Temperamental! Prints in the Collection of Bryn Mawr College

March 20 - June 2, 2019

This student-organized exhibition explores historic representations of the four temperaments—melancholic, choleric, sanguine, and phlegmatic—as well as their legacies in prints of the contemporary era.

Opening reception, Tuesday, April 9, 6 p.m. 

following 4:30 p.m. lecture by Susan Dackerman, John and Jill Freidenrich Director of the Cantor Arts Center at Stanford University

Read the brochure with exhibition checklist.

Modern science understands depression as the result of a chemical imbalance in the brain. But in ancient Greece, the symptoms of depression would have been described as an excess of the melancholic temperament, caused by an imbalance in four bodily substances: blood, yellow bile, black bile, and phlegm. These are the four humors. 

Humoral science, as developed by Hippocrates (c. 460-370 BC) and Galen (130-210 AD), described the physical and mental characteristics of an individual as being regulated by the four humors. An excess of one humoral substance produced the dominance of a temperament and its corresponding emotional qualities: the social Sanguine, the reserved Melancholy, irascible Choleric, and the lethargic Phlegmatic. One's temperament was further influenced by astrology, the position of the planets, the seasons, and earthly elements.

The logic of temperaments gained popularity in the Western Medieval period, with steady favor continuing through the Renaissance period and into the 19th century. While humoral science is now obsolete, the explanatory power of the temperaments remains in use. Temperamental!: Prints in the Collection of Bryn Mawr College takes an ahistorical approach to interpretations of the temperaments. It explores a variety of print media from the European Early Modern period (15th-18th century) to the Western Modern period (19th century-present day) through the investigative lens of the four temperaments. Some of the included prints deliberately employ the iconography associated with the temperaments, while others bear the traces of temperament-derived logic that persist today. 

This exhibition was organized by Tessa Haas (M.A. student), Anya Prussin '19, Talia Shiroma '19, and Maeve White (M.A. student), under the direction of Christiane Hertel and Carrie Robbins in last fall's History of Art exhibition seminar, Early/Modern Temperaments.


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