The market of Hogarth: engravings in eighteenth-century Britain
The early eighteenth century saw a rapid increase in the use of print as a medium for the transmission of information and the emergence of a visual culture in which text became translated to image. The recording of observable reality as a form of moral didactism was pioneered by William Hogarth, artist engraver (1694-1764) through his 'moral cycles' of which, the Harlot's Progress and the Rake's Progress are perhaps best known. His partner and close friend, Henry Fielding translated the same themes through the development of the novel such as Joseph Andrews and Tom Jones as a form of 'comic epic prose' and formed with Hogarth a close alliance in the propagation of what constituted 'good behaviour' amongst the aspiring classes initially, and later the plebeian, lower orders through prints such as the Gin Lane/Beer Street diptych and the Four Stages of Cruelty.
The audiences that these prints addressed, especially in the booming commercial climate of London, and the methods used such as advertising in newspapers and the subscription process, areas of research hitherto neglected, form a major part of this research area and tell us much about contemporary society and the way in which it saw itself as the old post-restoration order with its emphasis on a rigid stratified society, began to give way to one driven by commercial incentive and social status.