Pensées sur l’interprétation de la peinture: On the Interpretation of Painting — An Analysis of the Thought of Denis Diderot

Abstract

If everything in the universe is material, how can master painters create images of nature which enable us to see, to know, beauty more perfect than can ever exist in reality? What materially real thing does the master painter access to portray on canvas? The work of the 18th century French philosopher Denis Diderot responds to this conundrum. Diderot’s answer pulls from his rich scientific thought coupled with the unique form of art criticism he develops. In both cases the role of genius is shown to be key to great leaps forward, marvellous creation and understanding. My project opens with a bit of historical context and then involves a study of a selection of works of Diderot and Diderot scholars in order to more precisely draw out the connections he uncovers and the conclusion he reaches. Diderot’s interdisciplinary path leads through nature, art and science by way of genius and knowledge in this, our purely and beautifully material world. The ideas are as significant today as they were nearly three centuries ago. Diderot’s own genius inspires. This project reflects the intellectual contagion of his enthusiasm. (This is my MA thesis, in French, from the University of British Columbia in 2020; it is available via the UBC Circle website.)

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