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The Appearance of Character: Physiognomy and Facial Expression in Eighteenth-century France (MHRA Texts & Dissertations) [Paperback]

Melissa Percival


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Book Description

1 Sep 1999 MHRA Texts & Dissertations (Book 47)
Physiognomy - the notion that there is a relationship between character and physical appearance - is often dismissed as a marginal pseudoscience; however, The Appearance of Character argues that it is central to many disciplines and thought processes, and that it constantly adapts itself to current patterns of thought and modes of discourse. This interdisciplinary study determines the characteristics of physiognomical thought in France during the previously neglected period leading up to the reception of Johann Caspar Lavater's physiognomy in the early 1780s. It establishes a corpus of physiognomical texts, juxtaposing mainstream' figures such as Buffon and Diderot with a host of minor writers. It then considers the representation of the passions in art, examining the legacy of Charles LeBrun, and revealing an aesthetics of facial representation where the passions are conceived in terms of multiplicity, speed, and nuance. The contribution of the Comte de Caylus to the development of the tete d'expression' is analysed, as well as the innovations of Greuze in the field of expression. Physiognomy in portraiture is also addressed through the work of La Tour. Facial expression in painting is found to have strong parallels with contemporary acting theory and stage practice. Finally, The Appearance of Character addresses the notion of character, outlining various predominant theories, and analysing the complex relationship between character and passions. In this respect, the study has ramifications for theories of the self and individualism in the Enlightenment and beyond.

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