LE CLERC, Sébastien I
(b. 1637, Metz, d. 1714, Paris)

The Academy of Sciences and Fine Arts

1698
Engraving
Bibliothèque Nationale, Paris

In the second half of the 17th century all of Europe admired - though no one really imitated - France's various academies: art (established in 1648), science (1666) and architecture (1671). These academies were not only repositories of knowledge, they also backed extensive operations such as factories (tapestries, mirrors)and specialized workshops directed by superintendents and their agents. Never had artistic life been organized so thoroughly, so precisely, so extensively. This was the work of Colbert and his circle.

Le Clerc's engraving celebrates the flowering of activities employing measurement, computation, and draftsmanship. Various instruments are assembled on a vast esplanade framed by noble architecture, suggesting an entire program for the study of techniques, which would assume great importance among cultivated circles in the century to come. Contact between scientific research artistic problems increased and mechanical techniques became more fashionable. This trend would culminate in, and be recorded by, the publication of the Encyclopédie.