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Diderot's Encyclopédie

Anatomie from Diderot's Encyclopedie

Housed within the library collections of the Virginia Historical Society is a complete thirty-five volume set of Diderot's Encyclopédie, ou dictionnaire raisonné des sciences, des arts et des métiers. Bound in contemporary tree calf, the Encyclopédie consists of 17 volumes plus 4 supplemental volumes of letterpress (text), 12 volumes of plates (illustrations), and 2 volumes of tables.

Denis Diderot (1713–1784) was approached in 1749 by a bookseller to create a French translation of Ephraim Chambers' Cyclopaedia, or Universal Dictionary of Arts and Sciences, but offered instead to serve as an editor/compiler for a new project, one that would collect all human knowledge and present it in one synthesis. To accomplish his task, Diderot asked the leading scholars of the French academe to write entries. Diderot and his publishers collected sufficient capital to undertake the massive project. Excitement for Diderot's Encyclopédie built, and the list of subscribers grew from 2,000 to 4,000. In 1751 the first volume was published, and twenty-one years later, in 1772, subscribers received the final volumes.

This is part of our Take a Closer Look series. This regular feature offers a behind-the-scenes view of some of our hidden treasures in our library and what they reveal about our shared past.

One of those seeking to purchase a set was Thomas Jefferson. Jefferson, in late 1781, did acquire a set despite the British occupation of Richmond and the transfer of the capital to Charlottesville. Other Virginians known to have either a full set or the new and revised edition, the Encyclopédie Méthodique (1783), include the College of William and Mary, James Madison, James Monroe, and Dr. James Currie.

"Economie Rustique" from Diderot's Encyclopédie Enter Fullscreen More information
"Economie Rustique" from Diderot's Encyclopédie
Silk production, a lucrative industry in the 1700s, was attempted in the southern states without much success. This illustration depicts not only the harvesting of the silkworm but also the transformation of the silkworm caterpillar into a moth. (VHS call number: Rare Books AE25 E53 vol. 22 Plates 1 o.s.)
"Perruquier Barbier" from Diderot's Encyclopédie Enter Fullscreen More information
"Perruquier Barbier" from Diderot's Encyclopédie
All types of business and industry were included in Diderot's Encyclopédie including wigmakers. This illustration depicts various tasks involved in wig making. (VHS call number: Rare Books AE25 E53 vol. 22 Plates 8 o.s.)
Anatomie from Diderot's Encyclopédie Enter Fullscreen More information
Anatomie from Diderot's Encyclopédie
Illustration of an articulated skeleton. Each bone is identified and named in the accompanying text. (VHS call number: Rare Books AE25 E53 vol. 22 Plates 1 o.s.)
"Perruquier Barbier, Perrugues" from Diderot's Encyclopédie Enter Fullscreen More information
"Perruquier Barbier, Perrugues" from Diderot's Encyclopédie
Illustrations of various wig fashions. (VHS call number: Rare Books AE25 E53 vol. 22 Plates 8 o.s.)
"Art Militaire, Exercice" from Diderot's Encyclopédie Enter Fullscreen More information
"Art Militaire, Exercice" from Diderot's Encyclopédie
Entries in the Encyclopédie not only focused on scientific topics, but also more traditional subjects, such as the art of military exercises. (VHS call number: Rare Books AE25 E53 vol. 22 Plates 1 o.s.)
"Economie Rustique" from Diderot's Encyclopédie
"Economie Rustique" from Diderot
"Perruquier Barbier" from Diderot's Encyclopédie
"Perruquier Barbier" from Didero
Anatomie from Diderot's Encyclopédie
Anatomie from Diderot's Encyclopédie
"Perruquier Barbier, Perrugues" from Diderot's Encyclopédie
"Perruquier Barbier, Perrugues"
"Art Militaire, Exercice" from Diderot's Encyclopédie
"Art Militaire, Exercice" from D

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