roman works—became the order of the day. Thinkers of the time eschewed the extreme religious mentality that had dominated the preceeding century. These new insights and intellectual freedoms led to the proliferation of groundbreaking works. Englishman Isaac Newton's formulation of the universal law of gravitation, the satirical writings of France's Voltaire, and the economic theory of Scotland's Adam Smith were all born at this time. This period marked a decisive break with the past and laid the foundation for the era of revolution that followed.
Ruthless massacre
This painting by French artist Francois Dubois depicts the St. Bartholomew's Day massacre, which took place on August 24, 1572. Catholic nobles attacked and killed thousands of French Huguenot Protestants. Starting in Paris, and despite royal orders to stop the next day, the killings spread as far as Rouen and Bordeaux.

Joan of Arc and the Liberation of Orleans

Joan of Arc and the Liberation of Orleans

The Battle of San Romano

Florence under the Medici

Florence under the Medici

The Fall of Constantinople