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LA VACCINE EN VOYAGE

Date 1799
Technique Engraving
Price Sold
Exhibitor Roger Genser - The Prints and the Pauper
Contact the Exhibitor 310-392-5582
genserprints@verizon.net

CELEBRATION and SKEPTICISM OF THE SMALLPOX VACCINE IN FRANCE, 1799

 

LA VACCINE EN VOYAGE, c. 1799

Engraving with hand coloring from unknown source. Plate size 7 x 8 7/8 inches. Vertical fold at the right third. A couple of stains at the top border line. Color identical to an example in the Yale University Cushing/Whitney Medical Library who date it 1799.  Rare! 

 

During the ongoing smallpox epidemic in the late 18th century, a vaccine was developed in England around 1798. There was considerable skepticism particularly in France where it was thought to be an English plot.


From the Welcome Collection:

Description

The two pictures carried by the man in the top hat are also in the Wellcome Library: catalogue numbers 16161i and 16164i

Fashionably dressed ladies and gentlemen gather around the cart, listening to the news about what is here cynically thought of as a 'dindonnade', a word that signifies both 'hoax' (from 'dindonner'- to dupe) and 'turkey' (dindon); hence the turkey held by the man on the left. 'Dindonnade' is meant in opposition to 'vaccine', from 'vacca' and 'vache', the words for 'cow' in Latin and French respectively; however the French word also possesses derogatory connotations. Hence the comic symmetry between the two words 'dindonnade' and 'vaccine'. Vaccination was viewed with suspicion by some of the French, who saw it as a dubious English invention; however, this is in line with the general wariness about the experimental beginnings of inoculation and vaccination

 

From L’HISTOIRE PARL’IMAGE

LA VACCINE EN VOYAGE

Date de publication : avril 2020

Auteur : Pierre-Yves BEAUREPAIRE

Professeur d’histoire moderne, université Nice Sophia Antipolis

 

The image is clearly satirical, with the anonymous author referring to "whim".

 

In front of an audience dressed in the fashion of the time, but somewhat bewildered, two health officers trumpeted loud and clear that they were going to vaccinate at all costs, a direct reference but diverted in a burlesque way to the quasi-missionary impulse that gripped the vaccinators in the very beginning of the 19th century. They roam the countryside of an essentially rural country to introduce from arm to arm the fluid vaccine, whose “success is exaggerated”.

 

But the harlequin at the back of the carriage sets the tone of the image: the vaccinated will be transformed into a turkey, which he brandishes with one hand, echoing the two proclamations "we turkey" and, even more explicitly, “everyone will be vaccinated, that is to say turkeyed”. The play on words puts the laughers on his side, because “dindonne” means to deceive, to fool. The language still keeps the memory with the expression "to be the turkey of the farce".

 

Does the cow in the back of the carriage refer to Edward Jenner and his discovery of the prophylactic virtues of the cowpox of Gloucester cows, which enabled the English doctor to propose with the cowpox a revolutionary weapon in the fight against smallpox (smallpox in English) ? It is possible, but it can also be present as an element of the scene.

 

In another version of La Vaccine en voyage, a barker placed in the front of the stage makes the article to the public by showing the engraving La Dindonnade ou la Rivale de la vaccina, as if the artist was doing his own advertising.

 

The vaccine would therefore be for its detractors the latest fashionable deception, and its supporters charlatans who promise to the vaccinated to rejuvenate and beautify them.

 

INTERPRETATION

The little poems that frame the title of the engraving very explicitly criticize the replacement of the old and proven inoculation by the supposed miracle treatment of barkers armed with their lancet: the cowpox. In fact, even in a satirical mode, this engraving admits that “everywhere vaccination replaces it”. In fact, the conversion is extremely rapid, so favorable is the comparison to the vaccine.

 

The inoculation, even if it represented a progress, caused indeed deaths which one can locate between one for fifty inoculated and one for two hundred and fifty. Conversely, except in the extreme weakness of the subjects to be vaccinated, the results were spectacular with cowpox from the beginning of the 19th century. When smallpox breaks out and mows down the inhabitants of a place, only the vaccinated are spared. As a prefect wrote: “We have seen smallpox come, so to speak, to pay a public and brilliant tribute to the vaccine. Jenner's discovery therefore has a revolutionary character, insofar as its very rapid dissemination causes mortality to drop very quickly.

 

The vaccinators are mobilized and belong to all strata of society: here former soldiers, priests, teachers, there mothers vaccinating children in the neighborhood. The prefects and the entire departmental administrative chain enjoin the mayors to organize vaccination campaigns and publish decrees to this effect – that, presciently, the proclamations of health officers here turn into ridicule – but the initiative is truly individual.

medicinehygieneepidemicpoxsatirevaccineJenner (Edward)

To quote this article

Pierre-Yves BEAUREPAIRE, “The vaccine on a journey”, History through images [online], consulted on February 01, 2022. URL: http://histoire-image.org/fr/etudes/vaccine-voyage