Voltaire by Quentin de la Tour
The first evidence for dental trouble is letter of 26th January 1749 to Frederick II written from Cirey in which Voltaire mentions an illness which has made him deaf in one ear and caused him to lose his teeth. This episode cannot be securely dated (except that it took place after the La Tour portrait of 1735). In June 1750 Voltaire arrived in Prussia where in 1751 he suffered from an inflammation of the gums ("une fluxion s’est jetée sur ses gencives") which resulted in further tooth loss. In a letter of 19th December 1752 to his friend Jacques Bagieu he remarks that he brought about twenty teeth into Berlin but now has only around ten ("une dizaine"). There is scant evidence on which to base a diagnosis, but Doctor Choudin bravely comes up with a type of scurvy which causes periodontitis and has an incubation period of ten years or so. Voltaire at this time suffered from poor health and had a stressful public and personal life. It is also probable that the initial tooth loss led to poor dental occlusion (he couldn't bite properly!) and loosened his other teeth.
|Voltaire at 54-55|
Bust by Paul-Louis Cyfflé (1748-9)
Voltaire was also aware that the loss of his teeth made his his mouth and cheeks cave in: in March and July 1752 he complained that he "no longer had a face". Doctor Choudin rather cruelly assembles the sculptural evidence for the progressive collapse of Voltaire's profile.
|Voltaire in 1767 by Joseph |
Rosset de Saint-Claude
A bust by Paul-Louis Cyfflé, executed in the course of Voltaire's visits to Lorraine in 1748 and 1749, shows the effects of his partial loss - lips thinner, wrinkles round the mouth and already a definite tendency for the bottom jaw to draw inward in round the mouth. Sculptures by the local Ferney sculptor Joseph de Rosset in 1767 and Houdon's famous final study further illustrate Voltaire's inexerable decline into toothless old age.
Happily from 1753 onwards Voltaire suffered no further major dental problems and managed successfully without false teeth although his digestive troubles were no doubt aggravated by his inability to chew.
Lucien Choudin, "Les dents de Voltaire", Revue de la Société française d'histoire de l'art dentaire 1981, p.9-22 (Summary)
.Doctor Choudin later became President of Voltaire à Ferney and played an prominent role in securing the acquisition of the château by the French government in 1999. As well as the thesis he wrote several other pieces on Voltaire and amassed a notable collection of books and artefacts.
His collection was sold in 2012, (note particularly the splendid set of Voltaire busts)
Voltaire in profile: Cyfflé, Rosset, Houdon.