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'The Physiognomist', print, London, England, 1831

‘Personifications’ are illustrations of people made up from the tools of their trade or the objects they are normally associated with. In this example, the main character’s body is made up from a number of different shapes and sizes of male and female heads. As the title suggests, this shows the practice of physiognomy – using facial characteristics to determine personality. It could also show the study of phrenology. Phrenologists believed that the shape and size of various areas of the brain (and therefore the overlying skull) determined personality. In the audience, an African-American woman is awaiting consultation, an unusual feature in English prints from the 1830s. George Spratt, the artist, who was also a man-midwife, collaborated on a number of these drawings with G E Madeley (active 1826-1854), a lithographer, and Charles Tilt (1797-1861), an English bookseller and publisher.

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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: lithograph

Prints made using the process of lithography - a method for printing using a plate or stone with a completely smooth surface.

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: physiognomy

The study and interpretation of facial features to find the qualities of mind or character. It is based on the belief that an individual’s physical characteristics reflected their personality, an idea now rejected within medicine.