Jacques-Fabien Gautier d’Agoty, “Muscles of the Back,” Plate 14 from “Myologie complette en couleur et grandeur naturelle” (Complete Scientific Study of Muscles in Color and Life-Size), by Joseph Guichard Duverney (Paris: Gautier, 1746). Color mezzotint. Philadelphia Museum of Art, Purchased with the SmithKline Beckman Corporation Fund, 1968, 1968-25-79n, TL42415.2. Image: Courtesy of the Philadelphia Museum of Art; Photo: Joseph Hu.

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.


English Man (painting, recto; text, verso), illustrated folio from a manuscript of the Hubanname, Middle East, Ottoman period, end of 18th century. Opaque watercolor and ink on paper. Harvard Art Museums/Arthur M. Sackler Museum, The Edwin Binney, 3rd Collection of Turkish Art at the Harvard Art Museums, 1985.255. Photo © President and Fellows of Harvard College

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.



William Hogarth, British (London 1697 - 1764 London), Cruelty in Perfection, 1751. Etching and engraving. Harvard Art Museums/Fogg Museum, Gray Collection of Engravings Fund, G9034Photo © President and Fellows of Harvard College

Curated by Elizabeth M. Rudy, Carl A. Weyerhaeuser Curator of Prints at the Harvard Art Museums, and Kristel Smentek, Associate Professor of Art History at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. With special thanks to Heather Linton, Curatorial Assistant for Special Exhibitions and Publications in the 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 these 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.


William Hogarth, British (London 1697 - 1764 London), The First Stage of Cruelty, 1751. Etching and engraving. Harvard Art Museums/Fogg Museum, Gray Collection of Engravings Fund, G9032. Photo © President and Fellows of Harvard College

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.

September 16, 2022–January 15, 2023.


Giovanni Battista Piranesi, Italian (Mogliano Veneto, Italy 1720 - 1778 Rome, Italy), Roman Architectural Fantasy, 18th century. Red chalk, brown ink and brown and gray wash on white antique laid paper. Harvard Art Museums/Fogg Museum, Friends of Art, Archaeology and Music at Harvard Fund, 1945.10. Photo © President and Fellows of Harvard College.


Benigno Bossi, Italian (Arcisate, Italy 1727 - 1792 Parma). After Ennemond Alexandre Petitot, French (Lyon 1727 - 1801 Parma), Young Monk, 1771. Etching. Harvard Art Museums/Fogg Museum, Acquisition Fund for Prints, 2017.180. Photo © President and Fellows of Harvard College. 


Alexandre-Evariste Fragonard, French (Grasse 1780 - 1850 Paris), A Centurion Begging for Protection from Marc Antony during a Seditious Revolt, c. 1800. Black ink and black and gray wash, probably over graphite, framing lines in black ink, on off-white antique laid paper (laid down). Harvard Art Museums/Fogg Museum, Marian H. Phinney Fund and William W. Robinson Fund, 2018.210. Photo © President and Fellows of Harvard College. 


Roger Lorrain, French (active 18th century), The Money Devil, c. 1780. Drawing Brown ink on 9 sheets of joined paper. Kress Collection of Business and Economics, Baker Library, Harvard Business School, TL42399.3. Photo © Baker Library, Harvard Business School.


Edward Nairne, English (1726 - 1806). Manufactured by Eade & Wilton, English (fl. 1740-1765), Mariner’s Dry-Card Compass, 1765. Glass, oak, brass, lead. Collection of Historical Scientific Instruments, Harvard UniversityTL42401.2. Photo © Collection of Historical Scientific Instruments, Harvard University.


William Smellie, British (1697 - 1763), 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), 1761 (originally published 1758). Bound book. Francis A. Countway Library of Medicine, TL42402.1Photo © Francis A. Countway Library of Medicine, Harvard Medical School.


Jan Wandelaar, Dutch (Amsterdam, Netherlands 1690 - 1759 Leiden, Netherlands), Plate IV from Bernhard Siegfried Albinus's Tabulae sceleti et musculorum corporis humani (one sheet), 1747. Etching and engraving. Francis A. Countway Library of Medicine, TL42402.2. Photo © Francis A. Countway Library of Medicine, Harvard Medical School. 


Marie-Gabrielle Capet, French (Lyon 1761 - 1818 Paris), Self-Portrait, c. 1790. Black, red, and white chalk on light-tan antique laid paper. The Horvitz Collection, Wilmington, Del., TL42410.1. Photo © The Horvitz Collection, Wilmington, DE. 


John Flaxman, British (York, England 1755 - 1826 London, England), Italian Sketchbook, 1787.  Graphite, pen and black ink and gray wash on medium, slightly textured, cream laid paper bound in vellum. Yale Center for British Art, Paul Mellon Collection, TL42412.3Photo © Yale Center for British Art.


George Stubbs, British (Liverpool 1724 - 1806 London), Human Skeleton, Lateral View (Close to the Final Study for Table III But Differs in Detail), c. 1795-1806. Graphite on moderately thick, slightly textured, cream wove paper. Yale Center for British Art, Paul Mellon Collection, TL42412.5. Photo © Yale Center for British Art.


James Gillray, British (1757 - 1815), Presages of the Millennium1795, Etching and aquatint, hand-colored on moderately thick, slightly textured, cream wove paper. Yale Center for British Art, Paul Mellon Collection, TL42412.8Photo © Yale Center for British Art


James Barry, Irish (Cork 1741 - 1806 London), The Phoenix or the Resurrection of Freedom, 1776. Engraving and aquatint , published state. Yale Center for British Art, Paul Mellon Collection, TL42412.9. Photo © Yale Center for British Art.


Claude-Louis Desrais, French (Paris 1746 - 1816 Paris), From: Suite of Sixty-Three Erotic Drawings, 18th century. Pen with black ink and brush with gray and brown wash on off-white antique laid paper, framing lines in black and brown ink, laid down. The Horvitz Collection, Wilmington, Del., TL42410.8. Photo © The Horvitz Collection, Wilmington, DE


William Woollett, British (Maidstone, England 1735 - 1785 London, England), After William Hodges, British (1744-1797), Monuments in Easter Island, 1777. Etching and engraving. Philadelphia Museum of Art, The Muriel and Philip Berman Gift, acquired from the John S. Phillips bequest of 1876 to the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, with funds contributed by Muriel and Philip Berman, gifts (by exchange) of Lisa Norris Elkins, Bryant W. Langston, Samuel S. White 3rd and Vera White, with Additional funds contributed by John Howard McFadden, Jr., Thomas Skelton Harrison, and the Philip H. and A.S.W. Rosenbach Foundation, 1985; TL42415.3. Photo © Courtesy of the Philadelphia Museum of Art.


Marguerite Gérard, French (1761 - 1837), After Jean-Honoré Fragonard, French (Grasse 1732 - 1806 Paris), To the Genius of Franklin, 1778. Etching. Philadelphia Museum of Art: Gift of Mrs. John D. Rockefeller Jr., 1946; TL42415.4. Photo © Courtesy of the Philadelphia Museum of Art.


Daniel Nikolaus Chodowiecki, German (Danzig, Poland 1726 - 1801 Berlin, Germany), Affairs of State, 1770-17801791. Etching. National Gallery of Art, Washington, Gift of Dr. Dieter Erich Meyer, 1976, TL42416.2. Photo © Courtesy National Gallery of Art, Washington.