Thursday, October 29, 2009

Phrenology: Feel My Head!

(Above) Phrenology head, American, c. 1900 from the Hill Gallery in Birmingham, MI. Carved and painted wood, 12” x 8” x 11”. Click on image for larger view.



(Above) Click for larger view.
A phrenological head developed by the American brothers Lorenzo and Orson Fowler, to assist in the reading of a subject's skull, 1860-1896, and a case of small heads made in 1831 by William Bally of Dublin, Ireland, to illustrate the theories of phrenology.


(Above) Definitely, click for larger view!
An amazing collection of heads found in the collection of The Science Museum, South Kensington, UK.


Click on image for larger views.
(Above) Phrenology originated with Franz Joseph Gall (1758-1828), a German physician, assisted by his colleague, Johann Kaspar Spurzheim (1809-72). Phrenologists believed that the shape and size of various areas of the brain (and therefore the overlying skull) determined personality. Gall and Spurzheim eventually disagreed and went on to promote rival systems of phrenology. These heads are numbered according to Spurzheim’s classification. The heads may have been used to teach phrenology but were probably made as a general reference collection. A wide range of different heads are present. For instance, head number 54 is that of a scientific man; head number 8 is recorded as the head of an ‘idiot’. The heads were made by William Bally, who studied under Spurzheim from 1828 onwards.

(Above) Phrenology Head Diagram from a booklet, American, c. 1900. This was found at Heir Antiques. Click image for larger view.

(Above and below) Click on image for larger view.


(Above) Here’s a rare carved Phrenologist’s head, used as a table top model illustrating the properties associated with various parts of cognitive abilities and their location inside the brain. This head is carved and painted with inked descriptions along the scalp. Sensitive rendering of the face and inlaid glass eyes add to its presence. c. 1870. It stands at 10” h.
This was found at One Good Eye Antiques.


I DECIDED TODAY TO DIG UP WHAT I COULD FIND ON AUTHENTIC, VINTAGE PHRENOLOGY HEADS. You have all probably seen recent imitations, they are kind of cool and interesting. The early, hand made versions are quite rare. Phrenologists believed that the contours of the skull followed the brain’s shape, with each region responsible for an aspect of personality or behavior. Feeling the lumps was like reading the mind. Phrenology never achieved the status of an accredited science, but it had a huge following at one time. Most of these designated areas were pure guesswork, but many people enjoyed the study of it, right or wrong. Victorians liked to decorate their homes with not only art, but scientific objects like botanical specimens, microscopes, class-cased diorama’s, stuffed exotic animal specimens—so phrenology heads just added another level of “science” to their collections.

Phrenology was first explored by Franz Joseph Gall (1758-1828), a Viennese physician.

3 comments:

Maureen said...

They may have been on to something now that surgery is used to stimulate various parts of the brain for medical responses.

Joey said...

The William Bailey small heads are incredible! I never knew such a thing existed.

Dídac López said...

I very hope that in 2109, nobody will post MRI images about functional imaging of the brain in the same mood as here with phrenology tools.

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