Delineating Humanity: Individual and Type

Map of the Indian Tribes of North America.


Delineating Humanity: Individual and Type

Can the features of an individual or properties of an artifact stand for a larger idea – a nation, an ethnic group, or a time period?  What do the physical traits of faces and objects reveal about history or the cultures to which they belonged?  Some of the ways in which people and human-made things have been configured and grouped to represent larger categories are explored in this room.  Included in this space are visualizations from social and human sciences such as anthropology, ethnography, and history, which build knowledge based on the observation and comparison of particulars.
Visual documents arrayed on the walls relate to imagery deployed in the timeline of history at the center of the gallery.  This remarkable document invites close scrutiny.  The author’s selective use of textual sources and incorporation of visual evidence construct a larger narrative about differences among peoples and the role of technological innovation throughout human history.  Despite its obvious biases, the timeline not only reflected beliefs prevalent in the United States when it was published but also contributed to shaping understanding through its use as a support for teaching.
The timeline includes a number of image types such as portraits of famous individuals and views of important monuments, intended to represent various cultures or key historical moments.  Identifying, describing and delineating significant features or characteristics of people and buildings are procedures that depend on visual training and selection grounded in a given set of disciplinary criteria.  The material in this room provides insight into shifting assumptions about what has constituted meaningful visual evidence in a number of disciplines, and permits comparisons of different methods for making graphic documents that construct understanding about human societies, ethnic groups, and cultural products.

Adams, Chronological Chart (1876)

Kylynn Jasinski

The adjacent timeline aspires to capture almost 6,000 years of human and biblical history in a 21-foot long scroll, originally mounted on rollers and displayed in a wooden frame with hand-cranks.  Published in 1876 by Sebastian C. Adams, A Chronological Chart of Ancient, Modern and Biblical History, was intended as a didactic tool for instructing young children.  The timeline was a popular method to visualize history: equal spaces represent equal amounts of time, enabling the viewer to understand the temporal distance between events.
Text and images are combined by Adams to create a dense matrix of data.  The choice of what information to represent related closely to Adams’s target audience and cultural milieu.  Theories about the evolution of species and the geological history of the earth are completely ignored, while Biblical history is interpreted literally, following the chronology established by the seventeenth-century Irish Archbishop James Ussher (1581-1656).  This material is combined with an array of visual evidence, including recently discovered pre-historic tools, portraits of famous people, buildings, and vignettes of historical moments.
The timeline as a whole can be divided into four quadrants.  The Crucifixion of Christ establishes a clear boundary between the left and right, delineating the two major historical epochs of the Christian world.  The top left register, from Adam and Eve to Christ, uses the life spans of Biblical figures to document Christ’s genealogy and includes vignettes illustrating Biblical scenes.  The bottom left quadrant focuses on profane history, with paragraphs of text, cultural artifacts, and examples of historic scripts to explain historical developments parallel to the Biblical narrative above.

The top right quadrant, from the Crucifixion to the late nineteenth century, is devoted almost exclusively to vignettes and architectural depictions, concluding with the founding of the American colonies and portraits of American presidents.  Finally, the bottom right quadrant is devoted to the lineages of nations, historical figures, and leaders of contemporary states.  Modern ideas about race, nationalism, and technological progress clearly informed Adams’s decisions about the choice of material and hierarchies embedded in his Chronological Chart.


Fischer von Erlach, Plan of Civil & Historical Architecture (1730)
Durand, Recueil et parallèle (1800)

Jennifer Donnelly

The two atlases of architectural history exhibited here represent distinct approaches to constructing visual knowledge about the built environment.  The earlier book – A Plan of Civil and Historical Architecture (Entwurff Einer Historischen Architectur, 1721) by the Austrian architect Johann Bernhard Fischer von Erlach (1656-1723), represents the “famous pagoda near Nanking” in an evocative landscape peopled with figures that give a sense of scale and context.  By contrast, the Recueil et parallèle des édifices de tout genre (1800) published by the French architectural theorist Jean-Nicolas-Louis Durand (1760-1834) eliminates contextual cues and renders individual buildings in simplified, measured drawings (ground plans and elevations). Fischer von Erlach organized his book by chronology and geography, including a map of the Mediterranean Sea showing the locations of the Seven Wonder of the Ancient World (also indicated on Adams’ Chronological Chart).  Durand groups buildings by type or genre to facilitate comparisons, similar to Linnaeus’s schematic approach to natural history.
Fischer von Erlach’s history was a work of self-promotion dedicated to his patron, the Holy Roman Emperor Charles VI.  Durand produced his book for training professional engineers at the new École Polytechnique in Paris.  Both authors believed that understanding architectural history as a global phenomenon was an essential component of elite, professional training.  Working in the aftermath of the French Revolution, Durand’s work responded to a new political reality in which public education was understood as the principal means to “regenerate” the French people and humanity in general.  Durand's Recueil was a carefully organized group of specimens, much like museums being formed in Paris at the same time (such as the Louvre and the Museum of Natural History).
The copy of Fischer von Erlach’s A Plan of Civil and Historical Architecture (1730) from the Frick Fine Arts Library is extremely rare: the English translation is known to exist only in a handful of libraries worldwide.  Durand’s Recueil was used by generations of architects, as the copy from Carnegie Mellon University makes clear.  In 1915, an American reprint was published in New York, evidence of the dominance of the French model of architectural training in the early twentieth century.

Garnier, Histoire de l’habitation humaine (1889)

Kylynn Jasinski

Between May and October 1889, visitors to the Exposition Universelle in Paris could experience a fully immersive overview of architectural history in the form of 44 full-scale buildings representing the “History of Human Habitation.”  Designed by the eminent French architect Charles Garnier (1825-1898), the 44 structures were located at the base of the newly erected Eiffel Tower.  Arranged in a single row along the Seine, Garnier’s installation purported to represent a global history of housing from pre-history to Renaissance Europe. The houses were arranged in more-or-less chronological sequence, resulting in strange juxtapositions.  After viewing the “Etruscan” house (Italy), for example, the visitor immediately encountered the “Hindou” house (India) and then the “Persian” house (Iran) with no explanation for these adjacencies.
Garnier ascribed a high level of authenticity to his designs, characterizing each dwelling by distinctive ornamentation and materials.  The “Egyptian” house, for example, was built of stone while the “African” house was constructed from straw and mud.  Non-European houses were generally distinguished by less durable materials and fanciful decoration, as can be seen on the “Phoenician” house with its tall spires and colorful patterning
Not surprisingly, Garnier organized his “History of Human Habitation” to give priority to European traditions – especially the contributions of France at different points in time.  The houses of non-European nations were either placed in a section devoted to pre-historic dwelling or grouped together at the very end of the installation.
The architectural histories of Fischer von Erlach and Durand represent real structures (for the most part) – principally monuments and public buildings (temples, churches).  In Durand’s Recueil, dwelling is represented in three pages of villa plans designed by the Italian architect Andrea Palladio. 

By contrast, Garnier’s “History of Human Habitation,” consisted entirely of modest, generic houses.  His 1889 installation is notable for fusing contemporary ideas about ethnography with architectural history, developing the notion that a single structure could stand as a type, representing an entire nation, people, or historical period.

Pennsylvania Museum Extension Project, model dwellings

Drew Armstrong

Pittsburgh is home to several collections intended to illustrate history through the experience and comparison of buildings, the most remarkable being the Hall of Architecture in the Carnegie Museum of Art.  Created in 1907, the collection of full-sized plaster casts permits the observer to examine sculptural components of major European monuments without leaving the city.  The lobby of the College of Fine Arts at Carnegie Mellon University includes plans of four major monuments laid into the floor, while and array of important buildings are painted on the ceiling.  The architects of both buildings were trained in Paris and were no doubt familiar with the works of both Durand and Garnier.
A distinct set of priorities shaped the collection of architectural models created in the 1930s by the Pennsylvania Museum Extension Project, a component of the Works Progress Administration established during the Depression.  The six plaster models were intended for use in public schools to provide students with an “authentic and comparatively complete graphic presentation of the human race’s evolutionary efforts to house and clothe itself.”  Like Garnier’s “History of Human Habitation,” generic dwellings provide insights into the materials and construction techniques that characterize a nation, a people, or a period.
Around 110 different models were produced and included contemporary American house-types as well as more exotic structures.  A comparison of the models suggests that a small range of formal choices could be combined and articulated by different peoples using a variety of materials.  Thus, the “Modern Country House” [#1] – inspired by the most up-to-date European functionalist aesthetic – might be compared to the flat-roofed “Pueblo” [#5] and the “Egyptian Dwelling” [#3].  Though the “East India Dwelling” [#6] and the “Monterey Provincial House” [#1] are characterized by traditional gable roofs, the former is built on wooden posts recalls modernist principles, which eschewed structural walls in favor of slender supporting columns. 

Unlike Garnier, whose “History of Human Habitation” focused on ornament and emphasized “progress” in the development of form, the WPA models seem to suggest that materials and basic construction techniques result in a relatively restricted range of possible solutions to the problem of dwelling.


Perrault, Les Hommes illustres (1697-1700)
Warhol, Polaroid Portraits (1976-1986)
Drew Armstrong

The arrays of images reproduced here suggest what serial portraiture can capture about two distinct moments in history.  The eight Polaroid portraits taken by Andy Warhol and organized in alphabetical order by last name are drawn from thousands shot by the artist.  The best – as selected by the sitter – served as the basis for large-scale silk-screen paintings.  Celebrity or “visible knownness” does not apply to all the individuals captured in Warhol’s photographs.  What historians of celebrity call the “It-effect” defined as “a certain quality, easy to perceive but hard to define, possessed by abnormally interesting people” may or may not be apparent in these head-shots.  The term “icon” is applied to those individuals made recognizable to the public by mass-media and whose facial features serve to trigger particular associations in the mind of the beholder.
By using portraiture to explore contemporary social values, Warhol participated in a long-standing Western artistic tradition.  In Charles Perrault’s Les Hommes illustres qui ont paru en France pendant ce siècle (1697-1700), serial portraiture is a vehicle for shaping perceptions of seventeenth-century French history for a contemporary audience and for posterity.  The work is an atlas [recueil] containing 100 engraved portraits of notable individuals whose existence contributed to the gloire of King Louis XIV. 

Perrault’s recueil is organized by a strict notion of rank.  The First Estate begins with a portrait and brief biography of Cardinal Richelieu and runs through 21 other clergymen in descending order of dignity.  The Second Estate is divided into members of the military nobility (15), followed by magistrates and other state officials drawn from the aristocracy (16).  The Third Estate is divided into two groups: men of letters (31) and artists (16) whose productions were deemed no less worthy than the conquests of the military elite.

The wall of 100 portraits respects the ordering of estates foundational to French society before the Revolution of 1789.  Thus, while all of the engraved portraits in Perrault’s book are of a standardized format, seriality implies hierarchy by the order in which they appear.  The absence of women cannot be attributed to a complete lack of female participation in government or accomplishment in literary production.


Prichard, Natural History of Man (1843)

Drew Armstrong

A member of the Aborigines’ Protection Society and president of the Ethnological Society of London, James C. Prichard (1786-1848) spent his career studying the languages and the physical characteristics of different human groups.  Building on contemporary theories about acclimatization, domestication, and the modification of species by descent over time, Prichard marshaled visual material about human groups from around the globe to demonstrate that all belonged to a single species or family. 

Prichard rejected claims that there were 3, 4 or 5 basic races, seeing instead many varieties, each of which had diverged from the same stock and adapted to different environments.  Particularly influential for Prichard was Buffon’s Histoire naturelle, George Cuvier’s Le Règne Animal (1817; The Animal Kingdom), and de Candolle’s Physiologie végétale (1832; Plant Physiology), works which began to outline the impacts of environment on animal and plant species and the mechanisms of adaptation and hybridity.
Prichard learned of George Catlin’s Indian portraits when the American artist exhibited his work in London.  Prichard subsequently commissioned Catlin to produce ten portraits for his book The Natural History of Man, reproduced as small color lithographs.  Catlin’s portraits generally include the artist’s name and the name of the sitter, but were intended to stand as representatives of tribes, and thus as types.
Other visual data marshaled by Prichard were scull and bone measurements, and microscopic studies of skin pigmentation and hair from different human individuals and animal species.  The visual evidence tended to show that despite the diversity of human groups, differences existed within a confined range that could be ascribed to environmental causes and the “agency of climate”.  But for Prichard, language provided the most conclusive evidence of the close family relationship among all human groups.  An atlas of six large maps accompanied Prichard’s Natural History of Man, drawing on many sources, including the work of Albert Gallatin on North American languages.  Prichard constructed his maps to represent the geographic distribution of dozens of language families on every continent.  The global scope and scholarly rigor of Prichard’s study reconfigured older racial categories, replacing superficial physical differences with affinities among languages to establish a more nuanced understanding of human groups.

Catlin, North American Indian Portfolio (1844)

Annika Johnson

In the print O-jib-Be-Way Bucks and Squaws, George Catlin (1796-1872) portrayed Ojibwe men and women both as individuals and as representatives of a type.  The three horizontal registers each employ different conventions to convey information about his subjects.  In the upper register, figures wear traditional attire and hold weapons and ceremonial objects.  This overt display of exotic dress and artifacts reflects the ethnographic dimension of Catlin’s project.  Likewise, the animal hides, fur, claws, and feathers worn by the Sauk Chief in the print at the far right were understood as important signifiers of his “primitive” status, providing insights into the development of humankind.

The middle register of the Ojibwe head studies demonstrate Catlin’s sensitivity to individual facial features and his skill as a portraitist.  Many scientists in the nineteenth century believed that studies of Native American skulls and other physical characteristics could reveal the distinctive traits and intellectual capacities of different Native groups.
Crests and heraldic devices often accompanied representations of important European and American leaders – as in the series of portraits of French individuals at the end of this room.  In Catlin’s Ojibwe group portrait, the bottom register of animal pictographs corresponds to each male figure, which viewers at the time read as signatures or totems of a tribe. 

The Ojibwe portrayed in Catlin’s print were indeed individuals, members of a troupe that traveled with the artist and his gallery of Native North American portraits to Europe in 1843.  In London and Paris, they performed “tableaux vivants” – public exhibitions of ritual dances and daily activities to educate and entertain.

Catlin began his career in the 1830s sketching Native North Americans during journeys to forts and remote villages west of the Mississippi River.  He visited the Mandan people represented in Archery of the Mandans in 1832.  Catlin’s first public exhibition of his gallery of Native American portraits took place at the Exchange Hotel in downtown Pittsburgh in 1833.

Curtis, The North American Indian (1907-1930)

Maria Castro

These seven images all come from the massive oeuvre The North American Indian, published by Edward Curtis (1868-1952) between 1907 and 1930.  This extraordinary project, which comprised 22-volumes of narrative texts and photographic images that concerned the aboriginal peoples of this continent, raises important questions about visual conventions, disciplinary contexts, audiences for images, and picture-making media.  By the time Curtis began this project, which received initial financial support from the banker J. P. Morgan, Native Americans had been objects of systematic pictorial depiction for decades.  Some of these depictions emerged within the domain of the sciences of man, and adhered to pictorial conventions that, even today, allow viewers to identify the images as “anthropological.”
Curtis specifically wanted his images to be of use to anthropologists and ethnographers.  He went so far as to have the renowned American anthropologist Frederick Hodge (1864-1956) edit the texts of The North American Indian.  In addition, he explicitly sought to distinguish his pictorial output from the non-ethnographic work of Catlin, doing so on the grounds that the “popular” Catlin “had his readers too much in mind and yielded to a desire to interest.”  Yet, Curtis’s work also draws on visual conventions that have their provenance in domains that are seemingly distant from those of ethnography and anthropology.  Above all, the soft focus of many of Curtis’s works immediately sets up affinities between them and the self-consciously artistic, “Pictorialist” photographs that dominated visual production in the United States and Europe in the early twentieth century. 

While Curtis clearly loved the Native peoples he dedicated his life to photographing, he also became involved in their commercial exploitation.  In 1915, he helped produce the film In the Land of the Headhunters.  Famous as the first movie to include Native Americans in the cast, the film inculcated in audiences the fanciful belief that “headhunters” had once populated the Pacific Northwest.
Part of the reason Curtis’s work promised new resources to the sciences of man centered on the basic fact that, unlike the output of Catlin, it was photographic.  Yet, in order for photographs to be useful to inquirers in any field, they must also be made in accordance with rules, conventions, and sometimes arbitrary standards.

Portraits of George Washington

Isaac King

Since George Washington (1732-1799) never crossed the Atlantic, portraits traveled in his place.  Paintings captured his features but prints multiplied his image and made Washington known to an international public.  Portraits gave Washington a visible presence abroad, defining the identity of the rebel-turned-President.  By extension, portraits of Washington also stood for the character of the new nation he helped to found. 

From the outset of the Revolutionary War, the face of “General Washington” was disseminated in clumsy prints of questionable provenance distributed across Europe.  Washington’s remote theater of action, the scarcity of professionally trained portraitists and printmakers in America, and the restricted commerce of the war long delayed the arrival of more trustworthy alternatives.  Valentine Green’s print after John Trumbull (1756-1843) was the first image of Washington widely available in Europe with a reliable pedigree, though it wasn’t produced until nearly five years after the signing of the Declaration of Independence.

Trumbull depicted his former commander from memory while studying painting in London.  The resulting image presented the General towering over his slave, William Lee, and his horse, demonstrating Trumbull’s exposure to European conventions of honorific portraiture.  The parallel with Catlin’s Sauk Chief is unmistakable.

 In the years following the Revolutionary War, the prospect of capturing the likeness of now President Washington enticed many European artists.  The American-born painter Gilbert Stuart (1755-1828) left the European art world permanently in 1793, gambling that one good likeness of Washington could sustain him for the rest of his life.

In his own lifetime, Washington’s face was taken down from nearly every angle, measured with calipers, cast in plaster, and traced in silhouette.  The resulting images were only one step in the process of rendering Washington legible.  Hung in prominent locations or included among celebratory pantheons (such as the adjacent timeline), Washington’s portraits mingled with many notable contemporary and historical figures.  As his image proved worthy to sit comfortable alongside other canonized heroes, he slowly became indistinguishable from them.

Reading George Washington

Isaac King

The relationship between an individual and a portrait is elusive.  The influential Swiss physiognomist Johann Kaspar Lavater (1741-1801) had an unshakable belief that facial features provided certain insights into the character of an individual, but frequently expressed his dissatisfaction with portraits. The failure of a given portrait to capture an individual’s character was evidence not of the limits of representation, but of the limits of the artist’s skill.

Comparing George Washington’s features to those of Julius Caser and Isaac Newton, Lavater concluded in disappointment: “If Washington is the author of the revolution which we have seen him undertake, and so successfully accomplish, it must necessarily follow, that the Designer has failed to catch some of the most prominent features of the Original.”