Visual History of the World




From Prehistoric to Romanesque  Art
Gothic Art
Renaissance  Art
Baroque and Rococo Art
The Art of Asia
Neoclassicism, Romanticism  Art
Art Styles in 19th century
Art of the 20th century
Artists that Changed the World
Design and Posters
Classical Music
Literature and Philosophy

Visual History of the World
First Empires
The Ancient World
The Middle Ages
The Early Modern Period
The Modern Era
The World Wars and Interwar Period
The Contemporary World

Dictionary of Art and Artists


The Early Modern Period

16th - 18th century


The smooth transition from the Middle Ages to the Modern Age is conventionally fixed on such events as the Reformation and the discovery of the "New World," which brought about the emergence of a new image of man and his world. Humanism, which spread out of Italy, also made an essential contribution to this with its promotion of a critical awareness of Christianity and the Church. The Reformation eventually broke the all-embracing power of the Church. After the Thirty Years' War, the concept of a universal empire was also nullified. The era of the nation-state began, bringing with it the desire to build up political and economic power far beyond Europe. The Americas, Africa, and Asia provided regions of expansion for the Europeans.

Proportions of the Human Figure by Leonardo da Vinci (drawing, ca. 1490)
is a prime example of the new approach of Renaissance
artists and scientists to the anatomy of the human body.



North America to the Founding
of Canada and the US



A race began between the British and the French for the colonization of North America. It ended with the British claiming the area of the later eastern United States and the French pushing north. Canada was eventually divided between the British and the French. In the northeast of the present-day United States, emigrating Puritans and private proprietors and companies founded the New England colonies. In the 17th and 18th centuries, they won cultural independence and political confidence and resisted taxation by the British motherland. The conflict escalated into a war lasting from 1775 to 1783, defined by the United States' Declaration of Independence in 1776, and resulting ultimately in a new constitution for a federal United States of America.


The Fight for the Coasts and the First Colonization of North America

On the coasts of America, Great Britain and Spain fought battles for naval supremacy. During the 16th century, the British and the French began the exploration of North America.


While Spain and Portugal were conquering Central and 5 South America, it was primarily the British and French who established themselves on the coasts
of  1 North America.

In 1497, just five years after Columbus's first voyage, John Cabot, in the service of the English king, reached the North American coast in Labrador. French exploration began with Jacques Cartier, who sailed through the Gulf of St. Lawrence and up the St. Lawrence River in 1534-1541.

1 Map of North and Central America,
colored lithograph, 19th century

5 Naval map of the South Atlantic with the continents South America and Africa,
drawing, ca. 1519

The buccaneer Walter Raleigh landed at Cape Hatteras in North Carolina in 1584, claimed the entire Atlantic coast between the 35th and 45th parallels for England, and named the area 3 Virginia in honor of the "virgin queen" Elizabeth I; in 1607 it officially became a British colony (and in 1624 a Crown colony).

Henry Hudson investigated the East Coast of North America for Great Britain in 1609, while the French missionary Jacques Marquette and fur trader Louis Jolliet discovered the Mississippi River Valley from Wisconsin to Arkansas. Louisiana became the center of French colonization in the Mississippi area in 1716-1717, and in 1718 the French founded the city of New Orleans.

In the conflict between the sea powers of England and Spain, English privateers seized many transports of Spanish gold and goods returning to Europe from the Spanish colonies.

The 4 Caribbean islands, the Antilles, and parts of the Central American coasts remained contested areas from which freebooters, independently or under the mandate of the European sea powers, seized ships and set up their own, occasionally highly organized "buccaneer states."

The most famous privateer was 2 Henry Morgan, occupied and ransacked trading vessels around Spanish Panama with his British-supported "filibusters," and in 1674 he was knighted before returning to become the British representative governor of Jamaica in the following year.

3 First British settlement in Virginia, 1584,
copper engraving, 1590

4 Naval battle of the British fleet against the French
fleet near Domenica in the Caribbean, 1782

2 Sir Henry Morgan, privateer
and vice-governor of Jamaica



The Establishment of the New England Colonies
17th to 18th century

The earlier British colonies were established and settled either by Puritans driven out of England or by private entrepreneurs. They were soon increasingly prosperous both economically and culturally and developed their own social and political structures.


At the beginning of the 17th century, North America seemed like the promised land to many groups of English Puritans, who were oppressed by the state church and government in Britain. Their desire to live by the principles of a puritanical Christianity shaped the identity of America and later the United States.

In 1620 the 9 Pilgrim fathers, 102 Puritans who wanted to break with the Church of England because they felt it had not fully carried out the reforms started in the Reformation, sailed to the New World in the 12 Mayflower.

They landed in 8 New England.

9 The pilgrims arrive in America

12 The Mayflower's voyage


8 Landscape in New England, painting by Church Frederic Edwin

see also:  Frederic Edwin Church



As they had the official right to colonize the area, they signed a charter they had drafted themselves, the "Mayflower Compact," in which they vowed to form an autonomous community and subsequently founded the colony of Plymouth. Other, related colonies followed: New Hampshire (1623), Massachusetts Bay (1630), Connecticut (1634), and Rhode Island (1636). After 1630 the whole of Massachusetts was settled by the "Great Migration" of the Puritans.

The founding fathers at first tried to live peacefully with the native 7 Indians, and this was initially successful while the colonies were still small.

With time, however, the settlers constantly expanded their territories and began repeatedly interfering in the 6 feuds between the Indian tribes.

7 Indian village in present-day
North Carolina

6 Battle between feuding Indian tribes

Indians of North America by
Theodore De Bry

Indians of North America by
Theodore De Bry

Indians of North America by Theodore De Bry

see also:

Theodore De Bry

Indians of North America


The British government assigned the development of the land both to corporate enterprises and individuals with "free letters," or charters for colonization. Thus the colonies of Maryland (1634) and Carolina (1663), divided into North and South in 1729, arose. The first black slaves were brought to North America in 1619.

The Dutch were also active in colonization on a smaller scale; they settled in present-day 10 New York, founding the colony of New Netherlands and its capital New Amsterdam in 1624.

However, the British took the area from the Dutch in 1664; Charles III assigned it to his brother James, duke of York, after whom it was renamed "New York." The duke sold the area of present-day New Jersey to a private individual. A part of this land was acquired in 1674 by William Penn, the leader of the Quakers, who in addition bought Pennsylvania—named after him—in 1681 and Delaware in 1682. In 1733 the last private colony, named Georgia after King George of England, was founded.

After beginnings full of privations, the New England states blossomed by the end of the 17th century, due to the colonists' pioneering spirit and Protestant work ethic. The first American universities were founded, including 11 Harvard (1636), Yale (1701), and Princeton (1746).

10 View over the city of New York,
copper engraving, 1776

11 Engraving at the
main entrance of Harvard University



William Penn

As a Quaker, William Penn was persecuted in England where he was expelled from Christ Church, an Oxford college, for his beliefs. Yet as the son of Admiral Sir William Penn he also had some influence at court.

Penn was able to persuade the government to assign him territories in the New World, where he founded colonies of peaceful Quaker communities.

His drafted the first plan to unify all North American colonies (1696) and to found a "league of nations" for Europe (1693).

The Treaty of Penn with the Indians, by Benjamin West

see also collection:

Benjamin West





William Penn

William Penn

English Quaker leader and colonist

born Oct. 14, 1644, London, Eng.
died July 30, 1718, Buckinghamshire

English Quaker leader and advocate of religious freedom, who oversaw the founding of the American Commonwealth of Pennsylvania as a refuge for Quakers and other religious minorities of Europe.

Early life and education
William was the son of Admiral Sir William Penn. He acquired the foundations of a classical education at the Chigwell grammar school in the Essex countryside, where he came under Puritan influences. After Admiral Penn’s naval defeat in the West Indies in 1655, the family moved back to London and then to Ireland. In Ireland William heard Thomas Loe, a Quaker itinerant, preach to his family at the admiral’s invitation, an experience that apparently intensified his religious feelings. In 1660 William entered the University of Oxford, where he rejected Anglicanism and was expelled in 1662 for his religious Nonconformity. Determined to thwart his son’s religiosity, Admiral Penn sent his son on a grand tour of the European continent and to the Protestant college at Saumur, in France, to complete his studies. Summoned back to England after two years, William entered Lincoln’s Inn and spent a year reading law. This was the extent of his formal education.

In 1666 Admiral Penn sent William to Ireland to manage the family estates. There he crossed paths again with Thomas Loe and, after hearing him preach, decided to join the Quakers (the Society of Friends), a sect of religious radicals who were reviled by respectable society and subject to official persecution.

Quaker leadership and political activism
After joining the sect, Penn would eventually be imprisoned four times for publicly stating his beliefs in word and print. He published 42 books and pamphlets in the seven years immediately following his conversion. In his first publication, the pamphlet Truth Exalted (1668), he upheld Quaker doctrines while attacking in turn those of the Roman Catholics, the Anglicans, and the Dissenting churches. It was followed by The Sandy Foundation Shaken (1668), in which he boldly questioned the Trinity and other Protestant doctrines. Though Penn subsequently qualified his anti-Trinitarianism in Innocency with Her Open Face (1669), he was imprisoned in the Tower of London, where he wrote his most famous book, No Cross, No Crown (1669). In this work he expounded the Quaker-Puritan morality with eloquence, learning, and flashes of humour, condemning the worldliness and luxury of Restoration England and extolling both Puritan conceptions of ascetic self-denial and Quaker ideals of social reform. No Cross, No Crown stands alongside the letters of St. Paul, Boethius’s Consolation of Philosophy, and John Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress as one of the world’s finest examples of prison literature. Penn was released from the Tower in 1669.

It was as a protagonist of religious toleration that Penn would earn his prominent place in English history. In 1670 he wrote The Great Case of Liberty of Conscience Once More Debated & Defended, which was the most systematic and thorough exposition of the theory of toleration produced in Restoration England. Though Penn based his arguments on theological and scriptural grounds, he did not overlook rational and pragmatic considerations; he pointed out, for example, that the contemporary prosperity of Holland was based on “her Indulgence in matters of Faith and Worship.”

That same year Penn also had an unexpected opportunity to strike another blow for freedom of conscience and for the traditional rights of all Englishmen. On Aug. 14, 1670, the Quaker meetinghouse in Gracechurch Street, London, having been padlocked by the authorities, he preached in the street to several hundred persons. After the meetings, he and William Mead were arrested and imprisoned on a trumped-up charge of inciting a riot. At his trial in the Old Bailey, Penn calmly and skillfully exposed the illegality of the proceedings against him. The jury, under the leadership of Edward Bushell, refused to bring in a verdict of guilty despite threats and abusive treatment. For their refusal the jurymen were fined and imprisoned, but they were vindicated when Sir John Vaughan, the lord chief justice, enunciated the principle that a judge “may try to open the eyes of the jurors, but not to lead them by the nose.” The trial, which is also known as the “Bushell’s Case,” stands as a landmark in English legal history, having established beyond question the independence of the jury. A firsthand account of the trial, which was a vivid courtroom drama, was published in The People’s Ancient and Just Liberties Asserted (1670).

Admiral Penn died in 1670, having finally become reconciled to his son’s Quakerism. Young Penn inherited his father’s estates in England and Ireland and became, like his father, a frequenter of the court, where he enjoyed the friendship of King Charles II and his brother, the duke of York (later James II). In 1672 Penn married Gulielma Springett, a Quaker by whom he had eight children, four of whom died in infancy. In the 1670s Penn was tirelessly active as a Quaker minister and polemicist, producing no fewer than 40 controversial tracts on religious doctrines and practice. In 1671 and 1677 he undertook preaching missions to Holland and northern Germany, where the contacts he established would later help him in peopling Pennsylvania with thousands of Dutch and German emigrants. The later years of the decade were also occupied with political activities. In 1679 Penn supported the Parliamentary candidacy of the radical republican Algernon Sidney, going on the hustings twice—at Guildford and later at Bramber—for his friend. During these years he wrote a number of pamphlets on behalf of the radical Whigs, including England’s Great Interest in the Choice of this New Parliament (1679), which is noteworthy as one of the first clear statements of party doctrine ever laid before the English electorate.

Founding and governorship of Pennsylvania
Penn had meanwhile become involved in American colonization as a trustee for Edward Byllynge, one of the two Quaker proprietors of West New Jersey. In 1681 Penn and 11 other Quakers bought the proprietary rights to East New Jersey from the widow of Sir John Carteret. In that same year, discouraged by the turn of political events in England, where Charles II was ruling without Parliament and prospects for religious freedom seemed dark, Penn sought and received a vast province on the west bank of the Delaware River, which was named Pennsylvania after his father (to whom Charles II had owed a large debt canceled by this grant). A few months later the duke of York granted him the three “lower counties” (later Delaware). In Pennsylvania Penn hoped to provide a refuge for Quakers and other persecuted people and to build an ideal Christian commonwealth. “There may be room there, though not here” he wrote to a friend in America, “for such a holy experiment.”

As proprietor, Penn seized the opportunity to create a government that would embody his Quaker-Whig ideas. In 1682 he drew up a Frame of Government for the colony that would, he said, leave himself and his successors “no power of doing mischief, that the will of one man may not hinder the good of a whole country.” Freedom of worship in the colony was to be absolute, and all the traditional rights of Englishmen were carefully safeguarded. The actual machinery of government outlined in the Frame proved in some respects to be clumsy and unworkable, but Penn wisely included in the Frame an amending clause—the first in any written constitution—so that it could be altered as necessity required.

Penn himself sailed in the Welcome for Pennsylvania late in 1682, leaving his family behind, and found his experiment already well under way. The city of Philadelphia was already laid out on a grid pattern according to his instructions, and settlers were pouring in to take up the fertile lands lying around it. Presiding over the first Assembly, Penn saw the government of the “lower counties” united with that of Pennsylvania and the Frame of Government incorporated in the Great Law of the province. In a series of treaties based on mutual trust, he established good relations with the Lenni Lenape Indians. He also held an unsuccessful conference with Lord Baltimore, the proprietor of the neighbouring province of Maryland, to negotiate a boundary between it and Pennsylvania. When this effort proved unsuccessful, Penn was obliged in 1684 to return to England to defend his interests against Baltimore.

Before his return, he published A Letter to the Free Society of Traders (1683), which contained his fullest description of Pennsylvania and included a valuable account of the Lenni Lenape based on firsthand observation. With the accession of his friend the duke of York as James II in 1685, Penn found himself in a position of great influence at court, whereby he was able to have hundreds of Quakers, as well as political prisoners such as John Locke, released from prison. Penn welcomed James’s Declaration of Indulgence (1687) but received some criticism for doing so, since the declaration provided religious toleration at the royal pleasure rather than as a matter of fundamental right. But the Act of Toleration (1689), passed after James’s abdication, finally established the principle for which Penn had laboured so long and faithfully.

Penn’s close relations with James brought him under a cloud when William and Mary came to the throne, and for a time he was forced to live virtually in hiding to avoid arrest. He used this period of forced retirement to write more books. Among them were An Essay Towards the Present and Future Peace of Europe (1693), in which he proposed an international organization to prevent wars by arbitrating disputes, and A Brief Account of the Rise and Progress of the People Called Quakers (1694), which was the earliest serious effort to set down the history of the Quaker movement. Penn also drafted (1696) the first plan for a future union of the American colonies, a document that presaged the U.S. Constitution.

In 1696, his first wife having died in 1694, Penn married Hannah Callowhill, by whom he had seven children, five of whom lived to adulthood. Meanwhile, affairs had been going badly in Pennsylvania. For about two years (1692–94), while Penn was under suspicion, the government of the colony had been taken from him and given to that of New York. Afterwards, Pennsylvania’s Assembly quarreled constantly with its Council and with Penn’s deputy governors. The “lower counties” were unhappy at being unequally yoked with the larger province of Pennsylvania. Relations with the home government were strained by the Quakers’ conscientious refusal to provide military defense. In 1699 Penn, his wife, and his secretary, James Logan, returned to the province. He settled many of the outstanding difficulties, though he was compelled to grant the Pennsylvania Assembly preeminence in 1701 in a revised constitution known as the Charter of Privileges. He also allowed the lower counties to form their own independent government. After less than two years Penn’s affairs in England demanded his presence, and he left the province in 1701, never to see it again. He confided his Pennsylvania interests to the capable hands of James Logan, who upheld them loyally for the next half century.

Final years
Penn’s final years were unhappy. His eldest son, William, Jr., turned out a scapegrace. Penn’s own poor judgment in choosing his subordinates (except for the faithful Logan) recoiled upon him: his deputy governors proved incompetent or untrustworthy, and his steward, Philip Ford, cheated him on such a staggering scale that Penn was forced to spend nine months in a debtors’ prison. In 1712, discouraged at the outcome of his “holy experiment,” Penn began negotiations to surrender Pennsylvania to the English crown. A paralytic stroke, which seriously impaired his memory and dulled his once-keen intellect, prevented the consummation of these negotiations. Penn lingered on, virtually helpless, until 1718, his wife undertaking to manage his proprietary affairs. Penn’s collected works were published in 1726.

Frederick B. Tolles

Encyclopaedia Britannica



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