Les funestes effets de la petite verolle

(The terrible effects of smallpox.)

Artist or maker:
Saint-Aubin, Charles-Germain de (b.1721, d.1786)
Style of Guiseppe Arcimboldo (b.1527, d.1593)
c 1740-c 1775 {nd}
Place of Production:
Paris, France
ink and graphite on paper
Accession number:
One of a set, see others


Brief Description:

The face and upper body of a man composed of ornamental motifs is positioned centrally on the page. Plumes radiate out from a scallop-edged band that frames the top of the face. Scrolling acanthus leaves function as the figure’s hair and, in place of ears, it has small fruit-like ornaments, from which beads and pear-shaped drops hang like earrings. Shaped decorative elements suggest the figure’s facial features, moustache and beard. A fluted section of a column with beaded decorations at the bottom functions as the figure’s neck, and scrolling acanthus leaves form its shoulders. A band runs across the bottom of the figure.

Curatorial Commentary

Charles-Michel de La Condamine was a scientist and explorer, who won notoriety as one of the earliest and most effective supporters of inoculation against smallpox. The practice had been brought back to the West in 1721 by Lady Mary Wortley Montagu, who had learnt of it while living in Constantinople, where her husband was British Ambassador. Despite Voltaire’s support for the practice in his “Lettres philosophiques” of 1734, France was very slow to appreciate its value, and it was not until the early 1750s that it became a live issue, notably when the Swiss physician Théodore Tronchin visited Paris and started preaching its virtues. In 1756 Tronchin inoculated the children of the duc d’Orléans. By then, La Condamine had read a paper praising the practice to the Académie des Sciences (April 1754). Inoculation sparked a great deal of opposition from religious circles and also from established physicians, and the issue was still sufficiently live in 1763 for La Condamine’s friend, the comte de Lauraguais – himself a ‘friend’ of the Saint-Aubin clan (Cf. 675.176) - to find himself gaoled by “lettre de cachet” for intemperate support of the inoculationist position. It was not till the late 1760s that the outcry subsided.

While invoking medical discourse, the drawing also exploits the Arcimboldesque idiom (see 675.233), apparently to mock the use, or over-use, of ornament. This uncomfortable-looking man is composed of acanthus leaves, c-scrolls and flower and feather motifs. His headdress resembles those of ‘espagnolettes’, and from his earrings hang baroque pearls. His fluted, beaded collar looks tight.

Physical description

Dimensions (mm):
187 x 132
Les funestes effets de la petite verolle
Inscribed by Charles-Germain de Saint-Aubin, below image, in ink

voy la condamine
Inscribed by Charles-Germain de Saint-Aubin, right, in ink; inscription is underlined in ink.

Top left corner, in ink
Translation of inscription
The terrible effects of smallpox
See La Condamine


Part of:
Livre de Caricatures tant bonnes que mauvaises. 675.1-389
Waddesdon, The Rothschild Collection (The National Trust)
Bequest of James de Rothschild, 1957



Valerie Mainz; Gloire, subversively; Colin Jones, Juliet Carey, Emily Richardson, The Saint-Aubin Livre de caricatures: drawing satire in eighteenth-century Paris, Oxford, SVEC, 2012; 151-177; p. 155n
Katie Scott; Saint-Aubin's jokes and their relation to...; Colin Jones, Juliet Carey, Emily Richardson, The Saint-Aubin Livre de caricatures: drawing satire in eighteenth-century Paris, Oxford, SVEC, 2012; 349-403; p. 368, fig. 16.7

Related literature

Charles Marie la Condamine; Mémoire sur l'inoculation de la petite vérole; Paris; Laurent Durand; b.c 1712, d.1763; 1754
Archille Le Sueur, La Condamine d'après ses papiers inédits, Académie des Sciences, des Lettres, et des Arts d'Amiens. Mémoires etc, lvi, 1909, 1-80
Henry Tronchin; Un médecin du XVIIIe siècle, Théodore Tronchin; Paris; Plon-Nourrit; 1906
Arnold H. Rowbotham, The ''Philosophes'' and the propaganda for inoculation of smallpox in eighteenth-century France, University of California Publications in Modern Philology, xviii, November 1935, 265-290
Catriona Seth; Les rois aussi en mouraient: les Lumières en lutte contre la petite vérole; Paris; 2008

Indexed terms