Aesthetica Preprint, 34 (April 1992)

Denis Diderot, Pensées détachées sur la peinture, la sculpture et la poésie, pour servir de suite aux Salons

The writings on figurative arts mark Diderot's put out in the 1760s and '70s. But, unlike the Salons and the Essais sur la peinture, the Pensées détachées sur la peinture, la sculpture et la poésie, written some between 1775 and 1781 and presented here for the first time in an Italian translation, did not receive the attention they deserve. Diderot took advantage here of many passages from the French translation of the Betrachtungen über die Malerei by C. L. von Hagedorn (1713-1780), published in 1775; this kind of systematic plagiarism of the Betrachtungen was considered a major shortcoming of the Pensées. Nevertheless, although deeply indebted to the Betrachtungen, the Pensées détachées deserve the same attention which was given to Diderot's other writings on arts and aesthetics. The use of Hagedorn's theories is often expression of a real agreement of opinions and a common interest for the technical, compositional and expressive problems of painting. In addition to those passages, there appear others where different or new subject are discussed, which Hagedorn mentioned only in passing, if at all. Diderot used Hagedorn's analysis as a starting point for his curiosity, as a means to go more deeply into his convinctions on painting, its relation with other arts and the experience in general; this makes the Pensées an important example of his reflections on art and a lively testimony to the extraordinary level which the artistic and pictorial culture had achieved in France during the second half of the 18th century.
Massimo Modica's "Presentation" places the text within the author's writings on arts and emphasizes the elements that still make Diderot's work stimulating for the history of modern aesthetics.