JF Ptak Science Books Post 1964
The "encyclopedia" is not just an encyclopedia, but The Encyclopedia, the great and costly work of Denis Diderot (1713-1784) and Jean le Rond d'Alembert (1717-1783). It was published as Encyclopédie, ou dictionnaire raisonné des sciences, des arts et des métiers (English: "Encyclopaedia or a Systematic Dictionary of the Sciences, Arts and Crafts") between 1751 and 1772, and was mudded in controversy for just about the entire time. Diderot was a great product of the Enlightenment, and managed to write on matters that could offend politicians and theologians to such a point hat the publication and even the writing of the work was suspended from time to time, and the author/editor saw a need to flee the country for a time. It was seen as a seditious book, and Diderot paid the price for it–it was however, a successful enterprise, and a crowning achievement in the gathering of good information of the 18th century, and is today–in its 28 volumes, 71,818 articles and 3,129 illustrations–an indispensable resource to the times.
The image above is a detail from the frontispiece to the work. It was designed by C.N. Cochin fils (1764) and engraved by B.L. Prevost 1772). The full very highly flavored Baroque image is here:
In the end and in the beginning, the Encyclopedie was dedicated to Truth. And in the gauzy, veiled, billowing cloud architectural ionic temple of truth we find the subject Truth herself, front-and-center, surrounded by her admirers offering their trade and belief, while some–reason and Philosophy attempt to hold back her veils. She towers high above all, and there may be an order to the aspiring logics and arts as they are placed further down the pyramid of truth, though I'm not sure about that. On the bottom level, for example, we find Music, Painting, Sculpture and Architecture, areas which may be perceived as good foundations for everything else. High above that though we can see Theology (catching the best light in the image and holding an open Bible), and then Memory, Ancient and Modern History (already recording the events as they unfold in front of her, with "ancient" holding a Sphinx). In the middle of the group seems to be the best of them: the sciences, including Geometry, Astronomy and Physics, which are just above Optics (holding, Botany, Agriculture and Chemistry.
It isn't nearly the same, but the composition of the image and the organization of the encyclopedia (which is more-or-less divided into threads of associated articles rather than the standard encyclopedic work) have some vague similarities…
For all of their troubles, Diderot looks like a complacent sort in his portraits; d'Alembert (a polymath and prodigiously gifted mathematician) is usually seen with a very sweet smile. Interesting.