Volume 23, Issue 2 (2011) Trades/Le Négoce

The Enlightenment Worker: An Introduction

Denis Diderot and Jean-Baptiste le Rond d'Alembert's tapissiers, engraved by Robert Benard after a design by Louis-François Petit-Radel, are figures of rapt concentration. Gripping with their knees the chairs they are upholstering, they focus on the delicate task of fixing the fabric to the wood with fine nails. This is no portrait -- they do not face the viewer -- and yet neither is it merely generic. This planche strives to represent real workers engaged in a real task, celebrating their embodied intelligence. The small chaos of horse-hair stuffing in the corner of the illustration evokes the miraculous transformation of the simplest materials into a stylish piece of furniture. Flipping through the many plates in the Encyclopédie (1751–72) dedicated to trades and manufactures, one has the growing impression that the artisan is, for Diderot and d'Alembert, the hero of the Enlightenment. With remarkable skill and energy, the artisan pulls gold wire, makes buttons, or presses cheese, working in an atelier that is clean, modern, and light-filled. Surrounded by the specialized tools of the trade, the skilled worker is pictured amidst the beautiful and desired objects he or she produces. For the rest of this special issue introduction, see: http://digitalcommons.mcmaster.ca/ecf/vol23/iss2/1/ Or, access the journal online at Project MUSE or at the University of Toronto PressPRINT




Special Issue Editor
Peter Walmsley
Journal Editors
Eugenia Zuroski Jenkins and
Peter Walmsley

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23:2 Book Reviews

For this issue, book reviews are available online and for free at