Death mask from the Noel Phrenology collection

This death mask is from a collection of phrenological busts belonging to Robert Noel.

Phrenology was the popular ‘scientific’ belief that a person’s character could be understood by examining the shape and features of their skull. In the mid-19th century, German phrenologist Robert Noel accumulated a collection of plaster casts that he used to illustrate the principles of phrenology. The details of each cast, the individual it was taken from, and Noel’s evaluations were collected in a book he wrote, titled Notes Biographical & Phrenological Illustrating a Collection of Casts. 

Noel classified his casts into different categories. This cast, of a woman named Johanne Rehn, was included in ‘Casts of Heads of Criminals and Suicides.’ According to Noel’s description, Rehn was an unmarried mother who fell in love with a soldier. Worried that he would not marry her because of her child, Rehn killed the child and was later executed. Noel’s phrenological observations claim to confirm her ‘belong[ing] to the criminal type,’ stating ‘Not only is "Benevolence" relatively deficient, but this is likewise the case as regards the seat for the faculty of "Love of Children."’

Death mask of a woman
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