More about World Religions

April 17th, 2018
Detail of synagogue.

In the current exhibit in Special Collections, Preserving the Word: World Religions in our Libraries, our colleagues Thomas Durkin, Todd Michelson-Ambelang, and Lisa Wettleson have highlighted many examples from the holdings of Special Collections and other campus libraries.

Not in the exhibit, but also eminently worthy of attention, are seven oversize volumes comprising The religious ceremonies and customs of the several nations of the known world: represented in above an hundred copper-plates, designed by the famous Picart, together with historical explanations, and several curious dissertations (Special Collections call number: BTR P58 Cutter oversize). The set is available for you to consult in the Special Collections reading room — part of what we are calling “More Like This.”

Title page of vol. 1 of The religious ceremonies and customs of the several nations of the known world (London, 1731). Department of Special Collections, Memorial Library, University of Wisconsin-Madison.

This work appeared originally as Cérémonies et coutumes religieuses de tous les peuples du monde, and our copy, published in London by Nicholas Prevost (1731-1739), advertised itself as “written originally in French; and now published in English with very considerable amendments and additions.” The preface gestures toward the complicated history of the work, “”for the author struck many things out of the first, nay, sometimes whole chapters, and added others, which had never appeared before….”

The French original is well known for its illustrations by the eminent engraver Bernard Picard; but Lynn Hunt, Margaret C. Jacob, and Wijnand Mijnhardt go further, calling it “The book that changed Europe” in their monograph by the same title published by Harvard University Press in 2010. In their monograph, Hunt, Jacob, and Mijnhardt describe “this pioneering work on the world’s religions,” compiled, edited, and published by Jean Frederic Bernard, and assess its impact in “the world of the book” as “the book of the world.” Hunt, Jacob, and Mijnhardt also edited Bernard Picart and the first global vision of religion, which “evolved from ‘At the Interface of Religion and Cosmopolitanism: Bernard Picart’s Cérémonies et coutumes religieuses de tous les peuples du monde (1723-1743) and the European Enlightenment,’ a conference cosponsored by the UCLA Center for Seventeenth- and Eighteenth-Century Studies, the William Andrews Clark Memorial Library, the Getty Research Institute, and the Netherlands Consulate- General of Los Angeles and held at the Getty Research Institute, Los Angeles, and the Clark Library, Los Angeles, 6-8 December 2007.”

Among the “copper-plates designed by the famous Picart” in our copy is this foldout plate of the dedication of the synagogue of Portuguese Jews in Amsterdam:

Note that the labels on the plate are in French, and the plate itself bears the attribution “B. Picart delineavit et sculp. direx. 1721.”

Thanks to Aubree Alexander, participant in the Curatorial Studies Colloquium, for her contributions to this post.

— Robin Rider