LE BRUN, Charles (1619-1690) - [Louis-Marie-Joseph MOREL d'Arleux (1755-1827)]
Dissertation sur un traité de Charles le Brun, concernant le rapport de la physionomie humaine avec celle des animaux
Paris: printed by L.P. Dubray for the 'Calcographie du Musée Napoléon', 1806. Folio. (25 11/16 x 19 5/8 inches). Engraved portrait of Le Brun by G. Edelinck after N. de Largilliere, 37 engraved plates after Le Brun (11 in line only by Baltard, 26 in line and roulette by Andre Le Grand). Uncut. Foxing and dampstaining. Old repairs in margins of a few plates.
Later half calf and marbled paper covered boards, boards detached
The first edition of an extraordinary work.
Through a series of fantastic yet compelling images, Le Brun illustrates his supposition that human character traits can be read by examining an individual and deciding which animal's head their face most resembles. The dissertation is by Louis-Marie-Joseph Morel d'Arleux, who was curator of the 'Cabinet des dessins du Louvre' from 1797 to 1827. Morel notes that Le Brun gave a lecture on his theory at a meeting of the Academie de Peinture in Paris on 28 March 1671. The lecture was illustrated by the drawings from which the engravings in the present work are taken. Unfortunately, although the drawings survived, all trace of what Le Brun said was subsequently lost, and the details of his theory only survived through second-hand reports or later works that interpreted what he had said. In the present work Morel attempts to re-construct Le Brun's original theory, which he presents in four parts, and illustrates with a selection of beautifully engraved plates after Le Brun's original drawings. The most extraordinary images are the final 21 plates where human heads with the characteristics of various animals are placed next to the animals they most resemble: these include an eagle, donkey, sheep, cow, camel, cat, owl, horse, goat, etc. The early 19th-century reader's interest in this work would have been fuelled by the contemporary pseudo-scientific fields of physiognomy and phrenology, but to the modern eye the images recall the work of 20th century surrealists.
Madeleine Pinault Sorensen. De la physionomie humaine et animale : dessins de Charles Le Brun gravés pour la Chalcographie du musée Napoléon en 1806 : avec la réédition du texte de Louis-Marie-Joseph Morel d'Arleux pour la Dissertation sur un traité de Charles Le Brun, concernant le rapport de la physionomie humaine avec celle des animaux ; ouvrage enrichi de la gravure des dessins tracés pour la démonstration de ce système, Paris, 1806. Paris: Réunion des musées nationaux, 2000.