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Chapter 2 - Fuseli’s Physiognomic Impressions

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  28 October 2021

Stephanie O'Rourke
Affiliation:
University of St Andrews, Scotland
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Summary

The second chapter revisits the work of Henry Fuseli, an artist whose notoriously distorted representations of the male nude puzzled viewers. Yet Fuseli remained significantly invested, intellectually and artistically, in the legibility of the body: for more than two decades, the Swiss-born, London-based artist collaborated with his childhood friend Johann Lavater on a treatise on physiognomy, the study of the face to determine man’s inner traits. As part of his effort to transform physiognomy into a modern empirical science, Lavater placed great emphasis on the physical correspondence between the external appearance of the body and its internal, imperceptible truths. However, Fuseli often represented bodies that could not be read according to the criteria of Lavater’s system. In doing so, the artist called into question not just physiognomy but the underlying claims on which it was based, unveiling a world in which “appearance” and “truth” fail to correspond.

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Publisher: Cambridge University Press
Print publication year: 2021

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