Master of Arts (MA)



Document Type



The work of Enlightenment philosophe Denis Diderot went largely unpublished during his lifetime, and upon its discovery in the nineteenth century, his originality was overlooked because of the perceived quaintness of his tastes. Thankfully, as his body of work became better understood and more accessible, his reputation steadily improved. The discipline of literary art criticism is now thought of as having its origins in Diderot’s Salons, a series of letters containing his thoughts on the French Royal Academy of Painting and Sculpture’s biennial exhibitions in the Palace of the Louvre. These were circulated among an elite clientele who were not able to attend the Salons themselves, and though these letters have been studied by numerous scholars, they are typically treated as a period compendium, the contents of which are better summarized than explained. Being that they are the founding documents of such a young discipline, and that the contents themselves are already sufficiently well-known, I have endeavored to understand these contents in light of the anglomanie which took France by storm in the first half of the eighteenth century. A general account of Diderot’s Anglophilia was first given in R. Loyalty Cru’s Diderot as a Disciple of English Thought, but Cru’s treatment of the Salons figures only marginally in what is a very broad chapter on Diderot’s general aesthetics. As I am concerned with the Salons as an art historical document, I have instead organized this paper around those painters who are considered the major representatives of the eighteenth century and the ways in which Diderot’s Anglophilia determined his perception of them. There are, in my opinion, three principal qualities which Diderot’s exposure to English philosophy predisposed him to seek out in art: the relatable, the explicit, and the useful. The first two are the means by which the third is reached, and each shall be covered in its own chapter.



Document Availability at the Time of Submission

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Committee Chair

Spieth, Darius