Denis Diderot. 1713-1784.
Encyclopédie, ou, Dictionnaire raisonné
des sciences, des arts, et des métiers.
Paris: Braisson and others,
This vast undertaking--it took twenty-nine years to publish--stands as an
embodiment of the Enlightenment ideal. The editors of the Encyclopédie,
Denis Diderot and Jean d'Alembert, sought to encompass the range of human
knowledge in the arts and sciences in a single work imbued with the rationalism
of the time. They turned to their intellectual compatriots, such as Necker,
Rousseau, Turgot, and Voltaire, to contribute articles to this huge compilation.
The Encyclopédie eventually ran to twenty-one folio volumes
of text, twelve of plates, and two of indexes, and required the effort of
Because of their explicit philosophical leanings, the first
seven volumes prompted hostility from the entrenched and the reactionary;
they were banned in France and condemned by the Pope in 1759 in the Index
of Prohibited Books. Each successive volume caused a sensation, and
Diderot remained on the list of banned authors until the twentieth century.
Today the Encyclopédie is valued for its extraordinary gathering
of engraved plates that document in great detail the products and techniques
of domestic arts and industry.
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