The Origins of Comparative Religion: Bernard and Picart's Religious Ceremonies and Customs of All the Peoples of the World (1723-1743)

Cérémonies et coutumes religieuses de tous les peuples du monde (1723-1743) is a nine-volume folio work published by Jean Frederic Bernard, a French language bookseller in Amsterdam, and lavishly illustrated by Bernard Picart, one of the most famous engravers of the time. As their title suggests, they sought to capture the ritual and ceremonial life of all the known religions of the world. Because Bernard chose to remain anonymous as author, the work has long been catalogued under the name of its engraver, Picart. “Picart,” as many readers called it, helped create the study of comparative religion and had a long-lasting influence on the representations of the world’s religions in the West.

In a joint project with the Getty Research Institute, Utrecht University, and the Huntington Library, the UCLA Digital Library Program has made available online all four of the first editions of Cérémonies et coutumes religieuses de tous les peuples du monde: the French (1723-1743), Dutch (1726-1738), English (1733-1739), and German (1746) editions. The source volumes are held by the libraries at UCLA (English, Dutch), the Getty (French), the Huntington (German), and Utrecht (Dutch). The vagaries of eighteenth-century publishing have left some lingering confusions about the numbering of the volumes. Although Bernard published nine volumes under the same title, he added the last two (here listed as volumes 8 and 9 of the French edition) as a kind of afterword and numbered them 7:second half and 8. None of the translations included them, and they have no illustrations by Picart, who died in 1733.

We have used the numbering of the volumes in the Getty collection which follows their date of publication. Bernard had his own numbering system, in which the monotheistic religions were numbered 1-5 (here 1 [Jews and Catholics], 2 [Catholics], 5 [Greek Orthodox, Protestants], 6 [Other Protstants, Deists, etc.] and 7 [Islam]) and the religious ceremonies and customs of the “idolatrous peoples” were numbered 1 and 2 (here 3 and 4).