My colleague Ali’s recent post focussed on the often gruesome relics of some of the great men of science. In between Galileo’s finger and Einstein’s brain, I was struck by the ghostly serenity of Newton’s death mask. Creating such portraits of eminent people – either in life or death – was not uncommon in the days before photography.
But these masks found a new purpose during the 19th century in the pseudoscience of phrenology. What better tools to back up its claims and to teach its secrets, than assembled sets of plaster heads of the great, the good…..and the not so good. So here, as a counterpoint to Ali’s great men, are some of the rogues from such collections.
Would you trust this man? Thought not. This is Pierre Lacenaire, a notorious French double murderer executed in 1836. The exploits of this debonair part-time poet and author captivated many in the artistic community and inspired Dostoevsky to write Crime and Punishment.
Our second rogue is James Bloomfield Rush, aka the “Killer in the Fog”. A favourite subject of phrenologists, as well as 19th century balladeers, Rush was hanged for another double murder, in front of a large and appreciative crowd in Norwich in 1848.
This chap almost has something of Newton’s serenity about him. Indeed, William Dodd was both a clergyman and an aspiring literary figure. Unfortunately, an extravagant lifestyle led him astray and he was convicted of forgery. Despite a popular campaign to save him, he too went to the gallows.
And finally. Who’s this handsome devil. Warts and all. Another murderer perhaps? Actually, this is Franz Joseph Gall, anatomist, physiologist and the founder of a technique he called cranioscopy, which was later renamed by his followers as… phrenology.
Hmmm… wouldn’t want to meet him in a dark alley.