How to Read a Face: Pilgrims and Ascetic Physiognomy

Georgia Frank

in The Memory of the Eyes

Published by University of California Press

Published in print May 2000 | ISBN: 9780520222052
Published online May 2012 | e-ISBN: 9780520924352 | DOI:
How to Read a Face: Pilgrims and Ascetic Physiognomy

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This chapter focuses on pilgrims' responses to the facial appearance of ascetics. Monastics developed their own physiognomic enterprise, often exhorting novices on the type of self-fashioning that would result in an “ascetic” appearance. In their vocabulary for ascetic physiognomy, pilgrims put a distinctive face on sanctity, combining techniques of ancient physiognomy with a biblical sensibility. In addition, as a discipline based in visual scrutiny, physiognomy can lead to a deeper understanding of how pilgrims construed the processes and effects of seeing. Because pilgrims rarely commented on the act of seeing, their descriptions of what they saw become important for understanding the viewing subject implied in such descriptions. Physiognomy provides a tool by which to uncover these visual processes and the spiritual possibilities for those who engaged in body-reading.

Keywords: facial appearance; ascetics; ascetic physiognomy; sanctity

Chapter.  12961 words. 

Subjects: Early Christianity

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