In 1751, Denis Diderot and Jean le Rond d’Alembert edited the 17-volume Encyclopedia: the Rational Dictionary of the Sciences, commonly known as the Encyclopédie. These heavily illustrated volumes were designed to teach people to think critically and objectively about all matters in the 18th century. Diderot said he wanted to “change the general way of thinking.” His ambition created quite a stir.
The Encyclopedie aroused opposition from the outset. Its first volume, published in 1751, dealt with topics such as atheism, the soul, and blind people (all words beginning with “a” in French. As a result, the government banned publication and the pope placed it on the Index of Forbidden books. He threatened to excommunicate all who bought or read it. The publisher of the work watered down later volumes without the consent of the writers in an attempt to stay out of trouble. The Encyclopedie exalted knowledge, questioned religion and immortality (Diderot was a proclaimed atheist), and criticized legal injustices and intolerance. Diderot championed the cause of women, writing that laws which limited the rights of women were counter to nature. The work was widely read and published in Switzerland, but was extremely popular in France. Copies reached America where it was read by Benjamin Franklin and Thomas Jefferson. It was completely banned in Spain as were other enlightenment works by order of church authorities.- The Enlightenment
This survey of French crafts and trades just before the Revolution, includes such things as how a bodice is made, a riding jacket, gloves, hats – all the patterns laid out flat. Included are the workrooms for glovemakers, tailors, hatmakers – the spaces of craft and trade: where is the dress cut and stitched? where does the dressmaker or the tailor sit as they fell a seam? what is the space like in which the hat is sold?
In the Encyclopédie they are austere rooms flooded with light from tall many-paned sash windows. These rooms are never deep and usually have windows on two facing sides. Because these are crafts and trades, furniture is the work bench, a sturdy work table, open shelves and sometimes a cabinet. Accompanying the plates illustrating the garment, and the plates showing the spaces, are the plates of tools, the instruments of the craft: a catalogue of needles, of stretchers, of hat presses, of shears.
The illustrated plates and their topics are discussed by John Morley, who wrote about the Encyclopédie in 1905:
Diderot, as has been justly said, himself the son of a cutler, might well bring handiwork into honour; assuredly he had inherited from his good father’s workshop sympathy and regard for skill and labour.The illustrative plates to which Diderot gave the most laborious attention for a period of almost thirty years, are not only remarkable for their copiousness, their clearness, their finish—and in all these respects they are truly admirable—but they strike us even more by the semi-poetic feeling that transforms the mere representation of a process into an animated scene of human life, stirring the sympathy and touching the imagination of the onlooker as by something dramatic. The bustle, the dexterity, the alert force of the iron foundry, the glass furnace, the gunpowder mill, the silk calendry are as skilfully reproduced as the more tranquil toil of the dairywoman, the embroiderer, the confectioner, the setter of types, the compounder of drugs, the chaser of metals. The drawings recall that eager and personal interest in his work, that nimble complacency, which is so charming a trait in the best French craftsman. The animation of these great folios of plates is prodigious. They affect one like looking down on the world of Paris from the heights of Montmartre. To turn over volume after volume is like watching a splendid panorama of all the busy life of the time. Minute care is as striking in them as their comprehensiveness. The smallest tool, the knot in a thread, the ply in a cord, the curve of wrist or finger, each has special and proper delineation. The reader smiles at a complete and elaborate set of tailor’s patterns.-DIDEROT AND THE ENCYCLOPÆDISTS, BY JOHN MORLEY, 1905
The above illustration from Onsite Review shows how the pattern for a riding outfit is laid out on the cloth. The width of the cloth varied. Wool cloth was wider than brocade, for instance. With Diderot’s publication of these plates, the knowledge of how to lay out these patterns became standardized. Onsite Review’s article, Diderot: Cutting Your Coat to Fit the Cloth, is fascinating to read.
- Diderot’s Tailleurs
- Encyclopédie, ou Dictionnaire raisonné des sciences, des arts et …, Volume 15 By Denis Diderot, Jean Le Rond d’ Alembert
- The Historian
- Les Gants: French blog post about Diderot’s gloves and glove making
- Costumer’s Manifesto
- Cutting for All The Sartorial Arts
- The Encyclopedia of Diderot and d’Alembert
- Met Museum: Diderot database