Charles Le Brun (1619-1690) , First Painter to the King Louis XIV, was the founder of the Royal Academy of Painting and Sculpture, and the foremost proponent of French classicism. On 28 March 1671, addressing the Royal Academy, he formally presented his treatise:
"all of the various demonstrations that he has drawn, whether heads of animals or heads of men, making note of the signs that mark their natural inclination." (Procès-verbaux de l'Academie I : 358-359)
While the set of drawings is still conserved in the Louvre, the original text has been lost: we have but a rough synthesis by Nivelon, posthumous digests by Henri Testelin and E. Picart, and the dissertation by Morel d'Arleux accompanying the 1806 edition of the engravings.
Louis-Jean-Marie Morel d'Arleux (1755-1827) was curator of drawings and prints at the Musée Napoléon (today the Musée du Louvre). His interest in Le Brun's "demonstrations" and his devotion to their revival are noteworthy, and relate to the current of neo-classicism then in vogue, a conceptual triangulation linking the Roman and the Napoleonic imperium through the reign of the Sun King.Physiognomy, literally the "knowlege of nature," relates to the assessment of human character through study of physical features. This concept of an inherent concordance of body and soul harks back to Antiquity, and regained currency in 17th-century thought.
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