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Portable physiognotrace used by Raphaelle Peale

Portable physiognotrace used by Raphaelle Peale
Associated Person
Raphaelle Peale, 17 Feb 1774 - 4 Mar 1825
early 19th century
Art Implement
Physiognotrace: wood (mahogany), varnish, glass, ivory, iron/steel, brass, stainless steel, paper, adhesive, ink Associated materials: paper, stainless steel, copper, lead, wood, cotton, synthetic brush bristles, leather, plastic glass, gilt, graphite
Closed: 32.5 × 38.7 × 27.5 cm (12 13/16 × 15 1/4 × 10 13/16")
Artist's effects\Physiognotrace
Credit Line
National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution; purchased through a generous donation from the Barra Foundation
Restrictions & Rights
Object number
Exhibition Label
A physiognotrace allowed artists to trace the outline of a sitter’s head and simultaneously record a small profile on a piece of paper. The silhouette head was then cut from the paper. The style of this portable case suggests a piece of furniture rather than a tool, perhaps to impress sitters. Raphaelle Peale traveled throughout America with this object, using it to cut silhouettes of everyone from Thomas Jefferson to ordinary citizens.
Physiognomy involves reading a person’s character through his or her facial features, and while modern science disputes this notion, many people in the 1800s believed that a head’s outline conveyed character and offered a means of classification.
Wood (mahogany) with ivory knobs and metal rod, early 19th century
Purchased through a generous donation from the Barra Foundation
El fisionotrazo permitía a los artistas trazar el contorno de la cabeza de su modelo y a la vez registrar un pequeño perfil en papel. Luego se recortaba la silueta dibujada en el papel. El estilo de este estuche portátil lo asemeja más a un mueble que a una herramienta, quizás con la intención de impresionar a los clientes. Raphaelle Peale viajó por Estados Unidos con este aparato e hizo siluetas de todo tipo de personas, desde Thomas Jefferson hasta ciudadanos comunes.
Según la teoría de la fisiognomía, se podía estudiar el carácter de las personas a través de sus rasgos faciales. Aunque la ciencia moderna disputa esta noción, en el siglo XIX se creía que el contorno de la cabeza comunicaba el carácter de la persona y que podía servir como factor de clasificación.
Data Source
National Portrait Gallery