Bernard Picart. The ceremonies and religious customs of the various nations of the known world. London, 1733-1737.
This six-volume work remains one of the most impressive records of the scholarship of eighteenth century France. It aimed to describe all religions of the then known world, their origins, doctrines and rites. Such ambition reflects in content and tone the self-confidence of the Ancien Régime.
Just as impressive as the text, however, are the 243 engraved plates that illustrate it, and indeed the work is more frequently referred to today by the name of its illustrator, the artist Bernard Picart (1673-1733). Published ten years before Diderot’sEncyclopédie, Picart’s illustrations presented religious rites primarily as social customs, a useful and universal feature of human societies the world over.