The Appearance of Character
Physiognomy and Facial Expression in Eighteenth-Century France

Melissa Percival

MHRA Texts and Dissertations 47

W. S. Maney & Son Ltd for the Modern Humanities Research Association

2 January 1999  •  228pp

ISBN: 978-1-902653-07-5 (paperback)  •  RRP £25, $40

EnlightenmentFrenchPhilosophy


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 `tête 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.

Bibliography entry:

Percival, Melissa, The Appearance of Character: Physiognomy and Facial Expression in Eighteenth-Century France, MHRA Texts and Dissertations, 47 (MHRA, 1999)

First footnote reference: 35 Melissa Percival, The Appearance of Character: Physiognomy and Facial Expression in Eighteenth-Century France, MHRA Texts and Dissertations, 47 (MHRA, 1999), p. 21.

Subsequent footnote reference: 37 Percival, p. 47.

(To see how these citations were worked out, follow this link.)

Bibliography entry:

Percival, Melissa. 1999. The Appearance of Character: Physiognomy and Facial Expression in Eighteenth-Century France, MHRA Texts and Dissertations, 47 (MHRA)

Example citation: ‘A quotation occurring on page 21 of this work’ (Percival 1999: 21).

Example footnote reference: 35 Percival 1999: 21.

(To see how these citations were worked out, follow this link.)


This title was first published by W. S. Maney & Son Ltd for the Modern Humanities Research Association but rights to it are now held by Modern Humanities Research Association.

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