The Auricle in the Visual Arts
18 March 2005 (online)
The human auricle has been portrayed in sculptures and paintings over and over for more than 10,000 years; as a result of this proliferation, this chapter can only allow a short glance at various cultural environments, focusing on the diseased auricle. Neither the illustrations of the auricle in medical texts, often drawn by artists, nor the numerous trials needed to associate the form and size of auricles with their owners' characteristics will be dealt with. The Assyrian clay tablets of the great library of Ashurbanipal (∼650 BC), unearthed in Nineveh, are an early document of this physiognomic aspect. On these tablets it is said that the shape of the ears of newborns foretells their future character. This pseudoscience reached its peak with Johann Caspar Lavater in 1778 in his publication called “Physiognomic Fragments”.
The uniqueness of the auricle, one of which is never entirely identical to another, even with identical twins, has inspired kidnappers again and again to cut off the auricle of their victims to prove that the kidnapped person is actually being held captive. Because of this natural variety, there are almost twice as many different auricles as human beings. Despite this individual diversity, a lot of artists unconsciously tend to portray different people with relatively similar auricles. This finding was made by the Italian art historian Giovanni Morrelli (1816-1891) in the 19th century. With his precise analysis of auricles, Morrelli was able to answer the question of origin of many unknown pictures and also to clarify whether a picture was an original painting or a copy (Fig. ).
Figure 1 Ears as sign to recognize painters according to Morelli, ca. 1870.