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Bronwen Wilson: Learning How to Read

Visual Knowledges Conference
The University of Edinburgh
17-20 September 2003
ISBN: 0 9532713 3 1
In 1560, officials in Toulouse witnessed the extraordinary trial of Arnaud du Tilh, the
imposter who claimed to be Martin Guerre.1 Twelve years earlier, as Natalie Davis recounts in
her famous study of the case, Martin had abandoned his family and village in the Pyrenees.
Working as a soldier, he met Arnaud, who subsequently visited the village where he stepped into
Martin’s identity, fathering a child with his wife and labouring in the fields. Doubts were raised
about the identity of the returned man following a conflict over finances, but the testimony of
family members, including his wife, persuaded the authorities that the pretender was Martin
Guerre. Eventually, when two outsiders identified the man as Arnaud de Tihl, questions about his
identity were brought forward again. Remarkably, however, Arnaud’s deception nearly succeeded
until the real Martin Guerre, hearing of the trial, returned to denounce the imposter, and Arnaud
was condemned to death by hanging. I use this famous case here to flag the distance between the
modern subject, whose identity might be understood as both autonomous and intrinsic to its body,
and sixteenth-century selves, who were more accustomed to recognizing people on the basis of
their habits and costume than facial features.
Indeed, the case raises questions, now commonplace, about Jacob Burckhardt’s
assessment of the Renaissance as the period in which the modern individual was discovered:
when the “veil” of “faith, illusion and childish prepossession” of medieval consciousness “melted
into air.”2 Significantly for the present paper, this interpretation was based, in part, on the
proliferation of portraits in the fifteenth century and an assumed correspondence between the
individual, likeness, and identity. Stephen Greenblatt is among those scholars who have criticized
Burckhardt’s autonomous subject;3 if on one side, there was a new social mobility during the
Renaissance, so too were there new “control mechanisms,” according to the influential concept of
self-fashioning, a concept in which selves were formed in relation to others through external
representations and language.4 Individuals were defined by the ownership of their words and
actions and not their bodies, according to Greenblatt who sees the emergence of the pronoun “I”
in texts as analogous with the use of a persona or mask.5 Thus he calls attention to ways in which
sixteenth-century people moved between identities, such as the case of Martin Guerre. Instead of
an individual, with a body and ego of its own, Greenblatt describes Martin following Thomas
Hobbes’ notion of a “person,” as a product “of . . . relations, material objects, and judgments,”
and not as a producer of them.6 Instead of an autonomous subject, the accused was defined as an
object: by his “scars, . . . clothing, [and] shoe size.”7 For Greenblatt the story points to “a
disconcerting recognition: that our identity may not originate in (or be guaranteed by) the fixity,
the certainty, of our own body.” Yet he does not refer to the crux of the case, to the return of
Martin Guerre after his lengthy absence. For it was his dramatic reappearance in the courtroom,
the face and body of the “real” Martin that provided the unmistakable evidence. It was the two
men, standing side by side, that enabled his uncle and sisters to recognize the differences between
them. It was the gap between the performance of identity—the claims to ownership of words and
actions achieved with remarkable success by Arnaud—and the body'
s unshakeable corporeality,
when confronted with another, that resulted in the failure of the imposter.8
More recently, John Martin has asked if Burckhardt’s thesis should be discarded in its
entirety. For Martin, the increasing importance of sincerity at the end of the Renaissance was
expressive of the subject’s new sense of its interior self. By the beginning of the seventeenth
century, moreover, there was a distinction made between a subject’s sense of its interior and
exterior, between the “heart” and the body’s external appearance.9 This paper similarly proposes
a reassessment of Burckhardt’s thesis, but by inverting it as it were, by seeing the modern
individual as a fiction that was constructed from the outside in. The images and texts considered
below point toward an epistemological change on the horizon—a change in which empirical
knowledge was coming into being and physiognomy was being redefined as the locus of identity.
If the practice of comparing the two men was unusual in the context of rural France, the
widespread circulation of printed imagery and texts devoted to the human face was transforming
the experience of urban dwellers. The late sixteenth century witnessed a surge in the production
of printed portrait-books and physiognomy tracts throughout Europe.10 These new modes of
representation intersected with each other, and with social practices in intriguing ways. New
formats for printed images prompted encounters with human faces in ways never seen before, and
new uses for images of faces would have encouraged viewers to compare faces. In so doing, these
new forms and uses of print contributed to a shift in the ways in which identities accrued to
Ancient theories about physiognomy circulated in the late medieval period and these
ideas continued to be rehearsed throughout the Renaissance. However, toward the end of the
sixteenth century writers began to emphasize the process of reading the face and body as if texts
comprised of signs. For example, Giovanni Bonifacio’s fascinating L’arte de’cenni promotes
gesture as a universal language.11 The text is a didactic one, and readers are introduced to the
grammar of the face and its expressions. This handy lexicon furnishes the tools to decipher
between say, a wink, or a squint. Indeed, fifty-eight sections are devoted to the eyes alone. This
new classification of the semantic potential of facial features is expressive of a new interest in
visual experience, precisely the kind of experience facilitated by printed images. Print troubled
the notion of resemblance, as I suggest here, translating and altering its function. Attention to
physiognomy was responding to humanist beliefs that outward appearances were an expression of
a person’s soul, but in so doing print participated in inverting this process by showing how the
face came to constitute the characteristics that determined identity.
Here the many illustrated texts of Giovanni Battista Della Porta are particularly
interesting. Della Porta’s project was inspired by the growing epistemological superiority of
optics, visual experience, and the conviction that describing phenomena could also be used to
explain them.12 Following widespread belief in the Renaissance that the virtues of plants could be
construed on the basis of their outward appearance—the so-called Doctrine of Signatures—Della
Porta pursued animal and human physical characteristics, even illustrating in pictures how flora,
fauna, and humans resemble each other (figs. 1-3).13
Figures 1-2
Two pages from Giovanni Battista Della Porta, Phytognomonica octo libris
contenta. (Naples: Horatium Salvianum, 1589).
In a range of tracts, and using various comparative analyses, he uses images and texts to
demonstrate that chiromancy (palm reading), phytognomonica, and physiognomy could all be
deciphered for signs of character, since marks of identity were imprinted on the surface of bodies.
In his Phytognomonica, for example, illustrations of flowers and the human eye, drawn in profile
and frontally, identify morphological similarities between them. Spiky foliage is similarly
juxtaposed with the antlers and horns found on various four legged creatures.
Figure 3
Giovanni Battista Della Porta, Caput mediocre, De humana physiognomonia libri
IIII (Vici Aequensis, Iosephum Cacchium, 1586).
The famous engravings from his Fisonomia are also used to demonstrate similitudes, such as the
knitted brow, robust neck and dilated nostrils, seen above, of man and bull. Physiognomy, as he
explains toward the end of the first book, is
“a science that learns the signs that are fixed in the body, and accidents that transform
into signs, [that teaches how] to investigate the natural habits of the soul. . . . The name of
Physiognomy one could almost say means the law or rule of Nature; that is, by a certain
rule, norm and order of Nature one recognizes from the form of the body the passion of
the soul.”14
Della Porta aimed to demonstrate what the differences between faces elucidated about
individuals. To collect evidence, he visited jails and morgues where he measured the heads of
criminals and took casts from the feet of corpses.15 Not surprisingly, he recommended the study
of physiognomy as a means to choose one friends.
Significantly, moreover, Della Porta was drawing on printed portrait-books for his
theories. This genre, in which a literary portrait was accompanied with a visual one, was new in
the sixteenth century, and Francesco Sansovino’s L’historia di casa Orsina, published in Venice
in 1565, provides an early example. Introducing the benefits of this new format, Sansovino
explains that:
“[V]iewers are often curious to identify in likenesses those virtues about which they have
heard celebrated [and] . . . it confer[s] much to that same history to have the images of
those people about whom one reads in front of one’s eyes for the evidence signaled and
illustrated [in those faces] . . .. [A]ctions [of individuals] do not [always] correspond to
their faces, and . . . sometimes under beautiful faces one discovers dreadful and horrible
thoughts. [However], the reader will come to marvel . . . that nature knows [how] to
produce in the countenances of man. . . . [I]n such clear images of the Orsina men one
sees greatness and majesty in the countenance of the face, because they have spirit and
military vigor, with open foreheads, and with mouths rather large for the most part,
signifying men of much eloquence.”16
Significantly, Sansovino invests the image with new potential; the portrait is a mnemonic device,
a way to recognize the actions of a person, his or her history. The face is like a map to the sitter’s
personality, and even to his or her ancestry.
In several of his biographies of the Orsina men, he refers to the accompanying likeness in
his text (fig. 4):
“This face, so dry and of an emaciated colour, demonstrative of the quality of a nervous
man, and by nature agile and strong, is the true portrait of Signor Camillo Orsino, son of
the preceding Signor Paolo, the one who had him reared in the honoured studies of
military discipline under Nicola Orsino, Bartolomeo da Liviano, and Gian Giacomo
Trìulci, who passed onto him his great expanse of authority, of prudence, and of faith.”17
Figure 4
Camillo Orsino da Lamentana, Francesco Sansovino, L’historia di casa Orsina
(Venice: B. & F. Stagnini fratelli, 1565).
The man depicted in the portrait is indeed a gaunt figure, whose weedy beard exaggerates his lean
face. But dressed in armour and looking toward the viewer with sharp eyes, the text prompts us to
interpret his gaze as incisive and his visage as a sign of vigour and assiduity. The clarity of
engraving distinguishes the singularity of the face, and this in turn encourages the reader to
scrutinize its topography for evidence of the sitter’s talents and actions. The novelty of this
didactic process is worth underlining.
Sansovino’s Orsina history was one of dozens of portrait-books spawned by Paolo
Giovio’s immense collection of renowned individuals once seen together in his palace, turned
museum, in Como.18 The humanist was fascinated with imprese, those devices in which an
individual’s image and motto was converted into a symbol of his or her character,19 and the
portrait-book, with its combination of image and text is an expression of this interest.
Nevertheless, his two biographies—of famous poets and philosophers, and great warriors—were
published without reproductions of his portraits in 1546 and 1551, perhaps, as suggested by Cecil
Clough, because the quality of engraving was not yet adequate.20 Giovio’s plan to combine
portraits with an account of the sitters’ deeds only appeared posthumously, when Tobias
Stimmer’s drawings were used to illustrate two new editions of the Elogia and two portraitbooks.21 The Musei ioviani imagines, published in 1577, brings together one hundred and twentytwo octavo woodcuts made by Stimmer after Giovio’s painted portraits (fig. 5).
Figure 5
Tobias Stimmer, Politianus, Paolo Giovio, Musei ioviani imagines (Basel, 1577).
Significantly, Giovio subordinated concern for artistic style or aesthetics in favor of
copies that could be traced back to a source, a preference, as Linda Klinger has argued, for the
portrait’s function as an historical document.22 The likeness was thereby objectified; instead of
making the sitter present—the use of portraits as cult imagery or for family identity—the copy
provided a form of historical distance.
Stimmer’s reproductions were among those used by Della Porta for his De humana
physiognomia, first published in 1586.23 For one of his famous comparisons of human and animal
facial features, for example, Della Porta juxtaposes a portrait of Angelo Poliziano with the head
of a rhinoceros (Fig. 6). Paolo Giovio, in his written portrait of the poet, had already suggested an
alignment between Poliziano’s “censurable habits,” envious personality, and unfortunate
appearance, the latter caused by his “excessive nose and sly look [l’occhio losco].24 Della Porta
capitalizes on this aspect of Poliziano’s physiognomy to illustrate his chapter on the nose,
exaggerating his lengthy probiscus, eyes, and hair to resemble more closely the pointed horn and
brutish features of the adjacent beast. Drawing on Giovio’s assessment of Poliziano’s personality
without identifying him by name, Della Porta explains that “A very large nose is proof of a man
who takes over the work of others and who does not like things if they are not his own, and who
laughs off those of others.”25 In the text, the reader learns to identify the nose as a sign of a type
whereas the illustration, where the poet is identified in a caption, is brought forward as if visual
evidence for the claim of the text: “Reader, you have here the great nose of the Rhinoceros, from
whose middle springs a horn, with the living likeness of Angelo Poliziano.” This deictic mode is
used throughout
Figure 6
Giovanni Battista Della Porta, De Naso, De humana physiognomonia libri IIII
(Naples: Tarquinium Longum, 1603).
the book to address his audience more directly, and to point out features in the illustrations.26
Moreover the images themselves prompt the reader to compare the figures: to identify what the
character of the animal implies about the adjacent human head, whose resemblance has been
ensured by strategic manipulation.
Following the usual array of Arabic, Aristotelian, and other antique sources, Della Porta
divides the face and body into parts to explain their meanings, but these syntactical units are then
reassembled and the meaning of the whole interpreted using his “syllogistic” method.27 This
combinatory technique helps to explain the repetition of the same engravings in different sections
of the book. For example, a lion paired with a human face is inserted in a description of the
forehead as a sign of magnanimity (fig.7).28 In the vernacular edition, a caption explains the
image: “Here below is a human forehead of a squared shape similar to that of the lion presented
with an exact [visual] description whose similarity does not fool you.”29 The same engraving also
illustrates “the flattened nose,” and “delicate lips in a grand mouth.”30 Instead of interpreting a
leonine face as a sign of a lion-like personality, Della Porta reuses the same engraving to explain
a wide range of facial characteristics; his method claims to distil the essence of the individual
from a combination of character traits.
Furthermore, and this is crucial to the argument, the pictures themselves bring forward a
new cognitive role for the image since the paired physiognomies, like those faces reproduced in
the portrait-books, urge the viewer to compare their countenances. Although the two men
depicted across from each other on the bottom of figure seven appear similar to each other, close
examination of their profiles attests to the differences between the curl of their hair, the shape of
their noses and the contours of their crania. The reader discovers, as Sansovino also proposed,
how to survey each visage as if a map of the figure’s personality.
Figure 7
Giovanni Battista Della Porta, Caput mediocre, De humana physiognomonia libri
IIII (Vici Aequensis, Iosephum Cacchium, 1586).
Although size, shape, and lines visible on the exterior were deemed to reveal interior
truths, nevertheless for Della Porta, and Sansovino, as we saw in the passage cited earlier,
physiognomy is never the only means of understanding character; nor should a portrait alter the
historical facts of an individual’s actions. Portraits of Messalina and Faustina, the wives of
Claudius and Marcus Aurelius, are used to make this point. As Della Porta tells the reader in the
caption, the likenesses are based on portrait busts and medallions found in his brother’s museum,
and the depiction of the women facing each other in profile confirms this antique source (fig. 8).31
Figure 8
Giovanni Battista Della Porta, De Naso, De humana physiognomonia libri
IIII (Naples: Tarquinium Longum, 1603).
In contrast to Poliziano, and in the absence of zoological clues to the women’s character, the
portraits reveal little of their infamous temperaments to the untrained eye, nor does Della Porta’s
description bear much resemblance to the illustrations. He begins with Messalina, who in addition
to being remarkable hairy, had “a delicate and thin face and neck . . . large, lascivious, and
deeply-set eyes, [and] a chin turned up toward her nose . . . and blond hair, as Juvenale writes.”
We also learn that Messalina forced other Roman women to emulate her own depraved
“The example of her lechery surpassed all Roman women of her time. . . . Going by the
name of the prostitute Licisca, she used to enter in the morning, staying all day in the
practice; at the end of the evening she used to leave, tired, but her lechery not yet satiated,
and she sought to be paid for her work. These and other of her deceitful works are written
by Suetonius and by Dio Cassius.”32
Faustina, he continues, “was also full of hair, thin, and with similar features and habits; she would
even lay down with gladiators and other lowly people; the histories are full of all these things.”33
Thus, a beautiful face is not necessarily evidence of a good interior; instead, it is an individual’s
actions that are the key to her or his personality, and these histories are described in texts.34
However, if Della Porta’s account of Messalina indicates her attractions, his strange description
constructs her as a kind of monster and the reader learns to interpret abundant hair, wide eyes, a
pulled back mouth, and pursed facial features, as signs of dangerous sexual drive and
Della Porta’s contemporary Girolamo Cardano—author, practitioner, and prognosticator
of numerous pursuits, notably astrology and medicine—also seems to have had doubts about
judging character on the basis of external appearances. If this is surprising given he authored a
tract on metoposcopia (forecasting character by interpreting lines and marks on the face), it may
reflect his introspection and penchant for self-analysis.35 In his autobiography, for example,
written shortly before his death in 1576, he states that “several painters who have come from afar
to make my portrait have found no feature by which they could so characterize me, that I might
be distinguished.”36 Palm readers were also foiled by his body:
“The thickly fashioned right hand has dangling fingers, so that chiromantists have
declared me a rustic; it embarrasses them to know the truth . . .. My left hand, on the
contrary, is truly beautiful with long, tapering, well-formed fingers and shining nails.”37
Perhaps his refutation of physiognomy and chiromancy was disingenuous; the Church looked
upon the magical sciences with suspicion and given Cardano’s encounter with the Inquisition, he
may well have concealed his convictions.38 But like Della Porta, if the claim of the art was the
ability to decipher the external signatures of character, it was still an individual’s actions that
were the key to his or her personality, and these were described in texts.
For Della Porta, the human face operates as a threshold between the “uncertain and
inconstant consciousness”; the visage “is formed by the configuration of the soul, or better still, it
is its simulator or dissembler.”39 Thus, he asserts, even if the mutability of the passions require
repeated observation, the expressions on the face furnish truthful evidence about the interior.
Cardano, by contrast, with some rhetorical prevarication, questions the legibility of his
“I have accustomed my features always to assume an expression quite contrary to my
feelings: thus I am able to feign outwardly, yet within know nothing of dissimulation. . . .
And now, trained to pretenses of a sort, I sometimes go forth clad in rags, but just as
often elegantly dressed; sometimes I am taciturn, and sometimes talkative; sometimes
gay, sometimes sad. From these moods all things acquire double aspects.”40
If a habituated dissimulator, Cardano still defines his interior in opposition to his exterior, a split
that suggests both the individual consciousness seen by Jacob Burckhardt and Stephen
Greenblatt’s mutable self that is shaped through language and representations. But perhaps these
can be understood as two sides of the same coin: the former—conceived as an individual with an
interior that is uniquely his own—is a mirage constructed in response to external representations,
that is, how he believes he is seen by others. For in the passages cited above Cardano describes
himself both as a portrait, and a picture; these are the semblances, the “double aspects” of his
moods as they are perceived on the outside. In other words, perhaps the very process of
transforming faces into representations—engraving, describing, reading, and comparing them for
signs of character—contributed to the very distinction that came to be drawn between the
subject’s “heart” and its exterior at the end of the Renaissance. Furthermore, perhaps these new
kinds of visual images and systematic classification, by enhancing the cognitive skills to interpret
facial expressions and features, (and often conflating these in the process), contributed further to
this split.
If viewers were learning to distinguish the differences between facial features, then what
about stereotypes? Della Porta is among those authors who cites Ptolemy’s claim that “Arabs are
great thieves, with double souls, fraudulent, with a servile soul, unstable, and desirous of
profit.”41 However, although prejudices against ethnic groups, such as Turks, or Muslims, were
well ensconced, these stereotypes circulated in language and not facial features, as I have argued
elsewhere.42 Associations between behaviour and facial characteristics followed physiognomic
theories of resemblance and the etiology of medieval physiology, which attributed differences to
the balance of humours in individual bodies. Thus a forbidding countenance was a sign of a
villainous interior, and red hair, an indication of a fiery temperament. On the basis of climate,
writers believed that excess yellow bile caused Arabs to be servile and two-faced, but yellow skin
was a symptom of a choleric personality, an individual with too much yellow bile, and not yet a
sign of race. Although Della Porta introduces ancient theories that attributed differences in
character, customs, and physical appearance to geography, climate, and the configuration of the
stars, these are not central to his “new physiognomy,” defined as those signature traits—the
particular combination of features—that marked individuals.
For his theories, Della Porta used famous individuals, as we saw with Poliziano, and in
his extensive discussion on the various shapes of the nose, many other figures are brought
forward, but the lessons drawn are not about ethnic differences. Instead, Della Porta develops
analogies on the basis of zoological resemblances like those already discussed; thus, the curved
nose of the raven, who has the character of a thief, is deemed to be the facial feature typical of
domestic servants, who steal money and cutlery, or a prostitute who robs a silver vase from her
client. Here it is Catilana who provides an example from history, since “he had a similar nose,
and he was ambitious, bitter, and greedy.”43
A hooked nose—a sign of magnanimity and regal poise—is illustrated with the head of
the eagle and the profile of the Roman emperor Servio Sulpicio Galba. A parade of famous men,
such as Constantine, is brought forward as evidence that this is a nose characteristic of rulers and
heroes. Significantly, Della Porta lists several rulers of Muslim nations, including Mehmet II,
“King of the Turks, who had a hooked and protruding nose, that almost reached his upper lip; and
he had great courage [animo].”44 Both Selim I and Sulëyman are also described in the text:
“Selim, son of Baiazeth, had an arched nose, and [was] very generous, emulator of the great
Alexander. Sulëyman, son of Selim, was another with a hooked nose, a warrior and splendid.”45
The texts and likenesses found in portrait-books provide further evidence of the crucial
difference between modern stereotypes, where exaggerated facial features denote ethnicity, and
the ways in which Europeans were looking at faces before the modern contours of race were fully
delineated. Moreover, as indicated in Pietro Bertelli’s Vite degl’imperatori de’Turchi, published
in Vicenza in 1599, Della Porta’s lessons have been put to a new use. Pietro’s text is filled with
stereotypes attributed to Turks that circulated in language. Substantive details of military pursuits
are interwoven with a scintillating synopsis of the sultans’ characters and customs: the strangling
of male siblings by the ascending sultan, sexual appetite, and of course the seraglio. What stands
out in Pietro’s book, however, and this is typical of portrait-books, is not the similarity of the
visages of the Sultans, but the remarkable differences among them. Indeed, the repetition of the
turban highlights the differences between their facial features (figs. 9-11).
Although Pietro rarely makes explicit correlations between the sitter and his biography,
one significant exception is the profile portrait of Mehmed II, an attentive replication of his
likeness that circulated in numerous fifteenth-century medals (fig. 10). This famous profile was
copied in many forms, even paintings by Muslim artists, and a variation of this, reproduced by
Tobias Stimmer for the Musei ioviani imagines, was certainly familiar to Della Porta who
referred to the countenance in the passage cited above. According to Pietro’s text, the sultan had
“a face of an ugly yellow color, with fierce eyes, arched eyelashes, and a nose so hooked that it
seemed on the point of touching his lips. . . He was notably cruel in war as in peace, since for the
smallest reason he would murder those young men in the seraglio that he had loved
lasciviously.”46 Although Pietro’s likeness is a copy of Mehmet’s famous visage, Pietro has
exaggerated the nefarious character of the sitter’s eyes by raising his eyebrow and highlighting
the shape of the nose. Moreover, if Pietro is quoting Della Porta’s text, published in Italian a year
earlier, Pietro is more inimical. Nevertheless, the bird-like eyes, arched nose, and skin colour
imputed to yellow bile and choleric personalities, are still associations culled from the
Renaissance world of resemblances and humours, in which an articulated profile was a sign of an
evil interior, and it was surely the specific case, and not a concept about Turks in general, that
Pietro wanted to convey. After all, like many sixteenth-century writers, Pietro conveys admiration
for many of the Sultans.
Figure 9
Mahometto II, Pietro Bertelli, Vite degl’imperatori de’turchi con le loro effiggie
(Vicenza: G. Greco, 1599) Engraving, 4º [photo: by permission of the British
Library, London] 583.i.9
What seems crucial here, however, for understanding the mechanisms initiated by the
format of image and text, is that the reader is enlisted to look for the signs of the biography in the
likeness. Even though Pietro understands Mehmet’s countenance as a sign of his individual
character, this step of combining actions with distinctive facial features lays the groundwork for
the future ascription of physiognomy and alleged collective behaviour. In the same way that Della
Porta alerts the reader to the indicators of sexual depravity in Messalina’s countenance, Pietro
urges the viewer to search for signs of Mehmet’s cruelty and sexual deviancy.
Figures 10, 11
Pietro Bertelli, Selim I and Selim II, Vite degl’imperatori de’turchi con le
loro effiggie (Vicenza: G. Greco, 1599) Engraving.
On a structural level then, portrait-books with their distinctive serial format and
combination of image and text, prompted viewers to forge connections between the actions and
character of individuals and their facial features. It was the accompanying text and not the
countenance that identified a sitter’s character, which was used instead as a “a synthetic
expression or memory-image of a biography,” as Lina Bolzoni explains it.47 The process was
thereby similar to pictures of famous men and women used by Della Porta in his Fisonomia
whose faces confirm the preconception in the text.48 If initially the face is a way to remember the
biography, in turn, however, viewers learn to distinguish between faces. Moreover, the format
compels the reader to compare the image to the text, to identify the marks of virility in Mehmed
III, or to find in the visage of Selim II his predilection for pleasures (Fig.11). The turn of the
head, forehead, eyes, and nose become both signifiers and symptoms of the actions described in
the text.49 The sultan’s face becomes fused with his history in the reader’s mind, his countenance
a distinctive landscape. An inscription identifies each sultan further, specifying the referent,
whose name is printed twice again on the same page in moveable type. His facial features become
a signature of his singular personality.
Even if actions were the key to personality and these were described in texts, Della Porta,
shows the reader how to decipher the face: broken down into its constituent parts, like language,
and then reassembled, the face is transformed into discourse. Facial features are still recognized
as something else—a human forehead that resembles a lion’s, for example—but the face is now
constructed of signatures whose meanings are learned, and read. This new concept of the face as
representation emerges against the backdrop of a portrait’s function to resemble the sitter, to
make the sitter present in “flesh and blood” according to the contemporary topos professed for
painted portraits. Thus if Della Porta’s theories were bound to the Renaissance world of
resemblances, the mode of representation initiates those processes of discrimination in the viewer
that Michel Foucault assigned to the Classical age.50
According to a fourteenth-century treatise, “men who are evil by nature, can do none
other than evil”; however, by the instruction and doctrine of knowledgeable men, they are able to
become good and act against their natural inclination.”51 By contrast, Della Porta suggests that by
examining the faces of others we can reflect upon our own personality. Like poets and painters,
he explains, we can identify the habits of others but also, following the Socratic mirror, reflect
upon our own physiognomies in order to correct our imperfections.52 And this points to new
functions for printed portraits.
In the increasingly aristocratic culture of Europe, dissimulation was the modus operandi,
and the desire to interpret human nature went hand in hand.53 Moreover, a variety of Renaissance
discourses recommended miming named actors.54 As Francesco Sansovino advocated in his
Orsina history, readers could profit from the study of famous men and his book presented readers
with a parade of illustrious figures worthy of emulation. Moreover, in a striking mirroring of
identities, he incorporated his patron in the series by concluding his history with a visual and
literary portrait of Pietro Giordano Orsina, Duke of Bracciano. The Duke’s patronage thereby
facilitated the dissemination of his family’s history, and, with his biography incorporated at the
end of the book, he functions as the living hinge between past and future generations.55 Moreover,
subsumed into the series, Sansovino’s patron, like Cardano above, would have seen himself as a
picture.56 For all viewers, the myriad faces gazing back likely suggested that they too could be
seen as others saw them, a process surely intensified by the increasing use of mirrors in European
households.57 The widespread circulation of printed images of faces must have compelled
individuals to reflect upon their own faces and also their singular role in history.
The proverbial conviction that outward appearances were symptoms of the soul was
coming to define personality, but in so doing, the causal link was becoming inverted; facial
features were becoming signs of identity, the face a text that could be read, or recognized in a
mirror, and this became the framework for relocating identity in the individual. In contrast to the
function of painted portraits to memorialize the sitter, printed portraits had a new kind of
mnemonic function, for they enabled readers to remember whose biography belonged to whom.
Portrait-books encouraged viewers to consider an individual’s likeness in relation to his or her
history, even to find the signs of the sitter’s achievements and character in his or her face.
By correlating biography with physiognomy, as I have been suggesting, the face was
becoming a signature of an individual’s singular personality. Furthermore, those faces looking
back at readers would have alerted viewers of the fact that they too were an object in someone
else’s eye. Instead of understanding individuals through a network of external relationships—
those local familial affiliations exemplified by the story of Martin Guerre—or “the fact of being
identified with,” as identity was understood in the sixteenth century, these new forms of print
point toward the meaning of identity in the seventeenth century: “a person . . . being that
specified unique person. . . the characteristics determining this, individuality, personality.”58
Paradoxically, perhaps, the face was becoming a signature of the self during the decades in which
facial features and expressions were being codified as language, when the face was coming into
conformity. The individual that Jacob Burckhardt identified in paintings might then be
understood instead as a fiction that emerged only at the end of Renaissance in response to a new
world of discrimination.
Natalie Zemon Davis, The Return of Martin Guerre (Cambridge MA: Harvard University Press, 1983).
Jacob Burckhardt, The civilization of the Renaissance in Italy: an essay (London: Phaidon Press, 1981),
81. For recent ctiticism
See Stephen Greenblatt, Renaissance Self-Fashioning From More to Shakespeare (Chicago: University of
Chicago Press, 1980). Also see Natalie Zemon Davis, “Boundaries and the Sense of Self in SixteenthCentury France,” in Society and Culture in Early Modern France (Stanford: Stanford University Press,
1991); Richard Trexler, “Introduction,” in Persons in Groups: Social Behavior as Identity Formation in
Medieval and Renaissance Europe. Papers of the Sixteenth Annual Conference of the Center for medieval
and Early Renaissance Studies, edited by Richard Trexler, (Binghamton, NY: Medieval and Renaissance
texts and Studies, 1985).
Stephen Greenblatt, Self-Fashioning, esp. 1-10. Also see Norbert Elias, The Civilizing Process. The
History of Manners and State Formation and Civilization, trans. Edmund Jephcott (Oxford: Blackwell,
Stephen Greenblatt, “Psychoanalysis and Renaissance Culture,” in Literary Theory/Renaissance Texts, eds.
David Quint and Patricia Parker (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1986), 210-24.
Ibid., 215.
Ibid., 218.
Davis, Martin Guerre, esp. 85.
John Martin, “Inventing Sincerity, Refashioning Prudence: The Discovery of the Individual in Renaissance
Europe,” in The American Historical Review 102, n. 5 (December, 1997): 1308-42.
On portrait-books see Milan Pelc, Illustrium Imagines: Das Porträtbuch der Renaissance (Leiden: Brill,
2002); Cecil Clough, “Italian Renaissance portraiture and printed portrait-books,” The Italian book: Studies
presented to Dennis E.Rhodes (London: British Library, 1993), 183-223; Stephen Perkinson, “From an ‘Art
de Memoire’ to the Art of Portraiture: Printed Effigy Books of the Sixteenth Century,” Sixteenth Century
Journal, 33, n. 3 (2002), 687-723. On physiognomy see Patrizia Magli, Il volto e l’anima; Fisiognomica e
passioni, (Milan: Bompiani, 1995); Ulrich Reisser, Physiognomik und Ausdruckstheorie der Renaissance.
der Einfluss charakterologischer Lehren auf Kunst und Kunsttheorie des 15. und 16. Jahrhunderts
(Munich: Scaneg, 1997); Lucia Rodler, I silenzi mimici del volto: studi sulla tradizione fisiognomica
italiana tra Cinque e Seicento (Pisa: Ospadaletto, 1991). On portraits and physiognomy, see Flavio Caroli,
L’arte dalla psicologia alla psicanalisi: Teoria artistica e richerche sul profondo dal XV al XX secolo
(Bologna: Pàtron editore, 1984); Storia della Fisiognomica: Arte e psicologia da Leonardo a Freud (Milan:
Leonardo, 1995).
Giovanni Bonifacio, L’Arte de’Cenni (Vicenza: Francesco Grossi, 1616).
Luisa Muraro, Giambattista Della Porta mago e scienziato: In appendice l'
indice della Taumatologia
(Milan: Feltrinelli, 1978), 62.
All translations are my own, unless noted otherwise. Giovanni Battista Della Porta explains the theory in
his Della fisonomia dell’uomo: “Filone e Trogo toglievano anco i segni dalle piante; perché, essendo la virtù
vegetativa commune a tutti i viventi, toglievano i segni della vita lunga dalle piante, dicendo così: chi ha i
capelli lunghi e fermi, sono di lunga vita, perché le piante che han lunga vita non lasciano mai le frondi,
come il Pino, Cipressi e altri.” (Parma: Ugo Guanda, 1988), book I, ch. 5, 33. On signs in animals see chapter
3, 24-7. On the analogies between flora and fauna, see Della Porta’s Phytognomonica octo libris
contenta (Naples: Horatium Salvianum, 1589). His manuscript on chiromancy was only published in 1677;
Pompeo Sarnelli’s translation, Della Chirofisonomia, is published in a critical edition with the Latin
manuscript: Oreste Trabucco, ed. De ea naturalis physiognomioniae parte quae ad manuum lineas spectat
libri duo (Naples: Edizioni scientifiche Italiane, 2003). Clubb, Giambattista della Porta, Dramatist
(Princeton N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1965): 24-25.
“È dunque una scienza che impara de’ segni che sono fissi nel corpo, et accidenti che trasmutano i segni,
investigar i costumi naturali dell’animo. . . . Il nome della Fisonomia . . . quasi volesse dir legge o regola di
Natura; cioè, per certa regola, norma et ordine di Natura si consosce da tal forma di corpo tal passione
dell’anima.” Della Porta, Fisonomia, book I, ch. 30, 108.
“Né hebbi minor pensiero a visitare tutte le carceri publiche, dove sempre è racchiusa gran moltitudine
de’ facinorosi ladri, parricidi, assassini di strada e d’altri uomini di simile fattezza, per vedere
diligentemente le loro mani; doppo, contemplando i piedi e le mani de gli animali, conferii le loro figure
con quelle de gli huomini, non senza naturali ragioni, e con l’istesso metodo del quale mi sono servito nella
Fisonomia.” Della Chirofisonomia, in De ea naturalis physiognomioniae, 92. His account of making wax
figures from plaster casts of criminals begins on 91. The complete passage is cited and translated by Clubb,
Giambattista della Porta, 40-41.
“Saranno in questo Quarto Libro i ritratti di quegli Orsini, che per l’honorata virtù loro sono stati famosi
in diversi tempi: Conciosia che essendo io desideroso di non pretermetter parte alcuna che sia necessaria, o
ch’io possa imaginarmi che torni bene a questa materia, ho giudicato, ch’il mio pensiero sia per apportar
non poco utile et diletto a tutti coloro che leggeranno le cose presenti. Perchè gli huomini molte volte son
curiosi di riconoscer nell’effigie quelle virtù, le quali essi hanno sentito celebrare, et esaltar ne grandi, dalla
fama del mondo vivente, et dagli scrittori, atteso che non meno si trahe profitto dalla presenza delle persone
eccellenti per valore, che dalla memoria de lor fatti honorati: onde si come a chi studiosamente ricerca le
Historie è necessaria la cognitione della Cosmografia, per rispetto de luoghi, dove avennero le cose scritte,
così conferisce molto alla medesima Historia, lo haver sotto gli occhi le imagini di coloro de’quali si
leggono le pruove segnalate et illustri. Perciochè vedendosi spesse volte che l’opere non corrispondono ai
volti, et che talhora sotto bellissimi visi, si cuoprono scelerati et horrendi pensieri; il Lettore, salendo quasi
come per gradi alla maraviglia, si riduce da quella, a contemplare i miracoli della natura che ella sà fare
intorno alle somiglie dell’huomo. Et trovando le forze dell’animo nostro implicate insieme con la fattura
del viso, in quella maniera che è congiunto insieme l’odorato, il gusto, et il colore con la fattura d’un frutto,
fra le più volte dal viso indubitato giudicio de cuori humani. Ora in queste imagini di huomini così chiari,
habbiamo da notare, che nella gente Orsina si vede grandezza et maestà nel sembiate et nel volto, perchè
essendo pieni di spirito et di vigor militare, con le fronte aperte, et con le bocche per la maggior parte assai
grandi, significative di huomini di molta eloquenza, et con aspetti veramente reali, possiamo chiaramente
credere (quando non si havesse altra cognitione dell’origine loro) che essi siano senza alcun dubbio discesi
d’altissimo, et nobil sangue, se dalla faccia (che è vera dimostratrice degli animi nostri) si dee far coniettura
della grandezza de’generosi, et alti pensieri.” Francesco Sansovino, “Degli huomini illustri di Casa Orsina,”
L’Historia di Casa Orsina (Venice: Bernardino and Filippo Stagnini, 1565), Libro Quarto, 63; Clough,
“Italian Renaissance portraiture,” 184.
“Questo volto cosi asciutto, et di color macilente, dimostrativo di qualità di huomo nervoso, et per natura
agile et forte, è il vero ritratto del Signor Camillo Orsino, figliuolo del precedente signor Paolo, il quale
allevatosi ne gli studi honorati della militar disciplina sotto Nicola Orsino, Bartolomeo da Liviano, et Gian
Iacomo Trìulci, gli trapassò di gran lunga d’autorità, di prudenza, et de fede.” Sansovino, Casa Orsina, 81.
For further examples, see Giordano Orsino (85v) and Nicola Orsino Conte di Pitligliano (74).
On Giovio’s collection see Linda Alice Klinger, “The Portrait Collection of Paolo Giovio,” Ph.D. diss.
Princeton, 1991.
Klinger, Paolo Giovio, 28-9.
Clough, “Italian Renaissance portraiture,”199. Giovio’s volumes are Elogia veris clarorum virorum
imaginibus apposita quae in Musaeo Ioviano Comi spectantur (Venice: Tramezzini, 1546), and Elogia
virorum bellica virtute illustrium veris imaginibus supposita quae apud Musaeum spectantur (Florence:
Torrentino, 1551).
See Pauli Iovii . . . Elogia virorum bellica virtute (Basel, 1575); Pauli Iovii . . . Elogia viroum literis
illustrium . . . (Basel, 1577); Musei ioviani imagines (Basel, 1577); Nicolas Reusner, Icones sive imagines .
. . (Basel, 1589).
Klinger, Paolo Giovio, chapter 3.
Both Della Porta and Paolo Giovio drew on images that were widely diffused making it difficult to be
certain of the source. Francis Haskell notes that identifying sources for Della Porta’s illustrations is
complicated by the extent to which he altered the faces to make them resemble the animals. History and its
images: art and the interpretation of the past (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1993), 63. On Stimmer’s
own license with Giovio’s paintings, see Klinger, “Paolo Giovio,” cat. 136.
“Fu il Poliziano di costume censurabili. Né ebbe aspetto gradevole, per quel suo naso spropositato e
l’occhio losco che davano al viso un’aria assai poco benevola. Di natura accorto e sottile, ma pieno
d’invidia malcelata, da un lato si faceva continuamente beffe delle opere altrui; dall’altro non poteva
sopportare che nessuno, per quanto mosso da buone ragione, osasse criticare le sue.” Paolo Giovio, Ritrattti
degli uomini illustri (Palermo: Sellerio editore, 1999), 119.
“Lettor, hai qui il gran naso del Rinosceronte, dal cui mezzo nasce un corno, con la viva effigie di
Angelo Poliziano.” Unless noted otherwise, all citations are from the 1988 edition: Della Porta, Della
Fisonomia dell’Uomo (Parma: Ugo Guanda), book II, chapter 7, 159.
In an illustration for the chin, for example, Della Porta compares the profiles of three men. The radically
different proportions of their facial features are highlighted by horizontal lines and the caption:
“Rapportiamo nella presente tavoletta varie sorti di barbe, acciò quello che diciamo in lettere lo si veggia
con gli occchi.” Della Porta, Della Fisonomia, book II, ch. 20.
Della Porta, Della Fisonomia, book I, ch. 31: 109-10. This is explained earlier, in ch. 29: 106-7.
“Delle gìa dette varietà di fronti se ne elegge la mezzana, dove si descrive la miglior qualità delle fronti.
La fronte quadrata, e per la proporzion della faccia amediocre., dimostra uomo magnanimo, e ciò perché
s’assomiglia alla fronte del Leone.” Ibid., book II, ch. 7, 132-33.
“Qui sotto si proponne la fronte umana di forma quadrata simile a quella del Leone con esatta descrizion,
acciò non t’inganni nella similitudine.” Ibid., book II, ch. 7, 133.
The caption for the “Naso schiacciato,” states: “Qui sotto si dipinge il naso del Leone, e mirando
all’incontro vedrai quello dell’uomo, acciò possi trarre comparazione.” Ibid., book II, ch. 7, 168; “Ecco di
nuovo l’imagine del Leone, nella quale ha lo labbro inferiore delicato, per poterlo rassomigliare all’uomo.”
Book II, ch. 12, 193.
“Nella tavola di sotto sono i ritratti di Messalina e Faustina Auguste, cavati dalle medaglie di bronzo et argento, e
statue loro, dal Museo del Signor Gio. Vincenzo della Porta, mia fratello.” Della Porta, Della Fisonomia, book VI,
ch. 21, 558-9. On the medallions and busts collected by Della Porta’s uncle and his brother, see Haskell, History and
its Images, 61-3.
“Ma or tratteremo di due donne Auguste infamissime, e prima di Messalina. Ella era molto irsuta di peli,
come stimo, ché essendo ben fornita di capelli e di ciglia, si può giudicar che così fosse nelle parti coperte;
la tempia ancor pelose, che quasi tutta la fronte ancora occupano. Era di faccia e di collo delicato e sottile;
et il collo, quasi saggio che tali fussero le gambe e le braccia, che seguon sempre la medesima proporzione;
l’occhio grasso e lascivo e cavo, la barba quasi rivolta al naso, la bocca che giace nel cavo; e par che le
mascelle si contraggano nel volto allegro. Era di capelli biondi, come scrive Giovenale. Fu esempio di
libidine, e superò tutte le donne Romane del suo tempo. Si fe’ fare una stanza in Palazzo da meretrice,
contendendo con le altre publiche meretrici per riportarne in quello esercizio trionfo e palma. Così
costringeva le altre matrone Romane a far com’ella faceva; anzi le facea forzare nel suo palazzo insino alla
presenzia de’mariti, e queste sole persone ricevevano da lei onori e magistrati. Sotto nome di Licisca
meretrice, entrava la mattina, e stando tutt’il giorno nell’esercizio, era la sera ultima a partirsi, stanca, ma
non ancor sazia di libidine; e cercava di più il prezzo dell’opra. Queste et altre disoneste sue opre sono
scritte da Svetonio e da Dione.” Della Porta, Della Fisonomia, book VI, ch. 21, 558-9.
“Fu Faustina ancor piena di capelli, magra, e simile di fattezze e di costumi; che veniva ancora a giacersi
con i gladiatori, et altre persone basse; di che ne son piene tutte I’istorie.” Ibid., book VI, ch. 21, 559. See
Haskell, History and its Images, 64. Paolo Giovio similarly believed that an image required an
accompanying text. Klinger, Paolo Giovio, “Introduction,” esp. 39, 43.
Haskell, History and its images, 67.
Girolamo Gardano, Metoposcopia libris tredecim, et octingentis faciei humanae eiconibus complexa . . .
(Lutetiae Parisiorum: Lolly 1658).
Girolamo Gardano, The Book of My Life, trans. Jean Stoner (New York: The New York Review of
Books, 2002), ch. 5: 19, 18, ch, 13: 47-8.
Ibid., ch. 5: 18.
Anne C. E. van Galen supports the prevailing assumption that Cardano conceals his belief in
physiognomy in De Vita Propria (published posthumously in Paris in 1643). Van Galen shows that
Cardano’s description of his son denies any connection between his somewhat deformed appearance and
his initially good character. However, his son’s future evil deeds—he poised his wife and was sentenced to
death, as Cardano narrates—suggest the signs were in fact clear. Van Galen, “Body and Self-Image in the
Autobiography of Gerolamo Cardano,” in Modelling the Individual, eds. Karl Enenkier, et. al., 133-52
(Atlanta: Rodopi, 1998), esp. 143-8. On Cardano also see Anthony Grafton, Cardano'
s Cosmos: the worlds
and works of a Renaissance astrologer (Cambridge, MA; London : Harvard University Press, 1999).
Della Porta, “Il volto è veramente testimone dimostratore della nostra conscienzia, il quale è incerto,
inconstante (mobile nell’espressione) e vario, e si forma dalla configurazione dell’animo, anzi è suo
simulatore e dissimulatore.” Fisonomia, book II, ch. 9: 176.
Cardano, The Book of My Life, ch, 13: 47-8.
“Gli Arabi sono latroni, d’animo doppi, fraudolenti, d’animo servile, instabili, desiosi di gaudagno...Gli
Africani lussuriosi, mancatori di fede e’Italiani splendidi, di regal nobiltà; i Francesi pazzii et
inconsiderati.” Della Porta, Della Fisonomia, book 1, ch. 16, 68. Della Porta summarizes how Hippocrates,
Aristotle, Ptolemy, and Plato attributed group identity to geographical location. The cold north makes the
inhabitants white, audatious, quick to give advice, wild and extravagant. By contrast heat in equatorial
climes causes black skin and cruel natures. Temperate zones, such as Italy, not surprisingly, produce
scientists and merchants. See 67-70.
See Bronwen Wilson, “Reflecting on the Turk in Sixteenth-Century Venetian Portrait Books,” Word &
Image 19, nos. 1&2 (January-June 2003): 38-58. Official and popular Venetian accounts provide evidence
that stereotypes focused on customs and practices rather than facial characteristics. For example, the
Venetian ambassadors promulgated “malcontento dei suditi, le divisione interne, l'
avarizia, l'
la corruzione nella vita privata e pubblica." Paolo Preto, Venezia e i Turchi (Florence: G.C. Sansoni, 1975),
63). He cites phrases from the reports that described the Turks as "privo di spinta aggressiva," the "dissolutezza del
Sultano" who is seen to be "un Sardanapalo allevato nelli serragli fra buffoni, nani e muti" (66). Turks were pictured
as blood thirsty at the same time that "Mazzemo un turco" was a drinking toast.
“ebbe un simil naso, e fu ambizioso, avaro, rapace.” Della Porta, Fisonomia, book 2, ch. 7: 162.
“Re de’Turchi fu di naso adunco e rilevato, che quasi giongeva al labro di sovra; e fu di grande animo.”
Ibid., 164.
“Selimo figlio di Baiazete fu di naso arcato, e liberalissimo, emulo del grande Alessandro. Solimano
ancora, figlio di Selimo, fu di naso adunco, guerriero e splendido.” Ibid.
“Havea la faccia gialduccia, gl’occhi grifagni, le ciglia arcate, & il naso si adunco, che pareva che la
punta gli toccasse le labbra . . . Fu notabilmente crudele cosi in guerra come in Pace, poiche per ogni
picciola cagione faceva ammazzare quei giovanetti del Serraglio, ch’esso amava lascivamente,” Pietro
Bertelli, Vite degl’imperatori de’turchi con le loro effiggie (Vicenza: Pietro Bertelli, 1599), 31.
Lina Bolzoni, The Gallery of Memory. Literary and iconographic models in the age of the printing press,
trans. Jeremy Parzen (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2001), xxiii.
Haskell, History and its images, 67.
Paolo Giovio’s collection of paintings and his Elogia, the brief lives that he published without portraits,
provides a prototype for Pietro Bertelli’s interest in the personality and historicity of the sultans. On the
ways in which Giovio’s Elogia and his Museum convey his interest in individuality see T.C. Price
Zimmerman, Paolo Giovio: the Historian and the Crisis of Sixteenth-Century Italy (Princeton: New
Jersey: Princeton University Press, 1995), 207.
Michel Foucault, The Order of Things. An Archaeology of the Human Sciences (New York: Vintage
Books, 1994), part one.
“In huomini dovete sapere che molti ne sono di sì mala natura che per la loro mala natura non
dovrebbono fare se non male; e per lo insegnamento e per la dottrina delli savi uomini divengono buoni e
fanno altre cose che loro natura non porta. E simigliantemente potete vedere delle bestie, siccome a cani [ad
uccelli] ed a cavalli ed ad altre bestie, che per lo insegnamento fanno tali cose che non le fanno per natura.”
According to Teza, “Avicenne en roumauns" is the fourth part of a fourteenth-century codex, written in
French, allegedly by Avicenna but drawn instead from a range of sources, notably Albertus
Magnus’Secretum secretorum. E. Teza, ed. La Fisiognomia. Trattatello in Francese Antico colla Versione
Italiana (Bologna: Gaetano Romagnoli, 1864), 27-8.
According to Della Porta, physiognomy provides you with the signs not only to judge others but “con
ogni studio, & diligenza giudico, che ogn'
un per questa strada possa guidar la vita, che menar deve.
…Dicendo che la Natura constituisce il corpo secondo l'
anima e gli dà quell'
instrumenti, de'quali ella hà
bisogno servirsene, e mostra nell'
imagin del corpo quella dell'
anima, acciò da quella l'
una dia saggio
….Acciò che nelle statue, tavole, e ne'
panni si vedesse nel volto quel spirito bellicoso, quel smisurato
desiderio di stupendi honori, la forma della robusta gioventù, e la gratia della fronte relicina. …E’ propria
ancor questa arte de Poeti, e di pittori. …Potrà ancora questa scienza non solo dal conoscere gl'
costume esser gioueuole, mà de suoi proprii, acciò che noi stessi di noi medesimi diuentiamo Fisonomi.
Habbiam letto appresso gl'
antichi Socrate Filosofo haver usato lo specchio per la buona institution de
costumi, il che fù ancora accettato da Seneca, che l'
huomo possa specchiar se stesso, perche conoscendo le
nostre imperfettioni ricorriamo al consiglio, & all emenda. “Proemio”
Fisonomia. Perhaps Della Porta’s implication of free will was a self-protective measure against the everpresent threat of the Inquisition. On Della Porta’s brush with the Inquistion, see Clubb, Giambattista della
Porta, esp. 15-18, 25-26.
On physiognomy and interiority also see Levinus Lemnius, Les Occultes Merveilles et Secretz (Orleans,
1568), book 2, 203.
Sabine Melchior-Bonnet, The Mirror: a history (New York: Routledge, 2001),
esp. 139.
Richard Trexler, “Introduction,” Persons in Groups. Social Behavior as Identity Formation in Medieval
and Renaissance Europe. Papers of the Sixteenth Annual Conference of the Center for medieval and Early
Renaissance Studies, ed. Richard Trexler (Binghamton, New York: Medieval and Renaissance texts and
Studies, 1985), 16. Ronald Weissman, “The Importance of Being Ambiguous: Social Relations,
Individualism, and Identity in Renaissance Florence,” Urban life in the Renaissance, eds. Susan
Zimmerman and Ronald F.E. Weissman (Newark : University of Delaware Press ; London; Cranbury, NJ :
Associated University Presses, 1989), 269-80.
“Mi è piaciuto di mettere il Signor Paolo Giordano fra l’imagini de passati huomini illustri di Casa
Orsina, accioche si come da lui sono cominciate non pur le mie presenti fatiche, ma si seguiranno ancora le
future in questa gravissima & lunghissima impresa sotto il suo feliciss. auspicio, cosi ancora finiscano in
lui. Percioche questo Principe singulare, di bella, grande, & ben formata statura, & con volto come si vede,
fra il piacevole & il grave, & con aspetto benigno & dimostrativo delle doti eccellenti del suo cuor
generoso, empiendo l’altrui vista di grato diletto, & accompagnando con affabil maniera le qualità sue
notabili & chiare, s’aquista intera lode di incomparabil cortesia con ogniuno. “ Sansovino, L’historia
Orsina, 91.
Linda Aleci suggests such an experience for Paolo Giovio inside his museum. “Images of Identity: Italian
Portrait Collections of the Fifteenth and Sixteenth Centuries” in The Image if the Individual: Portraits in
the Renaissance, eds. Nicholas Mann and Luke Syson (London: British Museum Press, 1998), 79.
Venetian mirrors were sought after by rulers and officials of the courts, since courtiers could emulate the
poses and gestures of their princes. Melchior-Bonnet, The Mirror, ch. one, esp. 25-29. A sampling of
notarial records from 1569 to 1595 show that Flemish merchants shipped crates of mirrors, sometimes
framed, from Venice to London, Cadiz, Seville, Lisbon and Amsterdam. For example, see nos. 22, 223,
337, and 602 in Wilfred Brulez, Marchands Flamands a Venise I (1568-1605) (Brussels: Universa, 1965).
Significantly the meaning of “identity” underwent a dramatic shift in the meanings of the word. Its Latin
roots were idem and entitas, or “same entity,” a meaning that corresponds with the sixteenth-century
meaning of identity as “absolute sameness,” as “the quality of condition of being identical in every detail...
. Also the fact of being identified with.” By the middle of the seventeenth century, however, the term came
to mean the inverse: “the condition or fact of a person or thing being that specified unique person or thing,
as a continuous unchanging property throughout existence; the characteristics determining this,
individuality, personality.” The New Shorter Oxford English Dictionary (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1993),
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