History of the World in Objects and Art

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History of the World in Objects and Art Timeline

Around 1750, a sustained, accelerating growth in human productivity often referred to as the Industrial Revolution, began. The use of technology and intensive exploitation of labor in factories was accompanied by increased farm output and improvements in health, allowing a steep rise in population. The rapid movement of people, goods, and information across oceans and continents created a truly global economy.
The Industrial Revolution began in Britain, a country that, by the mid-18th century, had achieved mild prosperity through trade and commercially oriented farming. It had plenty of coal—the essential fuel of industrialization. There was also a burgeoning market for consumer goods, both domestically and in its overseas empire.

Britain's government was inclined to encourage business enterprise. From around 1780, the British textile industry was transformed by the adoption of large-scale factory production and new machinery for cotton spinning and weaving. British output of cotton goods increased 50-fold between the 1780s and 1850. Britain also pioneered new techniques in iron founding and development of steam engines. These advances were driven by the efforts of practical inventors and entrepreneurs.


Outside the textile industry, the impact of factories was limited until large-scale railroad building, from the 1830s and 1840s, changed the scale of industrialization. Building and operating railroads generated an immense demand for steel and coal. This stimulated the growth of heavy industry and mining, not only in Britain but also in parts of continental Europe and the northern United States. By the 1850s, progress in precision engineering facilitated the mass production of highly efficient machines, including printing presses. The expansion of output created a new economy with permanent growth as its essential principle.

By the late 19th century, chemicals, electricity, and gasoline engines were opening up new areas of innovation. Scientists worked for industrial companies, while inventors, such as Thomas Edison, set the pace for developing ingenious gadgetry. Meanwhile, Germany and the United States surpassed Britain as centers of industrial production, and Japan emerged as an important new player.

The impact of industrialization and other economic and technological changes on people's lives was extensive. The vast majority of the world's population had always lived in rural areas, but the second half of the 19th century witnessed a change, with Britain and Belgium becoming the first countries to have more of their people living in towns and cities than on the land. In the short term, many communities in the world experienced industrialization as a catastrophe because it overthrew established ways of life and demanded excessive regimented toil in grim conditions.
Environmental degradation was an automatic consequence of economic expansion based on coal and steel. The impact was felt by those far from the industrial centers—by Zulu who toiled in southern African mines, or slaves in the American South harvesting cotton for textile mills. But statistics show a remarkable rise in living standards during this period in the industrializing zones. Life expectancy increased, partly through medical advances and the decline of epidemic diseases but also because of improved food supply. The more privileged social classes enjoyed unprecedented wealth and luxury.

Scottish inventor James Watt (1736-1819) transformed the steam engine from a pumping machine of limited usefulness into the universal workhorse of the Industrial Revolution. Watt was a maker of mathematical instruments at Glasgow University when, in 1764, he became interested in the Newcomen steam engine. Invented by the Englishman Thomas Newcomen around 1712, this machine was widely used to pump water out of mines, but it was inefficient and unreliable. In 1769, Watt set out to improve it, patenting his version, which employed a condenser. Four years later, Watt met Birmingham businessman Matthew Boulton and the two formed a partnership. Located at Soho, Birmingham, the firm of Boulton & Watt manufactured their first steam pumping engines in 1776. Since these were three times as efficient as the Newcomen engines, the product was an instant success.


The next hurdle for Watt was to make a steam engine that would drive rotary motion. However, his first attempt to create a "steam wheel" did not build upon the success of his pumping engine and was a failure.
It was Boulton who, for commercial reasons, pushed Watt to adapt the steam engine's reciprocating linear motion into rotary motion. Since a crank, which would have achieved this effect, was under patent elsewhere, Watt solved the problem with a sun-and-planet gear system. Rotative engines could be used for a much wider range of tasks, powering workshops and factories, and eventually allowing steam-powered vehicles to be built.


Watt went on to make further improvements to the steam engine, including the introduction of a centrifugal governor, an ingenious feedback system to slow the engine automatically when it threatened to "run away." It was also Watt who established horsepower as a measure of an engine's output, a unit that is still in use today. The exploitation of patents, as well as direct sale of their products, made Watt and Boulton wealthy men.

A forerunner to the inventions of James Watt
Some thirty years later, Joseph Mallord William Turner  was deeply moved watching the gallant old ship being towed from Sheerness to the breakers yard at Deptford. However, the brilliant painter of atmospheric effects and moods was not just thinking of farewells. He was also looking forward to new beginnings. In 1765, ten years before Turner was born, James Watt had triggered the Industrial Revolution in England by inventing the steam engine. Turner was fascinated by themarvels of technology that were emerging all around him. He was among the first to paintpictures, dramatically experimental ones, of modern means of transportation, such as trains and steamships. Both the magnificence and the threatening aspect of such inventions are revealed in his paintings of them. An observer might find symbolism in the Temeraire's last voyage: the tugboat towing her under steam representing the New Order and all its ambivalence, the sailing vessel the Old — already transfigured in memory.

Joseph Mallord William Turner
The Fighting Temeraire Tugged to Her Last Berth to Be Broken Up
The National Gallery, London
As if Carried off by the Winds
The Rise to Power of the Corsican Devil

Jean-Auguste Dominique Ingres, Portrait of Napoleon Bonaparte, The First Council, 1804
Jacques-Louis David, Napoleon in His Study, 1812
Jacques-Louis David, Napoleon Crossing the Alps
Jean-Auguste Dominique Ingres, Napoleon on his Imperial throne, 1806

Soldiers, you are naked and ill nourished. I shall lead you to earth's most fertile plains. Rich provinces and great cities will fall into your hands. There you shall find honour, fame and wealth.

Napoleon Bonaparte, Speech to His Soldiers on Being Appointed General of the Republican Armies in Italy, 1796

His French spelling was shaky indeed and his strong Corsican accent marked him as provincial. Because he pronounced his first name "Napolion", his classmates at school dubbed him "la-paille-au-nez", "straw nose". He was an average student; his German teacher even regarded him as stupid. Yet he was a voracious reader, and the books he devoured did not make easy reading: Corneille, Montaigne, Montesquieu, Plutarch and Tacitus. Moreover, he had an astonishing memory and never forgot anything. A single teacher, who must have been more percipient than the rest, saw in him "granite which a volcano is heating up". Things were still simmering on the back burner then. Born on 15 August 1769 in Ajaccio on Corsica, Napoleon Bonaparte was regarded as a taciturn, gloomy and sensitive boy. Accepted as a cadet at the Paris military academy in 1784, he was commissioned lieutenant only a year and a half later. Transferred to an artillery regiment, he flirted with the idea of revolution.

At first a fervent Corsican nationalist, he took part in a revolt against the French authorities. However in 1793, he broke with the Corsican nationalist faction and was forced to flee with his family to the French mainland. Rejoining the army, he sided with Robespierre, becoming commander of an artillery battalion. Now that his career was well launched, a short sojourn in prison after Robespierre's fall did nothing to hinder it. At the age of twenty-six Bonaparte was appointed General of the Republican Armies in Italy, and was widely admired for his brilliant tactical skills, his schooled intellect and the leadership qualities he consistently displayed. Veteran field commanders were furious. A greenhorn had been promoted over their heads, a young man of small stature with long unkempt hair. Bonaparte, however, knew where he was heading. In the campaign against Austria, he won victory after victory in northern Italy. He grew famous as a "second Alexander" who "strode like a demigod from battle to battle and victory to victory".

The painter Antoine-Jean Gros captured a scene from that period: the Battle of Arcola, a village twenty-four kilometres south-east of Verona. Between 15 and 17 November 1796, Bonaparte defeated reinforcements dispatched to the aid of the Austrian troops encircled at Mantua. France celebrated him as "Fortune's favourite in battle". The poet Friedrich Holderlin was jubilant: "Holy vessels are poets in whom the wine of life, the spirit of heroes is held. But the spirit of that youth, that quick spirit, must it not burst the vessel that was to contain it?"

Napoleon kept cool, calm and collected. When an envoy sent by the Directoire, which was then the French government, sought him out after the victory at Arcole, he pronounced prophetically: "What 1 have accomplished here is a mere trifle. I am only at the beginning of my career. Do you think that I am winning laurels for my lance in Italy simply for the aggrandisement of the Directoire?" In his own words, he felt "as if he had been carried off by the winds".

Jean-Antoine Gros
Napoleon Bonaparte at the Bridge of Arcole, 17 November 1796

The Coronation of Napoleon

The Coronation of Napoleon
The Battle of Trafalgar
A Reflection of Horror

The Spanish Revolt against Napoleon

Francisco de Goya, Barbarians!. No. 38 from series "DISASTERS OF WAR"

Napoleon was furious. The "damned Spanish affair" was out of control. Early on, the power-mad Emperor of France had thought it would be a pushover. Charles IV of Spain, a weakling at best, had retreated into the background, leaving the government in the hands of his wife Maria Luisa and her lover Manuel Godoy. Napoleon could have won over the ambitious Godoy by making him viceroy of Spain. However, his links with Napoleon, which led to a disastrous war with Great Britain, made Godoy unpopular throughout Spain. He only barely escaped being lynched by fleeing to France.

Napoleon, cunning as he was, had always treated Spain, an ally of France, like a subject nation. He refused to admit defeat at the hands of a nation occupied by his troops. Pretending to seek reconciliation, he summoned the Spanish king and queen, with the crown prince in tow, to France. Napoleon's real intention was to keep the Spanish royals captive and put his eldest brother, Joseph Bonaparte, on the Iberian throne. When Napoleons treachery became known, a desperate revolt broke out in Spain on 2 May 1808. Hopelessly outnumbered, a band of people armed with knives and lancesattacked a powerful French cavalry force in the Puerta del Sol, a square in the heart of Madrid. Begun in blind, impotent anger, the revolt was doomed from the outset to failure. Still it signalled to the world that a conquered people had dared to stand up to Napoleon, who was then at the zenith of his power. The French Emperor exacted a terrible revenge. That same night, everyone suspected of having taken part in the rebellion was executed by a French firing squad.

No one has come closer to showing the naked brutality of those events than Francisco de Goya, Court Painter to Charles IV, who had originally welcomed Napoleon's ideals. Imbued with the spirit of the French Revolution, he had not hesitated to show the Spanish royal family for what it was, painting them in a highly unflattering light. However, Napoleon turned out to be the opposite of what he had seemed to be. Although he had originally proclaimed freedom for his own and other peoples of Europe, he revealed himself as a despot. Perhaps his values had become corrupted and twisted. In any case, Goya depicted the scene with a twist: his hero is the victim who will be the next to be shot. The man in the white shirt spreads out his arms like Christ on the Cross. The wounds on his hands are like Christ's. His message is: I die that you may live. It was to take five years to drive the French out of Spain.

The Revolt against Napoleon in Spain
Francisco de Goya
The Third of May, 1808: The Execution of the Defenders of Madrid
Museo del Prado, Madrid

The Revolt against Napoleon in Spain

The Wreck of the Medusa