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David Hume (1711-1776) -- Portraits, Physiognomy -- History


Grey-blue eyes and a fixed look: Is he a philosopher or a dumb ox? Hume’s eyes and face are trifle which can lead us into some curiosities connected with his life and writings. Looking through Hume’s eyes, we can outline the scholars’ propensity to describe the (painted) face of their favourite philosopher and spread upon it their reading of his work. We can ask questions about portraits and resemblance as a standard of beauty. We can survey the eighteenth-century sentiments on physiognomy, and the paradox of the “fat philosopher”, at once, both clumsy and refined. We can inquire into Hume’s use of physiognomic descriptions, his account of corpulence and his own vacant look. We can observe how far Ramsay’s theory of a just graceful resemblance was put into practice in the dispute between Rousseau and Hume, and how the portraits were part of it. We can outline the role the eyes play in the body of Hume’s work. Finally, we can recall his aversion to “the prefixing a Print of the Author” and remember that the picture which he deemed “the likest”, as well as “the best Likeness”, has now disappeared. Yet, there remains something which is still engraved.


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