Monday, June 22, 2015

Shut Your Face! - Physiognomy and Microexpressions

(Giambattista Della Porta, De humana physiognomonia
(Vico Equense [Naples]: Apud Iosephum Cacchium, 1586).

Alongside the study of the lines on the human forehead, which Cardan calls metoposcopy, another art developed which does not include the planets or zodiac. This art allows for more intuitive interpretation by those who practice it. It is the art of physiognomy, which claims to be able to deduce an individual’s character by examining his face and head. 

Expressions like “you have only one chance to make a first impression” and “never judge a man by his appearance” arise from our tendencies toward this behavior – making it most difficult to shake off a bad impression which may have been made on us by a face, or sour or sinister expression. We are all physiognomists, and we look upon the face as the mirror of the soul. This was considered upon and written about by Barthelemy Cocles, Jean d’Ingdagine, and others in the 1500s and 1600s. 

The principles of this art are somewhat vague, and faces were often classified according to seven planetary types. The solar type has a round jovial face with fair hair. The Venus type has remarkable perfection of features with an engaging smile, and fair hair. The Martian has rugged, square-cut, brutal features. The Mercurial type is beautiful, with dull coloring and black hair. Lunar features are pale and cold, and melancholy. Jovian faces are beautiful and noble, with bold, strong features. The Saturnine has a yellow, bilious complexion and a mournful look, usually disposed to all kinds of accidents, and a violent death. In de Givry's opinion, this was a modern classification, and not of the old writers. (this reference was made in the early 1900s) Jean d’Indagine’s work is illustrated with woodcuts, and Colcles with engravings, which enrich our perception of their conclusions.

Micro-expressions are a fairly recent science, and are now used by every covert agency, the FBI and other profiling experts, and are taught to those suffering from autism and similar conditions to help them learn social cues. John Cleese did a video, The Human Face, in which he discusses micro-expressions in detail. The TV show Lie to Me reflected the popular cultural interest in this phenomenon, and many other shows have followed. 

In these illustrations the masters of the 1600’s have observed the result of the human expression on the viewer. 


Here are a man and a woman (left) endowed with a very good disposition, whereas the next two (middle) have heated dispositions, of those who would be quick to anger and not find the joy in life as the previous two would. The bitter fold, or crease, at the corner of the mouth shows they are not easily approached and cannot be amiable and pleasant in their relationships. The third is a man (right) of sickly constitution who suffers from bad digestion, eats irregularly, sleeps little and feels dull and sad all the time. He struggles with any of the normal functions which would result in good health. 



In this art the forehead  is read by its shape, not by the lines upon it as in metoposcopy. According to the tests on physiognomy from the 1500s, a fleshy and sleek forehead indicates one who is wrathful, and according to Aristotle, if accompanied by prick ears, they are more-so. Little foreheads are on those who are bustling and foolish, as are great and narrow foreheads. Those with long foreheads are docile and gentle, and of good sense. Square and pleasant foreheads are on individuals who are magnanimous and strong. Cocles wrote that those with smooth, unwrinkled skin on their forehead are vain and salacious men who enjoy trickery (as with the first pair), who, according to their foreheads, are just that. Those with meager foreheads are men who are simpleminded, quickly cruel and grasping, as the second two are – irascible, cruel, and covetous.

The mouth has a lot to say. Michael Lescot, in his book Physiognomie, writes:
“Mockery abounds in the mouth of fools, and of those with great spleens. He, on the contrary, whose mouth laughs easily is a frank man, vain and inconsistent, fickle in belief, of heavy understanding, too willing and not secret. Whose mouth laughs but seldom and briefly is a steadfast man, ingenious, of clear understanding, secret, faithful, and laborious.”

In the row above, d’Ingenine shows two types of mouths. The first two belong to daring, reckless, lewd, and untruthful men. The teeth also are indicative of character; a beautiful set of teeth denotes uprightness of mind and courteous manners, where protruding teeth is an indication of base appetites and tendency toward imbecile cruelty. The second pair show us the teeth of an upright man, and a cruel man. 
Jesus said the eyes are the window of the soul. To the physiognomist, the face is the mirror. Eyes are of great importance to the practitioner of intuitive arts. Here are images from Colces, showing a  variety of eye types and the characters of those to whom they belong. Seeing is believing…..
1 and 2: Eyes of a lazy, reckless and voracious men.  3 and 4: Eyes of men who are pacific, loyal, good-tempered, and of great intellect.
1 and 2: Eyes of unstable, luxurious, treacherous, and untruthful men. 3 and 4: Eyes of a crafty man and a simple man. 

Even eyelashes send a message – long curling lashes project proud, vainglorious, and insolent attitudes. 
The nose knows. A snub nose denotes a vain, untruthful, luxurious, and unstable soul who is a seducer and infidel.  The nose on the left indicates a weak and curious person, and on the right, a vainglorious person. 



Hair has a long history of symbolism and esoteric meaning. To the physiognomist, even without any astrological influences, it does express certain aspects of character. A man with short course bristling hair, like our friend on the left, is strong, self confident, bold, proud, deceitful, and simple-minded rather than wise. Facing him is a timid, physically weak, peaceful and gentle person – all indicated by his straight sleek hair, fine and soft of texture. The second pair depicts a man whose hair grows on his temples and part of his forehead, which tells us he is simple, vain, luxurious, credulous, rustic of speech and manners, and thick witted. His bearded friend is brutal, vengeful, angry, and prone to dominance. 

As we stated in the beginning, this is a science of intuition, and as such is separated from the occult sciences, and has become a branch of physio-pshychology, easily practiced by one with a keen eye and observing mind. Unlike metoposcopy, physiognomy has remained known, and of interest to such people as Johann Kaspar (1741-1801), a Swiss pastor who wrote popular essays on the subject.  Physiognomy is now defined as “a person’s facial features or expression, especially when regarded as indicative of character or ethnic origin.” The word is from the Greek physis, meaning nature, and gnomon, meaning judge or interpreter. 

About Symbologist Michelle Snyder


Michelle earned her post-graduate degree at the University of Wales, decoding prehistoric images, mythology, folklore, and fairy tales and tracing them to their roots. She is an author, columnist, publisher, artist, and teacher. Her artwork, inspired by her love of symbolism and folklore, has appeared in galleries from Massachusetts to California. Michelle is co-owner of White Knight Studio.
     Books by Michelle, available at Amazon:

    Symbology series:


Symbology ReVision: Unlocking Secret Knowledge  
Symbology: Hidden in Plain Sight
Symbology: My Art and Symbols 
Symbology: Fairy Tales Uncovered 
Symbology: Decoding Classic Images 
Symbology: World of Symbols  
Symbology: Secrets of the Mermaids

Fairy Tales: 

A Tale of Three Kingdoms: Book One - The Lost Unicorn
A Tale of Three Kingdoms: Book Two - The Lost Mermaid
The Fairy Tales: Once-Upon-A-Time Lessons First Book

1 comment:

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