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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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