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November 2011

Posted on 04/11/2011

Diderot's fireworks.



Diderot's Encyclopedie, Planches Volume I, Artificier Plate IV


We may associate 5th November with Guy Fawkes, but we recently happened upon some illustrations of fireworks in Diderot’s 18th century encyclopaedia. Denis Diderot was one of the leading figures of the French Enlightenment, and was chief editor of the Encyclopédie:  ou dictionnaire raisonné des sciences, des arts et des métiers. This astonishing work is one of the great achievements of the 18th century, and is often seen as the greatest single manifestation of the Enlightenment in Europe.

At Royal Holloway we are fortunate enough to have 2 copies of the original encyclopaedia in our Rare Books collection. One contains just the text, but the other contains the complete 35 volumes, including all 12 volumes of plates. These plates show a fascinating array of illustrations on all kinds of topics, from medicine to agriculture, military strategy, natural science, engineering, and music. The copy above is just one of the many depictions of fireworks, entitled ‘Soleil fixe ou gloire’ , commonly known to us as the Catherine wheel.

If you would like any more information on Diderot’s Encyclopédie, please contact Paul Johnson paul.johnson@rhul.ac.uk. To book an appointment to view any of the volumes in our archives reading room, please email archives@rhul.ac.uk .

Paul Johnson, Head of Academic Liaison & Information Consultant, Bedford Library


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