These whimsical sketches were made by the French painter and art theorist Charles le Brun (1619 – 1690), whom King Louis XIV called “the greatest French artist of all time”.
Charles Le Brun was a supporter of the theory of human emotions, which was actively discussed among the philosophers of those times. Le Brun has lectured on this subject at many academies and universities, illustrating his lecture with a series of striking drawings in which he draws analogies between animal and human functions. Le Brun’s original lecture is lost, but his sketches have survived. More than 250 of these drawings are kept in the Louvre collection.
The physiognomy of Charles Le Brun was published in 1806 when the sketches became available to the general public. This sparked a special interest in facial and racial characteristics, as well as in the resemblance of people to animals. Physiognomy – the interpretation and evaluation of the characteristics of a person according to the features of his face, a popular type of study at that time. About thirty years ago, the Swiss philosopher Johan Caspar Lavater published his phenomenal book, reintroducing the ideas of physiognomy. Lavater’s theory was that this science has to do with certain symbolic traits of people, and not with general types. His work found admirers in France, England, and also Germany.
The popularity of physiognomy continued to grow during the 19th century, reinforced by serious academics. Notable novelists including Charles Dickens, Thomas Hardy and Charlotte Brontë have used similar character descriptions in their novels. However, by the end of the 19th century, the physiognomy fell into disfavor.
Even though it is called pseudoscience these days, the random studies of some scientists are still asserting themselves in modern times. For example, during World War II, the Imperial Japanese Naval Aeronautics Department used physiognomy to select successful pilots with over 80% accuracy.