'The Physiognomist', a figure composed of various types of faces, 1831
© Science Museum / Science & Society Picture Library
Physiogomy is the study of the systematic correspondence of psychological characteristics to facial features or body structure. It was founded by Johann Kaspar Lavater, a Swis writer and Protestant pastor. Although most efforts to specify such relationships have now been discredited, physiognomy was extremely popular in the mid-nineteenth century, much attention being focused on the study of facial portraits from different parts of the world in attempts to identify and explain racial and regional differences. However, these analyses tended to reflect European racial prejudices rather than provide any useful information.