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Lavater, Johann Kaspar

Johann Kaspar Lavater (yō´hän käs´pär lä´vätər, lävä´tər), 1741–1801, Swiss theologian and mystic. He wrote several books on metaphysics, but he is chiefly remembered for his work on physiognomy, the art of determining character from facial characteristics.

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blushing

blushing is reddening of the skin of the face and, in some people, the neck, due to an involuntary rush of blood when vessels dilate under the influence of the autonomic nervous system. Blushing usually accompanies embarrassment or self-consciousness. The occurrence of blushing has the effect of revealing feelings of states such as guilt, shame, sexual awareness, or arousal.

One of the acknowledged functions of make-up, in both men and women, was to conceal the tell-tale blush. However, in the Victorian era cosmetics were generally eschewed. The strict Victorian code of morality emphasized honesty, and the blushing of an open and sincere face became socially acceptable.

In his book Physiognomische Fragmente (1775–8), Johann Caspar Lavater, one of the most influential proponents of physiognomy, advocated the division and arrangement of the passions, according to their gradation. Lavater purported that each passion, every emotion of the individual, visually altered the lines and appearance of the face in a particular manner, by co-operation of the nerves, blood vessels, and muscles, and that observers could ‘read’ the feelings and mental state from the face of a subject. The most obvious example of this was blushing. Lavater translated his theories into practical advice for artists. Painters, in particular, were encouraged to understand the inner workings of the human body, including the causes of colouring of the cheeks. Physiognomy advocated that individuals illuminated themselves from inside out, and were reflected in how others saw them.

Anne Abichou

Bibliography

Darwin, C. (1872). Expressions of the emotions in Man and animals. T. Murray, London.
Piper, D. (1957, 1932), The English face. Thames and Hudson, London (1957). Ray Long and Richard R. Smith, Inc., New York (1932).

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Lavater, Johann Kaspar

LAVATER, JOHANN KASPAR

Swiss theologian, philosopher, and poet: b. Zurich, Nov. 15, 1741; d. there, Jan. 2, 1801. He attended schools in his native town and began Protestant theology in 1759. As early as 1763, however, he was turning from the enlightenment's rationalistic conception of religion to the ideas of the Sturm und Drang period. He became parson at the church of St. Peter, Zurich, in 1786. A writer of deep feeling and vivid imagination, he won wide fame by his religious writing, his Schweizerlieder (1767), and especially his four-volume Physiognomische Fragmente zur Beförderung der Menschenkenntnis und Menschenliebe (177578), in which he attempted to analyze the character of man through an intuitive interpretation of bodily structure. This occasioned his reputation throughout Europe and led to extensive correspondence with great contemporaries such as goethe, Johann herder, and Johann hamann. Lavater first sympathized with the French Revolution but later protested its excesses. Ironically, he died of wounds sustained while acting as stretcher-bearer at the battle of Zurich (Nov. 26, 1800).

Lavater's belief in Christ was manifested in an undogmatic and emotional piety, as is evident in Christliche Lieder (177680), the four-volume Aussichten in die Ewigkeit (176878), and the four-volume Pontius Pilatus oder die Bibel im Kleinen (178285). Yet his attempt to confirm by logic his shakily based convictions led to tensions between his religious experience and theology and his yearning for a constant, earthly manifestation of God, hence his uncritical interest in mesmerism and spiritism and his passion for detecting miracles. He rebutted atheism with untiring clerical fervor; he was generally tolerant of Catholics, and his friendship with Bp. J. M. sailer led some to believe that he was a crypto-Catholic.

Bibliography: Ausgewählte Schriften, ed. j. k. orelli, 8 v. (Zurich 184144), 4 v. (3d ed. Zurich 185960). c. janentzky, Johann Caspar Lavater (Frauenfeld 1928). m. lavater-sloman, Genie des Herzens: Die Lebensgeschichte Johann Caspar Lavaters (5th ed. Zurich 1955). o. vasella, Lexikon für Theologie und Kirche, ed. j. hofer and k. rahner (Freiburg 195765) 6: 840841.

[j. b. keller]

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