Giovanni Battista Della Porta (1535-1615) was a philosopher and alchemist born in Campania. In 1586, he published “De humana physiognomonia” for Giuseppe Cacchi, a publisher in Vico Equense.
The four-book series is dedicated to physiognomic theories, the non-science based on the idea that physical features are tied to a person’s moral and psychological traits. Della Porta’s text explores the hidden “sympathies” – as he called relations – between human beings and animals.
In researching material for his work, Della Porta visited a range of places including, of course, “the public jail, where a great number of thieves, parricides, killers, and other similar people are always locked up.” He compared the faces he observed with animals, finding connections and giving interpretations.
Here is a selection of the interesting comparisons he made.