George Combe, c 1840s.

George Combe, c 1840s.
4 0 c m
actual image size: 25cm x 32cm


Portrait, possibly of the Scottish phrenologist George Combe (1788-1858) who founded the Phrenological Society in 1820. Viennese physician Franz Joseph Gall (1758-1828) proposed that the contours of the skull followed the brain's shape, with each region responsible for an aspect of personality or behaviour. Feeling the lumps was like reading the mind. He called his system organology, but it later became known as phrenology, derived from the Greek word 'phren' for mind. Phrenology attained considerable popularity in the 19th century, although it never achieved the status of an accredited science. Today the principle that many functions are localised in the brain is widely accepted, although it is no longer believed that the shape of the cranium is of any relevance.

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© Victoria and Albert Museum, London

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