A Macabre 19thC Plaster Human Skull for Medical Use


Origin: English
Period: Late Nineteenth Century
Provenance: Unknown*
Date: c.1870
Circumference: 17.75 inches

In original condition, with no cracks or repairs, the life size human skull used for phrenological and medical study is cast in plaster.

Based on the idea that as the skull takes its shape from the brain, the surface of the skull can be read as an index of psychological aptitudes and tendencies, skulls such as this were part of the jigsaw of Victorian medical study. The skull would have also been used to study the teeth and structural idiosyncrasies of the human form.

Derived from the theories of the idiosyncratic Viennese physician Franz Joseph Gall (1758-1828), phrenology was a faculty psychology, theory of brain and science of character reading, and what the nineteenth century phrenologists called "the only true science of mind”.

So it was believed that by examining the shape and unevenness of a head or skull, one could discover the development of the particular cerebral ‘organs’ responsible for different intellectual aptitudes and character traits. For example, a prominent protuberance in the forehead at the position attributed to the organ of Benevolence was meant to indicate that the individual had a "well developed" organ of Benevolence and would therefore be expected to exhibit benevolent behaviour.

Unlike more modern resin copies, this skull has a wonderful patina and weight, and its surface, one feels, is forever trying to tell a story. Thus, it remains an item that very rarely comes up for sale and is such hugely desirable for collectors, folk interested in medicine, or simply for those that crave an authentic gothic, decorative or filmic effect.

*NB: This skull came from the same estate as that of the 19thC Medical Cabinet