Fiona Pardington
The Language of Skulls

27 May - 3 July 2010

The language of skulls 3

In the nineteenth century the pseudoscience of phrenology was widely accepted. Its founding practitioner was the German physiologist Franz Joseph Gall and while it was taken seriously and taught in academic institutions in Europe it was eventually discredited. For a time it rivalled astrology in popularity in the salons of France and Victorian England. There were many pedagogical busts produced to cater for this interest: some were mass-produced, idealised sculptures while others are life-casts. As objects they are both grotesque and beautiful at the same time. Many of the busts are almost jewel like in their detail with numbers and inscriptions on tiny fragments of paper glued to the surface like traces of human thought written across the contours of the skull.

The language of skulls/Le langage des cranes is the title of a book by Marc Renneville (Le langage des cranes: un histoire de la phrénology, Institut d’édition Sanofi-Synthélab, Paris, 2000).