An Artistic Restoration of Blumenbach’s So-called “Beautiful Skull”

THIS POST IS ONE OF A SERIES OF UPDATES ON MY RESEARCH FOR MY FORTHCOMING BOOK, SKULLS, RACE, & BEAUTY.

There are a number of books out there which discuss how Blumenbach was supposedly obsessed with the beauty of the female Georgian Skull in his collection, and how he was supposedly convinced that the peoples of the Caucasian mountains were the most beautiful of all human beings. Personally, when I read Blumenbach in Latin (not the bad English translation of Thomas Bendyshe), my sense is that he regarded the skulls of these people as having a symmetrical form, like a sculpture or piece of architecture. But I must admit he did seem to be quite taken with the female Georgian skull. He could be odd that way.

Although many scholars have theorized about the role of beauty in Blumenbach’s writings, I have never seen anyone who actually tried to recreate the faces of Blumenbach’s famous five skulls, as seen in the graphic below.

Blumenbach skulls

During the recent snow storm, I found myself stuck in my house, so I took a crack at attempting to illustrate how these skulls might have looked. I followed a few rules. For a start, all the faces would have the same eyes, ears, eyebrows, and hair, which is not accurate, but is fair. I did not want to make anyone look better or worse by giving them a fancy hairdo or teacup ears. Overall, I tried to give them the general features of an Egyptian since I’m familiar with Egyptian art. Also, Egypt is sort of ethically “neutral” because it is centrally located at the juncture of Africa, Asia, and Europe. Again, this approach is not scientific, but it is fair. I had to guess when it came to noses and lips, but I tried to make them all have a similar curvature below the bony bridge of the nose. The pictures below are what I came up with. The first face is that of a Native American from the Caribbean.

Blum_AM

I believe this skull is a male. I had trouble with this nose given the angle of the original skull drawing. The large jaw strikes me as being similar to that of native Brazilians. The next face (proceeding alphabetically) is the Caucasian Variety, which Blumenbach illustrated with a Georgian female.

Blum_CA

She has a large forehead and prominent bridge in her nose, which is rather big by today’s standards. I must admit that she does indeed look like a woman from central Asia. Personally, I would not say she was especially beautiful or ugly. For those who might claim that Blumenbach thought she was a beautiful person, my drawing does not entirely support that claim, but in 18th century Germany, standards may have been different than mine. The next face is that if the woman of Guinea in West Africa who Blumenbach designated as a member of the Ethiopian Variety.

Blum_ET

This woman had an overbite and a very wide nose, although I used that the term “wide” with caution because in reality it is only Europeans and some Native Americans who have thin noses. Thus what Europeans would call a “wide” nose is actually the standard form of human nose. It is the thin nose (like mine) that is the non-standard trait. I must admit, I think she’s kind of cute. I’d say that of all the faces in this set, she’s the most attractive. The next face is that of what Blumenbach called a Tahitian, which Blumenbach described as a member of the Malay variety. To me it looks more like someone for Papua New Guinea.

Blum_MA

This face was the hardest to draw because the bridge of the nose was so high and almost seemed to be off center. Perhaps the nose had been broken. Also this skull, unlike the others, was missing some teeth. I had to draw in the front teeth. Also, this crania did not seem to be resting quite right on the jawbone, so my reconstruction may have the lower face being too small. The final face was a Siberian that Blumenbach used to illustrate the Mongolian Variety. This skull was easy to draw in part because the very high cheekbones gave it a far eastern look. Indeed this face, which I think is a male, does look like a Siberian.

Blum_MO

And there you have it. If you have any comments or know of anyone else who has reconstructed Blumenbach’s skulls, let me know. I’ll be researching this topic and pumping out footnotes on it over the next few months. As far as I can tell, I’m the first person in the 300 year history of anthropology to give this a try. Better late than never!

One thought on “An Artistic Restoration of Blumenbach’s So-called “Beautiful Skull”

  1. Hello, there. My name is Sam Kean. I’m a science writer, and I’d be interested in talking with you a bit about your research and the story of you diving back into the Morton skulls after so many years away from the subject. Would you mind getting in touch with me via email – I’d love to chat.

    Thanks!,
    -Sam

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