image 1 9295c

Founded on logic, reason, and the spirit of critical enquiry, the mid-18th century publication of the Encyclopédie, ou dictionnaire raisonné des sciences, des arts et des métiers (Encyclopedia, or a Systematic Dictionary of the Sciences, Arts, and Crafts) was the culmination of everything that the Age of Enlightenment stood for.

image 2 12098Diderot by Louis-Michel van Loo, 1767

Inspired by Francis Bacon’s idea of the systematic classification of knowledge, Denis Diderot, who edited the Encyclopédie, claimed that it was a collection of “all the knowledge scattered over the face of the earth.” He hoped that it would dispel human ignorance and transform society. To aid in this monumental endeavor, Diderot enlisted some of the greatest minds of the French Enlightenment to contribute to the Encyclopédie.

image 3 a91b9Voltaire by Nicolas de Largillière.

Voltaire wrote on matters of history, literature, nature, philosophy and art.

image 4 387cfJean-Jacques Rousseau by Maurice Quentin de La Tour, 1753.

Jean-Jacques Rousseau wrote on music and political theory.

image 5 5a289Madame de Pompadour encouraged Diderot in his publication of the first two volumes of the Encyclopédie. Portrait by Maurice Quentin de La Tour, 1755 (Louvre Museum).

Notably, there were no women contributors to the Encyclopédie and, in the entire text, no woman who had made a contribution to history was mentioned.

image 6 cdcf5“Figurative system of human knowledge,” organized into Memory, Reason, and Imagination. Encyclopédie, ou dictionnaire raisonné des sciences, des arts et des métiers.

The Encyclopédie came under “repeated attack as a repository of skepticism, atheism, and sedition.” The contributors were labeled “encyclopédistes” and encyclopaedism became a synonym for a refusal to accept anything uncritically.

image 7 a211eFrontispiece of Volume I, Teyler’s Museum, Netherlands. Encyclopédie, ou dictionnaire raisonné des sciences, des arts et des métiers.

The first volume was published in 1751. Twenty-seven more volumes followed, for a total of seventeen volumes of text and eleven volumes of plates. In 1759, publication was suspended by the French Government and the Encyclopédie was banned. Diderot continued working in secret on the remaining volumes, which were finally published in 1765 and 1766.

Later, many would cite the Encyclopédie as one of the contributing factors to the French Revolution.

The complete collection of plates from the Encyclopédie as well as translations of many of the text articles can be viewed online at The University of Michigan Library. The plates can also be viewed at the ARTFL Encyclopédie Project at the University of Chicago. I encourage you to visit their collections. In the meanwhile, here are a sampling of Encyclopédie plates to whet your appetite…

image 8 f695aSaddle and Coach Maker, Barouche. Encyclopédie, ou dictionnaire raisonné des sciences, des arts et des métiers.

image 9 ca335Saddle and Coach Maker, Equipment of a Saddle Horse. Encyclopédie, ou dictionnaire raisonné des sciences, des arts et des métiers.

image 10 8a853Saddle and Coach Maker, Saddles. Encyclopédie, ou dictionnaire raisonné des sciences, des arts et des métiers.

image 11 d675dNatural History, Insects. Encyclopédie, ou dictionnaire raisonné des sciences, des arts et des métiers.

image 12 55788Natural History, Lion and Tiger. Encyclopédie, ou dictionnaire raisonné des sciences, des arts et des métiers.

image 13 ee297Bookbinding. Encyclopédie, ou dictionnaire raisonné des sciences, des arts et des métiers.

image 14 25571Writing, The Art of Writing. Encyclopédie, ou dictionnaire raisonné des sciences, des arts et des métiers.

image 15 3b788Confectioner, Chocolate and Cheese Moulds. Encyclopédie, ou dictionnaire raisonné des sciences, des arts et des métiers.

image 16 5b89eMusic. Encyclopédie, ou dictionnaire raisonné des sciences, des arts et des métiers.

Top photo: Title Page to Volume I of the Paris Edition, Encyclopédie, ou dictionnaire raisonné des sciences, des arts et des métiers.

This article originally appeared on MiMiMatthews.com and is reprinted here with permission.

 

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Mimi Matthews is the author of The Pug Who Bit Napoleon: Animal Tales of the 18th and 19th Centuries and A Victorian Lady’s Guide to Fashion and Beauty. Her articles on nineteenth-century history have been published on various academic and history sites, including the Victorian Web and the Journal of Victorian Culture. When not writing historical non-fiction, Mimi authors exquisitely proper historical romance novels. Her latest Victorian romance The Matrimonial Advertisement can be ordered at Amazon and Barnes & Noble. To learn more, please visit www.MimiMatthews.com.

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