History of the World in Objects and Art

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History of the World in Objects and Art Timeline

The Seven Years'War
The United States' War of lndependence
A Tea Party that Led to Democracy


The American Declaration of Independence


We hold these truths to be self-evident: That all men are created equal; that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights; that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness ...; that whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute a new Government, laying its foundation on such principles, and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.

United States Declaration of Independence, 4 July 1776

An American version of London cartoon that denounces
the "rape" of Boston in 1774 by the Intolerable Acts.

Washington and Lafayette look over the troops at Valley Forge

John Trumbull, The Battle of Bunker's Hill
(The death of the American General Warren),

The Boston Tea Party triggered the Revolution. In 1767 England had imposed new customs duties on her English colonies. The wrath of the colonists culminated in a boycott of English wares, which soon led to the abolition of most duties. England, insisting on a demonstration of authority, maintained the duty on tea. Ensuring the East India Company monopoly on tea and other staples, this policy left American tea merchants burdened with high duties on the goods they imported from England.

The American colonists, who had for some time considered declaring independence from England, took the duty on tea as a welcome excuse to do so. On 16 December 1773 open hostilities broke out. A group of Revolutionaries threw an entire ship's cargo of tea into the murky waters of Boston Harbor: 342 crates of tea worth 10,000 pounds sterling. Over 2,000 bystanders applauded the patriots' deed: "This is the most magnificent Movement of all. There is a dignity, a Majesty, a Sublimity, in this last Effort of the Patriots that I greatly admire. This destruction of the Tea is so bold, so daring, so firm, intrepid and inflexible, and it must have so important Consequences, and so lasting, that I cannot but consider it as an Epoch in History" was John Adams's enthusiastic response to this remarkabledemonstration of colonial assertiveness. The English government retaliated swiftly, exacting harsh penalties. The thirteen American colonies reacted with open revolt. Weary of oppression and long accustomed to self-government on parliamentary lines, the American settlers refused to surrender their economic and political freedom to the English crown, which was thousands of nautical miles away. Knit together by the events in Boston, the Americans took their first united action as a free people by convening the First Continental Congress in Philadelphia in 1774. England remained intransigent; a war was inevitable.

The Declaration of Independence

While George Washington, the Commander-in-Chief of the American Continental Army, was marching his troops from one battle to the next, the Declaration of Independence was being drawn up. It was signed on 4 July 1776 in the Philadelphia State House. Among the signers were Thomas Jefferson, its author, and Benjamin Franklin. Jefferson is quoted as saying: "I am not a friend to a very energetic government", although he wholeheartedly espoused the cause of American liberty. Another fervent patriot was the painter John Trumbull, who later founded the American Academy of Fine Arts in New York and became its first president. The son of an English governor of Connecticut who supported the colonists' struggle for independence, John Trumbull served as an aide-de-camp to George Washington during the American Revolution.

His most celebrated painting, which has become a symbol of the idealism that America stands for, depicts the signing of the Declaration of Independence as Thomas Jefferson described it to the artist.
John Trumbull
The Declaration of Independence
The United States' War of lndependence
The French Revolution, 1789

The French Revolution of 1789 overthrew the monarchy and instituted a republic based on the tenets of "Liberty, Equality, and Fraternity." Although the French general Napoleon Bonaparte eventually seized power to proclaim himself emperor, this revolt had a lasting impact far beyond the country's borders.
Facing chronic financial crises and political unrest, King Louis XVI called a meeting of the Estates General—an archaic form of parliament—in 1789. Amid mounting popular disturbances, the Estates General grew into a National Assembly that took control over of the government. The privileges of the aristocracy and the Church were abolished. A document called the Declaration of the Rights of Man proclaimed all men free and equal. Women, however, were not mentioned. This revolution soon underwent radicalization—a Reign of Terror condemned thousands of royalists to death by the guillotine, and the king himself was executed in 1793. Led by Maximilien de Robespierre, the Jacobin party tried to rebuild France from scratch, with the "Cult of the Supreme Being" replacing Catholicism. This was an attempt to introduce a nationalistic religion based on the belief that God does not interfere in the destinies of men.

From 1792, revolutionary France was at war. Raised by mass conscription, large French armies repeatedly defeated the more conventional forces of European monarchies. General Napoleon Bonaparte staged a military coup in 1799 and proclaimed himself errmeror in 1804. Although his rule restored order, it maintained and formalized the innovations of the revolution. His armies dominated Europe, but Britain offered strong resistance. It deployed naval and financial power to support Russia, Austria, and Prussia, enabling Napoleon's defeat. However, the ideas introduced in the revolutionary period—such as the concept of human rights—have endured over time.

Down with the Bastille! The destruction of the
court prison, a symbol of Bourbon despotism, 14 July 1789


Execution of Louis XVI

Sketch by Jacques-Louis David of the National Assembly taking the Tennis Court Oath

Guillotine model 1792
The guillotine, the instrument of choice for beheadings during the French Revolution, was still being used for executions this century
Between 18,000 and 40,000 people wereexecuted during the Reign of Terro
Satirical cartoon lampooning the excesses 
of the Revolution as seen from abroad.

The Oath of the Tennis Court

The Oath of the Tennis Court

The Taking of the Tuileries
I Believe in Marat, the Almighty

Jean-Paul Marat was sitting in the bathtub when his last hour struck on 13 July 1793. A teacher of languages, a journalist and a physician, Marat had turned out to be one of the most radical demagogues the 1789 Revolution produced. He spent much time in the tub to find relief from a chronic, itchy rash. He wore compresses on his forehead to relieve headaches from which he also suffered. While he was bathing on that fateful day, he was reading a letter from Charlotte Corday, the great-granddaughter of the playwright Pierre Corneille. The young noblewoman had tried in vain to gain admittance to Marat. Now she had sent him a letter in which she slyly suggested a tete-a-tete.He let her in and she stabbed him. Marat died instantly.

Some contemporaries must have been pleased at the deed. Marat had been a tough customer. He had had 860 gallows erected to deal with his political enemies and had sent over 200,000 of them to the guillotine. His opponents may have considered his death a just revenge. His adherents, however, celebrated him as the martyr of a just cause.
 Appointed master of ceremonies at the hero's funeral, painter Jacques-Louis David was a fervent revolutionary and a personal friend of Marat. He obliged by putting Marat's corpse on canvas just as he had had it put on display: with his bare chest and wounds visible. On 15 October 1793 David presented the picture to the National Assembly. It became the symbol of the French Revolution. Copies of it were placed on church altars, smothered under billowing clouds of incense. Even in public offices copies of the painting were supposed to replace Crucifixes and royal portraits. However, before it could get out of hand, the personality cult was stopped by Robespierre's fall and the arrest of Jacques-Louis David. On 10 February the painting was removed from the chamber of the National Assembly. Marat's heart, which had been kept in the Cordeliers Club, was burnt and the ashes scattered in the Montmartre sewer.

The Murderof Marat
Between the 13th and 19th centuries, the kingdom of Benin was one of the most powerful in the southern part of present-day Nigeria. It grew increasingly wealthy on trade, starting with the Portuguese in the 15th century and later the Dutch and the British. Bini craftsmen became renowned for their bronze work and ivory
Although little is known about the early days of Benin, its first king or oba, is thought to be Eweka, who ruled in the late 13th century. In the centuries that followed, Benin expanded, stretching from the Niger River delta to present-day Lagos in Nigeria by the time of the rule of Oba Ewuare in the mid-15th century. A capital had been built in Benin City, complete with a vast royal palace complex. When the Portuguese first arrived, they were surprised by the grandeur and size of the palace, which occupied a third of the city.


Ivory carving and metalwork were important art forms; Benin was famed for its bronzes, but they were actually cast of brass. Artists were organized into guilds and apprentices studied with masters. Ivory was used in the royal household, while bronze plaques glorified the kings's achievements. West Africans had developed the technique of smelting metal as early as the 15th century, and the production of these works was further expanded after Europeans brought metals in the 15th century.


Benin participated in the transatlantic slave trade, providing Europeans with prisoners of war in exchange for manufactured goods, including metal and cloth, as well as coral beads. By the late 19th century, Benin had weakened due to conflict with neighboring kingdoms and pressure from the British, who wanted to take control of its lucrative trade. They invaded Benin City in 1897, and although the kingdom continued to exist, the king was exiled for a number of years.

The Abolition of Slavery in the French Colonies

The ancient kingdom of Ethiopia was one of the earliest Christian nations in Africa. It adopted the Orthodox Christianity found in Egypt, later resisting incursions from Islam and from Roman Catholicism, and its unique religious art reflects the influences of east and west.
Christianity arrived from the Middle East, first with traders and later with monks, and it took root around the 4th century. Eastern orthodoxy and the Egyptian Copts were both influential in the establishment and development of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church. Christianity also underpinned the kingdom; by 1270, a new ruling dynasty had emerged, claiming to be descended from Menelik I, the son of the biblical King Solomon and the Queen of Sheba. A book known as the Kebra Nagast, or Glory of the Kings, that attempted to trace this genealogy was produced around this time. The Solomonic dynasty ruled into the later decades of the 20th century.


As Islam later spread through North Africa and around the Red Sea and Persian Gulf, it also made its way toward Ethiopia. Although there were Muslims in the country, Ethiopian emperors were often locked into battles against Islamic invaders. Following a declaration of a holy war against Ethiopia in the early 16th century, Islamic invaders were finally driven out in 1543 with the help of the Portuguese. However, many churches and manuscripts were destroyed in the decades of fighting.


The Portuguese missionaries who arrived in the 1600s were eager to convert the country to Roman Catholicism. In the early 17th century, Emperor Susenyos eventually relented by accepting some of the theological precepts, but the ensuing outrage among his people forced him to abdicate. In 1632, his son Fasilides, who kept close to the Ethiopian Orthodox Church, took power. He moved the capital to Gonder, which became a hub of cultural activity, including the copying of religious manuscripts and panel painting. However, by 1769, this time of artistic output and relative peace were brought to an end after several conflicts erupted, resulting in the empire being split and ruled by various factions. This period, known as the Age of Princes, destabilized the country until 1855.

The First Italian Campaign