“Collection of Plates on the Sciences, the Liberal Arts, and the Mechanical Arts, with their explanation”
As mentioned in previous posts, planches are the 11 volumes of plates and drawings that accompany the 17 volumes of text, making for 28 total books that make up L’Encyclopédie. The benefit of the planches is obvious: visual aids help readers understand and conceptualize ideas better. Naturally, not every topic in the text has an accompanying planche drawing – it would be difficult to draw the soul, wouldn’t it? The depictions included are those of material things, especially lots of industrial machinery and the like. As is the case with the text of L’Encyclopédie, you can find a drawing of pretty much anything, though. I flipped open to a page in the middle of the book and found pages and pages of architectural drawings of elaborate buildings and homes. Then, a few pages later, I found drawings of Art Militaire, or the Art of Military. Often included with the drawings are short descriptions of what is being depicted and sometimes, when applicable, instructions for its use. This particular book of planches (the first in the series) has 269 drawings. The first drawings are of agriculture, including everything from drawings of people doing agriculture to drawings of the machines used. The planche concludes with drawings of artificier, or pyrotechnics, included in the military section of this planche. The photo included above is of the table of contents which, as you can see, is quite extensive and detailed.
Including these drawings as I see it, allows descriptions of things in the text to be more complete. The authors of L’Encyclopédie were obviously masters of language, but no matter how well they describe an object or idea, nothing compares to a visual representation.