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'Calves' heads and Brains: or a phrenological lecture', print, London, England, 1826

In the 1800s, phrenology became popular with large numbers of people but soon became controversial within medical circles. Phrenologists believed that the shape and size of various areas of the brain (and therefore the overlying skull) determined personality. This print shows a caricature of a phrenologist who is lecturing to a crowded audience in room filled with plaster heads, books, skulls and pictures. Some of the audience are examining the shape of their own heads. The contents of the shelves include a bottle of Gall. This is a reference to Franz Gall (1758 –1828), a German physician and the founder of phrenology, who had lectured in London in 1823. He had worked with Johann Gaspar Spurzheim (1776-1832), whose plaster cast model head is in the bottom right of the print. The lecturer may be George Combe (1788-1858), an Edinburgh phrenologist who published Elements of Phrenology in 1824. The second edition of the book was attacked in the Edinburgh Review, September 1826. The print is signed by the ‘artists’ “L. Bump” and “J. Lump” – another way of mocking phrenologists.

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Glossary: print

Pictorial works produced by transferring images by means of a matrix such as a plate, block, or screen, using any of various printing processes. When emphasizing the individual printed image, use "impressions." Avoid the controversial expression "original prints," except in reference to discussions of the expression's use. If prints are neither "reproductive prints" nor "popular prints," use just "prints."

Glossary: phrenology

The study of the bumps on the outside of the skull in order to determine a person's character. It was based on the mistaken theory that the skull becomes modified according to the size of different parts of the brain.

Glossary: caricature

A representation that exaggerates certain features or characteristics to humorous effect.