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  • The Human Animal in Western Art and Science
  • Karen L. Edwards
Martin Kemp . The Human Animal in Western Art and Science. The Louise Smith Bross Lecture Series. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 2007. xx + 308 pp. index. illus. bibl. $40. ISBN: 978–0–226–43033–1.

The first page of The Human Animal states its subject to be "humanized animals and animalized humans." Lavishly illustrated and thinly referenced, proceeding in a roughly chronological fashion from antiquity to the present day, the book divides its subject into three parts: "Humors, Temperaments, and Signs," "Souls and Machines," and "Going Ape." Part 1 addresses the enduring influence of ancient paradigms for the relation between body and soul. The first chapter looks at the Hippocratic humoral tradition as manifested in the work of Dürer, and Aristotelian physiognomics as manifested in the work of Leonardo da Vinci. Human-animal parallels, Kemp asserts, feature in both traditions, as when Renaissance artists repeatedly depict the choleric man as leonine, an example that misleads in at least one sense, as it implies that there are other such accepted parallels between humoral temperaments and individual animals. There are not, as Kemp incidentally admits after a discussion of Cranach's "Melencolia": "The importance of animals in the scheme is readily apparent but somewhat unspecific" (37). Chapter 2 is largely concerned with those artists from Rembrandt to Duchenne who may be seen to have followed della Porta and Le Brun in their attempts to codify human expressions. In this chapter, animals figure only in a peripheral way. In a discussion of pathognomics, for instance, the author notes that "[t]here is something animalistic in baring a snarling set of teeth" (58) but leaves [End Page 923] "something" unexplored. A more serious criticism here and indeed throughout the book is that the prints and paintings so abundantly reproduced are not closely examined. A discussion of "the porcine nature" of the pig butcher depicted in Daumier's "Interior of the Omnibus" (1839) occurs in a consideration of facial expressions, yet the man's resemblance to a pig lies as much in the way Daumier has drawn his shoulders, forearms, and hands (73).

Animals become prominent again in the first chapter of part 2, which attempts to cover in seventeen pages Renaissance explorations of an animal's "meaning" as inherited from classical and biblical sources. Moving on to consider the theory that animals are but soulless machines, the chapter ends with a glance at automata, from Regiomontanus's fly to von Kempelen's chess player. Chapter 4 hurries through the history of animal illustration, concentrating on La Fontaine, Oudry, and Buffon. How precisely part 2 is linked to part 1 is not made clear, although "the compound of individuality and expression in Oudry's animals" is said to be related to "il concetto dell'anima in Leonardo's sense" (143). The discussion of Oudry's "portrait" of a choleric leopard in the Royal Menagerie inevitably raises a question unaddressed here: how (if at all) can a painter distinguish between a snarling leopard and this snarling leopard? The three chapters of part 3 deal in quick succession with "preludes" to Darwin (157). Chapter 5 considers feral children, trained circus animals and freak shows, and Cuvier's Romantic animals; chapter 6, the development of primatology; and chapter 7, phrenology and theories of human degeneration, with their concomitant racial stigmatizing. A postscript glances at The Jungle Book, Tarzan of the Apes, Dracula, and Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde; a "Personal Foot Note" attempts, finally, to make coherent the sprawling themes of the book.

As the chapter contents will have made clear, The Human Animal alternates between sweeping panoramas and the rather arbitrary appropriation of narrowly focused research. Perhaps haute vulgarization is an enterprise in which success is hardly imaginable, but it should be noted that this expensively produced book is marred unnecessarily by typographical errors and infelicities of expression. A study of the representation of human variety in relationship to animals and vice versa, from antiquity to the present day, might be expected to provide a valuable historical perspective on at least a few characteristic Renaissance concerns: as, for instance...


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Archived 2009
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