‘THE CRUELLEST REMEDY FOR HUMAN VANITY’: Smallpox and the beautiful face in 18th century Europe with Michael Bennett

Wednesday 13 Jun 2012, 10:15 AM – 11:45 AM

In 18th century Europe most people caught smallpox. It killed one in ten and left many survivors hideously disfigured, ‘turning the babe into a changeling at which its mother shuddered and making the eyes and cheeks of the betrothed maiden objects of horror to the lover.’ (T B Macaulay)

This talk considers the cultural history of smallpox, especially its perceived role as a scourge of vanity and destroyer of beauty. It likewise considers the attempts to manage smallpox through inoculation, initially with a mild form of smallpox and, later, with a cattle disease known as cowpox that reputedly protected the fair faces of dairymaids.

Michael Bennett is Professor of History at the University of Tasmania. The author of four books on late medieval and early Tudor England, he is currently writing a book on smallpox and the early global spread of vaccination in the 18th and early 19th centuries.

Baptiste Vanmour, Lady Mary Wortley Montague with her son Edward, circa 1717

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