Manufacture-sample exhibitions

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Lemonnier’s reading of Voltaire’s The Orphan of China in the salon of Marie Thérèse Rodet Geoffrin

Enlightenment is usually presented by historians as an eighteenth-century movement happening in between the death of Louis XIV (Le Roi Soleil or ‘Sun King’) in 1715 and the French Revolution of 1789.

Louis XIV (1638-1715)

Louis XIV, the great grandfather of Louis XV, had been an absolute monarch who presided over building France into the leading European power of his time, belligerently tackling his neighbours in three wars. His pro-Catholic religious policies led to the St Bartholomew Day’s Massacre and the expulsion the Huguenots. Perhaps then it was understandable that Enlightenment would not have found a ready reception.

Louis XV ruled from the age of five for 58 years of the Enlightenment, and on reaching maturity is credited with presiding over a growth in French culture. However, his abandoning of absolute monarchy appeared to sap the strength of France and damage its treasury.

Copernicus (1473-1543)

But other historians believe the beginnings of this intellectual movement, began earlier as a revolution in scientific thinking, often termed the ‘Scientific Renaissance’. This perhaps began as early as the sixteenth century with Copernicus in 1543 and his De revolutionibus orbium coelestium (On the Revolutions of the Heavenly Spheres). This overthrew some 1,400 years of acceptance of Ptolemy’s Earth-centric view of the universe.

Galileo Galilei (1564-1642)

However, it took until the seventeenth century for Galileo Galilei to bring light to the Ptolemy versus Copernicus debate. In 1632 he wrote Dialogo sopra i due massimi sistemi del mondo {The Dialogue Concerning the Two Chief World Systems). For some reason the Ptolemy version was strongly defended by the Roman Catholic Church. Galileo was declared ‘vehemently suspect of heresy’ and his book was placed on the Catholics’ Index Librorum Prohibitorum (Index of Forbidden Books) – it remained there until 1835!

This false start meant any enlightenment had to wait on new thinking in mathematics, physics and chemistry, botany, biology and medicine to change the views of the natural world. For example Isaac Newton published in 1687 his Philosophiæ Naturalis Principia Mathematica (Mathematical Principles of Natural Philosophy) outlining many fundamental principles; it is regarded as one of the most important works in the history of science.

Quaker Meeting

These important books were not cultural islands, there was a groundswell of interest in these new ideas. They were discussed in coffee houses and salons, in the Quakers’ Friends meeting houses and in Masonic lodges. Pamphlets and books were published, and learn-ed and scientific academies were created, as for example the Royal Society was founded in 1660 for ‘improving natural knowledge’.

Early scientists were usually also philosophers, or at least metaphysicists, and became popular presenters. Among these were Francis Bacon in 1620 claiming that knowledge and human power are synonymous, that knowledge would re-establish the ‘Empire of Man over creation’.

Sir Humphrey Davy in 1840 cautioned that Every discovery opens a new field for investigation of facts, shows us the imperfection of our theories. It has justly been said, that the greater the circle of light, the greater the boundary of darkness by which it is surrounded.

Michael Faraday was also cautious about what they could achieve, providing a maxim for modern conference organisers, Lectures which really teach will never be popular; lectures which are popular will never really teach. Though his Royal Institution Christmas Lectures began to deliver sessions suitable for the young, these captured their imaginations and were immensely popular – perhaps why these are still held today.

It was this combination of learning and entertainment that became encapsulated into the first series of what we might recognise as exhibitions. These events demonstrated new techniques and equipment as an entertainment while educating potential trade buyers.

Some term these as ‘sample exhibitions’ but they are more generally referenced as manufacturing exhibitions.

The first of these was held in Paris in 1683 and although there are coincident books and inventions there appears to be little direct record of the exhibition itself, just its date and location.

There is rather more information on two machinery exhibitions held in Bohemia (today’s Czech Republic). The first was a 1754 event, ‘The Big Fair of Commodities of the Czech Kingdom’ held in Veltrusy in the Central Bohemian region.

Klementium Praha,
Clementine Jesuit College Prague

The second event was in Prague (also Bohemia), held in August/September 1791, and called the ‘Waarenkabinet’. As we shall see in Volume 2, it was the centenary of this second event, in 1891, that proved to be the inspiration for the creation of Prague Exhibition Grounds at Stromovka Park. These were updated further in 1999.

The earliest well-documented events occurred between these two Bohemian events:

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