Vigée-Lebrun and Female Artists in Enlightenment France

“Peace Bring Back Abundance” Vigée-Le Brun Elisabeth Louise (1755-1842). Paris, musÈe du Louvre. Oil on canvas, 41 x 52 in

As one of the only women to ever gain acceptance into the French Royal Academy of Painting and Sculpture, Vigée-Lebrun submitted “Peace Bring Back Abundance” in her application. As a portrait artist, an allegorical painting such as this was unusual for Lebrun. During the French Enlightenment, some genres of art, such as historical and allegorical paintings, were considered superior to other, such as still life and portraiture. Considering Lebrun’s profession in portraiture, and the fact that the large majority of applicants accepted into the Royal Academy were men, this compromise on Lebrun’s part is suitable. Additionally, Lebrun’s ties with the royal family, as Marie Antoinette’s favorite portrait artist, diminished Lebrun’s chances of acceptance even further, as the Academy wanted to remain an institution separated from the influences of the crown. In fact, Lebrun’s admittance would have been impossible without the interference of King Louis XVI.

There are many revolutionary qualities of “Peace Bring Back Abundance,” displaying the personified themes of peace and abundance during a time period riddled with poverty, famine, and uprise. Created in 1780, Lebrun portrayed this piece directly after the American Revolution and before the French Revolution. In fact, the use of allegory itself was revolutionary was this genre was largely associated with carrying “emblems of revolutionary power” through portrayal of the “incarnation of revolutionary values” (De Baecque, 111). The timing for this painting almost certainly suggests an incentive to create a political statement on behalf of Lebrun. If anything, it conveys the importance of foods such as wheat and fruits, to those who rebelled against their sovereigns. The French Revolution is largely remembered for events such as the Women’s March on Versailles, a demonstration held to call attention to the high prices and scarcity of bread. In fact, Marie Antoinette, a woman closely associated with Lebrun herself, is remembered for having allegedly said “Let them eat cake” in response to the bread riots spurring all over France. This painting, at the very least, indicates the idea that food supply and peace go hand in hand.

Vigée-Lebrun could also have been making a statement about gender roles during Enlightenment France. The painting depicts Peace, a woman draped in dark colors, holding an olive branch and gently leading forward Abundance, also embodied as a woman. Abundance contrasts Peace by wearing white clothing, exposing her breast, and holding wheat and grains as well as various fruits. Due to the contrast in colors, Peace can be interpreted as a male figure and Abundance as a female considering the “darker flesh tones and hair color traditionally used to indicate maleness, the pearly flesh and blonde hair to suggest femaleness” (Sheriff, 126). This indicates a broader theme about gender roles, as Abundance is sexualized through her lack of clothing, as well as her suggested virtue through innocence in her light color schemes and dependence on a male figure. Here, Lebrun’s attempts to insert feminist themes into a painting that would harbor a largely male audience.


Image Vigee-Lebrun, Elisabeth Louise. “Peace Bring Back Abundance.” Metropolitan Museum of Art,

De Baecque, Antoine “The Allegorical Image of France, 1750-1800: A Political Crisis of Representation” Representations, Vol. 47 (1994):111-43.

Sheriff, Mary D. 1996. The Exceptional Woman: Elisabeth Lebrun and the Cultural Politics of Art. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Cloves and African Involvement in the Early Modern Spice Trade

Journal of the First Voyage of Vasco da Gama to India, 1497−1499

African involvement in the Spice Trade was minimal before Vasco da Gama’s journey around the Cape of Good Hope. At this time, trade between Europe and Asia was flourishing, and European countries were becoming more and more dependent on Asian production as demand for spices increased. However, some spices of particular value to Europe, such as cloves, were simultaneously being developed in Africa and had yet to be exported into the larger spice trade. Vasco da Gama’s exploration throughout the Swahili coast brought to the Portuguese a new sense of appreciation for African potential in the spice trade. Through this, Portugal’s ultimately gained control of African spice exports, bringing countries like Zanzibar an opportunity to develop their manufacture of cloves on a larger scale. This resulted in Zanzibar’s role as a leading clove exporter by the nineteenth century.

The Spice Trade was a pillar of early modern globalism, broadening European economies to an intercontinental scale and connecting European and Asian cultures through food. A range of spices poured into Europe from China, Indonesia, and India that introduced flavor into the European diet and novelty into their medicine. Nutmeg, pepper, ginger, cloves, and more were “believed to cure disorders of the stomach, the intestines, the head, and the chest, and were also used to aid digestion.” Spices were also used in various ways through cooking, helping to preserve meat, mask undesirable odors, and add flavor to food. These multifaceted spices were of great value to populations throughout the European continent, and travelers went to great lengths to bring them to the market. Prior to Vasco da Gama’s voyage in the Indian Ocean, the Spice Route centered around a number of different cities throughout Asia. However, in 1498, when Vasco da Gama rounded the Cape of Good Hope and arrived in Calicut, he prompted a new age of Euro-Asian trade for Portugal, as well as introducing a larger role for African countries in the spice trade.

Da Gama introduced new trade partners for Portugal in various African countries along the Swahili coast, including Zanzibar. This expedition established the Cape Route through the Indian Ocean, a new lifeline to African and Indian spices in which Portugal “promptly exercised the right to its exclusive use.” Vasco da Gama’s 1498 voyage reveals much about the spice trade, and the Portuguese eye for economic potential in Africa. While stopping in modern-day Kenya, da Gama encountered merchants from India in search of their own spices. This city was full with “quantities of cloves, cumin, ginger, nutmeg, and pepper,” suggesting that the spice trade was well underway in Africa by the time da Gama arrived, despite its focus in Europe and Asia. Ultimately, Portuguese involvement in Africa brought African spice development to considerable prominence in the Spice Trade throughout the early modern era.


Da Gama, Vasco. “Journal of the First Voyage of Vasco Da Gama to India, 1497−1499.” World Digital Library,

A Journal of the First Voyage of Vasco Da Gama, 1497–1499, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 2010, pp. 48. Cambridge Library Collection – Hakluyt First Series.

Prakash, Om. “Spices and Spice Trade.” The Oxford Encyclopedia of Economic History, Oxford University Press, 2005.