In Italy, art history generally marks the end of the great Italian cultural age, inaugurated by Giotto, with the luminism of Giovan Battista Tiepolo or with the refined neoclassical elegance of Antonio Canova (1757-1822). In fact, in the 18th century Italy gradually lost that role of cultural leader that had seen it at the center of European art for centuries. Thus Rome, while retaining the charm of the Eternal City, the cradle of Western civilization, of the perennial beauty of the “ancient,” for centuries the capital of culture, heir to the Greco-Roman tradition, ceded its cultural hegemony to Paris, an international metropolis increasingly able to embrace the living forces of the time.
In a period marked by a series of profound political and social transformations: on the one hand the 18th century marked the triumph of monarchy, on the other, it saw its fall with the French Revolution of 1789. While the 19th century saw the rise of Napoleon, in 1815 the Congress of Vienna restored the monarchies, which were stunned by the changing times, which in turn were characterized by the victory of a rich, enterprising and culturally secular bourgeoisie.
In the 18th century, with the rise of the Enlightenment, the cultural, spiritual and philosophical climate was changing radically from a world characterized by religious issues that had led to deep divisions between European states. Religion, questioned as a source of error and superstition, was now looked upon with suspicion. From the theological point of view, too, there was a radical change in thinking about God. Certainly, God was always considered the origin of the world; he was often spoken of as the “eternal architect” of the universe, as Voltaire wrote, but he was no longer the “final cause” of every reality, the goal toward which everything tended as an end.