Going to Extremes: Physiognomy, Caricature, and Studies of Expression

Long before scientists started to systematically investigate facial expressions in the nineteenth century, artists explored facial features, created caricatures, and observed faces in movement. This selection of prints, drawings, and photographs speaks to a human fascination with depicting and reading faces and to the rich possibilities of a face's arrangements and their resulting impressions on a beholder. The works by Guercino, Giovanni Battista Tiepolo, and Thomas Rowlandson on view here demonstrate the influence of Leonardo da Vinci's grotesque figures and the development of caricature in early modern Europe. The art of caricature (from the Italian caricatura, meaning a "loaded portrait") featured an exaggerated and humorous representation of a specific individual and often built upon Renaissance theories of physiognomy, which claimed that an individual's character could be judged through his or her facial attributes. Later artists across diverse cultures continued to manifest an interest in extreme expressions using a variety of media. The opposite wall features a range of animated faces, moving from Clarence White's photographs of fear and grief to Japanese woodblock prints depicting kabuki actors and Ana Mendieta's distorted self-portraits. 

Veronica White 
Curator of Academic Programs