Hogarth Reconsidered

Reading the Body: Physiognomics

Physiognomics was the 'science' of interpreting human character, intelligence, and virtue by analyzing physical appearances. The practice was based upon the belief that exterior traits revealed a person's inner life. In addition to congenital physical characteristics, many physiognomists also considered gesture, facial expression, and disease as legitimate signs to be read.

Hogarth's work was instrumental in the development and popularization of physiognomics in the eighteenth century. In his aesthetic treatise, the Analysis of Beauty (1753), he advises artists to study Charles Le Brun's (1619-1690) physiognomic works, posthumously published in 1698 as A Method to learn to Design the Passions (English translation, 1734). In his graphic works, Hogarth systematized and refined the vocabulary of physiognomy. He called his representations of people characters rather than caricatures, seeking to reveal the true nature of his subjects rather than simply mocking them. His sophisticated visual repertoire of physiognomic types greatly influenced eighteenth century physiognomy and was commented upon by Caspar Lavater (1741-1801) in his popular book, Essays on Physiognomy(1775-78).

Characters Caricaturas [1743]
Characters Caricaturas [1743]

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