The eighteenth century brought radical change to Western civilization, most especially in France where the impetus for change came from a number of sources: a growing over-taxed, powerless middle class; an impoverished lower class (the majority of the population comprising peasants and workers); and an intelligentsia who sought to redefine the understanding of human nature and society based on reason (their deliberations constitute the Enlightenment).
Growing discontent resulted in the Storming of the Bastille on July 14 1789 and subsequent overthrow of the Monarchy. Feudal rule gave way to government by Constitution and the Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen.
Following the Revolution, the newly formed succession of governments needed to demonstrate a break with the past by establishing a new visual language that would signal the ideals of the new order. They looked to Ancient Rome whose republican values provided austere and elegant examples applicable to posters and porcelain, furniture and fashion.