CIHA 2016 in Beijing

34th World Congress of Art History

About History Press Release Sessions Schedule Activities Participants Venue Discussion Registration Closed


The Understanding and Misunderstanding of Physiognomy in Italian Renaissance Artists ——A Case study of the Vita of Benvenuto Cellini

Session 15 Creative Misunderstanding


The idea of Physiognomy is to explore the human nature from the appearance, along the same outside-to-inside logic with the idea of art to represent humanity. The “science” of physiognomy, after being prevalent in ancient Greece and Rome, and being silent in the Middle Ages, was again popular in Renaissance Italy, and had a strong connection with literature and arts. The artists’ understanding of physiognomy was demonstrated directly, as it was used in their compositions. There is, however, some misunderstanding, and therefore misuse of it. This paper will discuss the artists’ reception (understanding and misunderstanding) and application (use and misuse) of physiognomy. It is structured in three parts: first, a description of the physiognomic consciousness from antiquity to the Renaissance will be given; second, a discussion about the connection between physiognomy and arts, that is, the possible applications and mistakes that the artists made out of the understanding and misunderstanding in their creative process, will be presented. Third, Benvenuto Cellini will be the case study, by exploring the physiognomic element in his literary and artistic works, and by analyzing the result out of his understanding of physiognomy. 



Dr. CHEN Qi (Female)

Assistant Professor at the Institute of Advanced Studies in Humanities and Social Sciences, Beihang University, Beijing

PhD of Scuola Normale Superiore di Pisa, Italy

Research interests: Italian Renaissance study, comparative study,