A page from Vaught’s Practical Character Reader, 1902, by Louis Allen Vaught. As reproduced in Anatomy: Exploring the Human Body

The Art of Anatomy – Louis Allen Vaught

This illustrated profile demonstrates how anatomical drawings can sometimes be thoroughly wrong-headed

While our new book Anatomy: Exploring the Human Body, contains some visually incredible, yet scientifically credible images, it also features a couple of inclusions that, from an aesthetic and empirical viewpoint, are, when viewed today, a bit risible.

Take, for example, this early 20th century illustration. “It was among many such images included in Vaught’s Practical Character Reader, published in Chicago by the author Louis Allen Vaught at the turn of the 1900s,” explains Anatomy.

Vaught's picture may look pretty funny, but he and his fellow phrenologists were quite serious in their belief that a person's physical head shape could indicate good or bad character.

“The nineteenth-century theory of phrenology formulated a science of character-reading based on measuring the bumps and contours of the skull," explains our book. "Though now discredited as a pseudoscience – one that has been used historically to further racist agendas – it reflected a contemporary belief that the brain had localized areas with certain purposes, which, while partly true, was in itself an extrapolation based on a lack of factual knowledge.”


Anatomy: Exploring the Human Body
Anatomy: Exploring the Human Body

Of course, Vaught’s pictures might present themselves as medical fact, but really there’s no truth in the theory that head bumps denote clear mental characteristics. “In actuality, the brain has billions of nerves that form patterns to coordinate thought, behaviour, movement, sensation and emotion, and although each part of the brain directs specific roles, the different parts also all work together,” explains our new book. “While every human skull has a different shape, everyone has a bump on the back called an inion, marking the point where the skull attaches to the neck muscles.”  Better to fix those facts in your head, rather than any of Vaught’s amusing, yet ultimately mendacious hokum.

To see how this image takes its place in the wider culture of visualizing the human body, get a copy of Anatomy here. The book is a visually compelling survey of more than 5,000 years of image making. Through 300 remarkable works, selected and curated by an international panel of anatomists, curators, academics, and specialists, it chronicles the intriguing visual history of human anatomy, showcasing its amazing complexity and our ongoing fascination with the systems and functions of our bodies. The 300 entries are arranged with juxtapositions of contrasting and complementary illustrations to allow for thought-provoking, lively, and stimulating reading. Buy your copy here.