Skip to main content

Published by Richards & Co.

 Digital Record
Identifier: VBI_000138


  • Creation: 19th century


Conditions Governing Use

Access to the Theodore Newton Vail Collection of Aeronautical Images, Broadsides and Clippings is not authorization to publish. Separate written application for permission to publish must be made to the Institute Archives. Copyright of some items in this collection may be held by respective creators, not by the donor of the collection.

Biographical / Historical

The imagery in this print was derived from Sébastien Le Clerc's 1698 engraving "L'Académie des sciences et des beaux-arts" which itself borrowed from earlier artworks, notably Raphael's "School of Athens." Le Clerc's engraving was also used as the basis for frontispiece designs for a number of other encyclopeadias published before and after this one. The first seems to have been Ephraim Chambers' Cyclopaedia, published in London in 1728. The preface of the third edition of the Encyclopaedia Britannica, for which the original of this print was the frontispiece, focused on the "progress of science." The preface of the fourth edition dealt with similar themes and its frontispiece also included an image of a balloon. The implication of the balloon's inclusion in these images was that the balloon had earned a place among history's great scientific discoveries.

Language of Materials


Existence and Location of Originals

Box 5

Related Materials


Physical Description

Art on Paper


23.4 x 20.0 cm

General Note

Print originally used as the frontispiece for the third edition of the Encyclopaedia Britannica in 1797. A balloon flies above a Greek architectural square where are gathered a large group of men, buildings, inventions and discoveries significant to the history of Western science, art and philosophy.

Source of Biographical/Historical note

Keen, Paul. "The 'Balloonomania': Science and Spectacle in 1780s England. Eighteenth-Century Studies, 39: 4 (2006), 507-535.

"Sébastien Leclerc and the British Encyclopaedists," Sphæra: the newsletter of the Museum of the History of Science, Oxford, Autumn, 1997. /> Accessed February 26, 2010.

Repository Details

Part of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Libraries. Department of Distinctive Collections Repository

Massachusetts Institute of Technology Libraries
Building 14N-118
77 Massachusetts Avenue
Cambridge MA 02139-4307 US