Dare to Know: Prints and Drawings in the Age of Enlightenment

, Special Exhibitions Gallery, Harvard Art Museums
  • The First Stage of Cruelty
  • English Man (painting, recto; text, verso), illustrated folio from a manuscript of the Hubanname
  • Cruelty in Perfection
  • Roman Architectural Fantasy
  • Young Monk
  • A Centurion Begging for Protection from Marc Antony during a Seditious Revolt
  • The Money Devil
  • Mariner’s Dry-Card Compass
  • A Set of Anatomical Tables, with Explanations and an Abridgement, of the Practice of Midwifery, with a View to Illustrate a Treatise on That Subject, and Collection of Cases (2nd ed., corrected)
  • Plate IV from Bernhard Siegfried Albinus's Tabulae sceleti et musculorum corporis humani (one sheet)
  • Self-Portrait
  • Italian Sketchbook
  • Human Skeleton, Lateral View (Close to the Final Study for Table III But Differs in Detail)
  • Presages of the Millennium
  • The Phoenix or the Resurrection of Freedom
  • From: Suite of Sixty-Three Erotic Drawings
  • Monuments in Easter Island
  • To the Genius of Franklin
  • Affairs of State, 1770-1780
  • Two Actors Peeking through a Theater Curtain while Others Prepare the Footlights
  • The Tea-Tax-Tempest (The Oracle)
  • The Philosophers' Meal
  • Frontispiece to La découverte australe par un homme-volant, ou Le Dédale Français (The Discovery of the Austral Lands by a Flying Man; or, The French Daedalus) (vol. 1)
  • Het Koninkryk Japan : verdeelt in acht en zestig Provintien
  • Trademark
  • Neue Versuche und Muster das Pflanzenreich zum Papiermachen und andern Sachen wirthschaftsnützlich zu gebrauchen (New Experiments and Samples of Paper Made without Rags or at Least a Small Addition of Those Materials) (vol. 4)
  • The Second Stage of Cruelty
  • Canadians Weeping over the Tomb of their Child
  • View of Dresden
  • Young Girl Braiding her Hair
  • Calas Bidding Farewell to His Family
  • Herr Aaron (Pastor Aaron)
  • The Cutler's Workshop
  • Ursus Maritimus (Polar Bear)
  • La rentrée du char triomphant. Précis Exacte du voyage Aérien de M.rs Charles et Robert, d’après son discours en ouvrant son cours de Phisique (sic). Ils partirent des Thuileries le 1er Xbre 1783 à une heure 40 minutes.
  • Confession or Penance from the series The Seven Sacraments
  • A Pumpkin Used as a Fishing-Boat
  • Fragonard and Bergeret with Their Wives Visiting a Tomb in Pompeii
  • Haiyantang Dongmian (Calm Seas Palace), plate 12, from Changchun yuan shuifa tu (Pictures of the European Palaces and Waterworks)
  • Huayuan Zhengmian (Labyrinth), plate 5 from Changchun yuan shuifa tu (Pictures of the European Palaces and Waterworks)
  • Thomas Ripley & Co.
  • Neue Versuche und Muster das Pflanzenreich zum Papiermachen und andern Sachen wirthschaftsnützlich zu gebrauchen (New Experiments and Samples of Paper Made without Rags or at Least a Small Addition of Those Materials) (vol. 2)
  • Apollo and Daphne
  • The See-Saw
  • The Dormitory
  • Death of Saint Onophrius (?)
  • Mask from the Courtyard of the Zeughaus, Berlin
  • Invitation to a Ball
  • The bubblers medley, or A sketch of the times: being Europe’s memorial for the year 1720
  • Die Nahrungs-Gefäse in den Blättern der Bäume: Nach ihrer unterschiedlichen (The Food Vessels in the Leaves of Trees)
  • Botanicum medicinale: An herbal of medicinal plants on the College of Physicians list. Describing their medicinal virtues, names in nine languages
  • The Human Brain, from Dissertatio secunda. De sede et caussa coloris Aethiopum et caeterorum hominum (Second Dissertation: On the Seat and Cause of the Color of Ethiopians and Other Human Beings)
  • Antigüedades arabes de España (Arab Antiquities in Spain)
  • Cartographic Scale with Putti
  • L’Architecture considérée sous le rapport de l’art, des moeurs et de la législation (Architecture Considered in Relation to Art, Mores, and the Law)
  • The Cutler's Workshop
  • View of an Ecorché Seen from the Rear
  • A Branch of Gooseberries with a Dragonfly, an Orange-Tip Butterfly, and a Caterpillar
  • The Oracle
  • The Reception of an Ambassador by the Grand Vizir at the Sublime Porte
  • The New Coffeehouse
  • Neue Versuche und Muster das Pflanzenreich zum Papiermachen und andern Sachen wirthschaftsnützlich zu gebrauchen (New Experiments and Samples of Paper Made without Rags or at Least a Small Addition of Those Materials) (vol. 3)
  • Neue Versuche und Muster das Pflanzenreich zum Papiermachen und andern Sachen wirthschaftsnützlich zu gebrauchen (New Experiments and Samples of Paper Made without Rags or at Least a Small Addition of Those Materials) (enclosure for 5 vols.)
  • South sea bubble playing cards (10, J, Q, K, A of Hearts, 10, J, Q, K, A of Diamonds)
  • Histoire naturelle des dorades de la Chine (Natural History of Chinese Goldfish)
  • Drawing, View of the Pulpit, Saint Sulpice, Paris (Second Project)
  • Two Temples and a Palace in Spalato, Dalmatia
  • A Drawing of a Part for the Map of the Moon
  • Fowl Skeleton, Lateral View (Finished Study for Table V)
  • Description of a Slave Ship
  • Monument to Buffon
  • Figures Walking in a Parkland
  • Cérémonies et coutumes religieuses de tous les peuples du monde (Religious Ceremonies and Customs of
All the Peoples of the World) (vol. 1)
  • Henry Hastings, Nightman to His Majesties Offices, & for the City & Suburbs
  • Album Page with S. Gibbons Stationers in ye Temple; verso: Tomb of Bacchus
  • Muto, non Ciecho Sçavoir = Vivre Masquerade
  • Neue Versuche und Muster das Pflanzenreich zum Papiermachen und andern Sachen wirthschaftsnützlich zu gebrauchen (New Experiments and Samples of Paper Made without Rags or at Least a Small Addition of Those Materials) (vol. 1)
  • Los Caprichos
  • The Instructive and Appetizing Meal: Voltaire and Three Dinner Companions(?)
  • The Virtue of Lucretia
  • Mask from the Courtyard of the Zeughaus, Berlin
  • Mask from the Courtyard of the Zeughaus, Berlin
  • Mask from the Courtyard of the Zeughaus, Berlin
  • The Miserable Calas Family
  • Russian Woman (painting, verso; text, recto), illustrated folio from a manuscript of the Zenanname
  • The Reward of Cruelty
  • Lottery Ticket: The Endless Knot
  • The Wizard's Spell
  • Agamemnon Pursuing a Trojan near the Tomb of Ilos
  • The Tombs of the Jews
  • Mask from the Courtyard of the Zeughaus, Berlin
  • Portable Orrery
  • Micrographia restaurata; or, The copper-plates of Dr. Hooke’s Wonderful Discoveries by the Microscope, Reprinted and Fully Explained
  • Vue du Champ de Mars à l’instant du Serment (fête de la fédération)
  • From: Suite of Sixty-Three Erotic Drawings
  • Lunar Planisphere, Hypothetical Oblique Light
  • The Meteor of August 18, 1783, as seen from the East Angle of the North Terrace, Windsor Castle
  • Stromboli
  • Baptism from the series The Seven Sacraments
  • Plate 14 from Myologie complette en couleur et grandeur naturelle (Complete Scientific Study of Muscles in Color and Life-Size)
  • A Philosopher Giving a Lecture on the Orrery
  • View of Messina Harbor
  • The Father’s Curse: The Ungrateful Son
  • Neue Versuche und Muster das Pflanzenreich zum Papiermachen und andern Sachen wirthschaftsnützlich zu gebrauchen (New Experiments and Samples of Paper Made without Rags or at Least a Small Addition of Those Materials) (5 vols.)
  • Holmia celeberrima metropolis et sedes Regia Regni Sueciæ accuratissima ichnographia et prospectibus ob oculos posita = Stockholm die vortreffliche Haupt und Residenz Statt deß König Reichs Schweden, in einem accuraten Grund Riß u. Prospecten vorgestellt
  • Walking Temple Gates
  • Animal Comedians
  • A Representation of the Surprising Performances of Mr. Price
  • Begebenheiten der neueren Zeitgeschichte, in Göttinger Taschen-Calender für das Jahr 1793 (Events of Contemporary History, in Göttingen Pocket-Calendar for the Year 1793)
  • The Ball at the Mansion House April XVII, MDCCLXXV, The Right Honorable John Wilkes, Lord Mayor
  • Neue Versuche und Muster das Pflanzenreich zum Papiermachen und andern Sachen wirthschaftsnützlich zu gebrauchen (New Experiments and Samples of Paper Made without Rags or at Least a Small Addition of Those Materials) (vol. 5)
  • Knee Joint, from Dissertatio secunda. De sede et caussa coloris Aethiopum et caeterorum hominum (Second Dissertation: On the Seat and Cause of the Color of Ethiopians and Other Human Beings)
  • Fragments of Skin and Thumb, from Dissertatio secunda. De sede et caussa coloris Aethiopum et caeterorum hominum (Second Dissertation: On the Seat and Cause of the Color of Ethiopians and Other Human Beings)
  • Arteries and Veins of the Intestines (image plate), from Dissertatio secunda. De sede et caussa coloris Aethiopum et caeterorum hominum (Second Dissertation: On the Seat and Cause of the Color of Ethiopians and Other Human Beings)
  • The History of Jacobinsim, Its Crimes, Cruelties and Perfidies: Comprising an Inquiry into the Manner of Disseminating, Under the Appearance of Philosophy and Virtue, Principles which are Equally Subversive of Order, Virtue, Religion, Liberty and Happiness
On View Locate on Floor Plan Special Exhibitions Gallery, Harvard Art Museums

See how the graphic arts inspired, shaped, and gave immediacy to new ideas in the Enlightenment era, encouraging individuals to follow their own reason when seeking to know more.

What role did drawings and prints play during the Enlightenment era, from roughly 1720 to 1800? Dare to Know explores many nuances of this complex time—when political and cultural revolutions swept across Europe and the Americas, spurring profound shifts in science, philosophy, the arts, social and cultural encounters, and our shared sense of history. Indeed, the Enlightenment itself has been described as a “revolution of the mind.” Novel concepts in every realm of intellectual inquiry were communicated not only through text and speech, but in prints and drawings that gave these ideas a visual, concrete form. They made new things visible—and familiar things visible in powerful new ways. They wielded the potential to visually articulate, reinforce, or contradict beliefs as well as biases, while also arguing for social action and imagining new realities.

In 1784, in response to a journal article asking “What Is Enlightenment?,” German philosopher Immanuel Kant argued that the Enlightenment’s main impulse was to “dare to know!”: to pursue knowledge for oneself, without relying on others to interpret facts and experiences. But is this ever truly possible?

Bringing together 150 prints, drawings, books, and other related objects from Harvard as well as collections in the United States and abroad, this exhibition offers provocative insights into both the achievements and the failures of a period whose complicated legacies reverberate still today. Dare to Know asks new and sometimes uncomfortable questions of the so-called age of reason, inviting visitors to embrace the Enlightenment’s same spirit of inquiry—to investigate, to persuade, and to imagine.

Curated by Elizabeth M. Rudy, Carl A. Weyerhaeuser Curator of Prints, Harvard Art Museums, and Kristel Smentek, Associate Professor of Art History, Massachusetts Institute of Technology. With special thanks to Heather Linton, Curatorial Assistant for Special Exhibitions and Publications, Division of European and American Art, and Christina Taylor, Associate Paper Conservator, Straus Center for Conservation and Technical Studies. Research contributions by Austėja Mackelaitė, Stanley H. Durwood Foundation Curatorial Fellow (2016–18), and by Ph.D. candidates in Harvard’s Department of History of Art and Architecture and former graduate interns in the Division of European and American Art: J. Cabelle Ahn, Thea Goldring, and Sarah Lund.

An illustrated catalogue with 26 thematic essays—an A to Z exploration of the Enlightenment quest for understanding and change—accompanies the exhibition.

This project is supported in part by an award from the National Endowment for the Arts. Support for the exhibition is provided by the Melvin R. Seiden and Janine Luke Fund for Publications and Exhibitions, the Robert M. Light Print Department Fund, the Stanley H. Durwood Foundation Support Fund, the Catalogues and Exhibitions Fund for Pre-Twentieth-Century Art of the Fogg Museum, and the Gladys Krieble Delmas Foundation. The accompanying catalogue was made possible by the Andrew W. Mellon Publication Funds, including the Henry P. McIlhenny Fund. Related programming is supported by the M. Victor Leventritt Lecture Series Endowment Fund.

Share your experience: #DareToKnow #HarvardArtMuseums

Online Resource

Learn more through a series of exploratory videos with the curators and other contributors to the exhibition and accompanying catalogue. View on the museums’ Vimeo channel.