Petrus Camper (1722-1789)
Dr. Camper was the first to dissect the genuine orangutan






Petrus Camper (1722-1789), Dutch Anthropologist
modernized Vitruvian Man

After the discovery of the anthropoid ape in Asia and in Africa, eighteenth-century Holland became the crossroads of Enlightenment debates about the human species. Material evidence about human diversity reached Petrus Camper, comparative anatomist in the Netherlands, who engaged, among many other interests, in “menschkunde” [“anthropology”]. Could only religious doctrine support the belief of human demarcation from animals? Camper resolved the challenges raised by overseas discoveries with his thesis of the “facial angle,” a theory which succeeding generations distorted and misused in order to justify slavery, racism, antisemitism, and genocide. Thanks to his abundant papers in Dutch archives, Camper’s ideas are restored to their original state. Eighteenth-century issues differed from those of other centuries: Did orang-utans talk like humans, walk like humans; even rape humans? What was the skin pigmentation of Adam and Eve? Did the spectrum of human physiognomies around the globe reflect the Fall of Man, the Creator’s bounty, or merely bizarre beauty practices? Why did the ideal beauty of the Greeks appear to be the reverse of the Hottentots? The book contains some 50 illustrations, including apes with hiking sticks or tea cups, metamorphoses of living forms, and Apollo or Venus icons which titillated the “science of man.”

Miriam Claude Meijer was born in Leiden (like Camper) but grew up in the United States. After earning degrees in Anthropology and History from the Catholic University of America (Washington, DC) and UCLA respectively, Dr. Meijer taught Early Modern European History at George Washington University and the University of Central Arkansas. This book was supported by a Fulbright Grant to the Netherlands. Dr. Meijer is currently researching Buffon’s natural law of race formation. She is interested in the origin of western assumptions about foreign peoples.

Dr. Meijer’s résumé in PDF >> 'Mayor'

Dr. Meijer’s Curriculum vitae in PDF >> portfolio

Miriam Claude Meijer,
Race and Aesthetics in the Anthropology of Petrus Camper (1722-1789)
(Amsterdam: Rodopi, 1999)
USD $40.00

Table of Contents

Chapter 1 Introduction.
Chapter 2 Camper, his life and philosophy.
     Scientific background and expertise: homo universalis
     Science and public life
     Writing and teaching
     Scientific journeys
     Epistemology: analysis and synthesis
Chapter 3 Man and the anthropoid ape.
     Apes and monsters
     Chain of being?
     Teleology: the place of man
     Views on blacks
Chapter 4 The question of color.
     Observation in conflict with the holy text of the earth: fossils
     Two creations
     Climate and change
     The color of the skin: ‘white moors’
     The first color and racial variety
     Climatic theory
     Monogenism versus polygenism: Adam and Eve
Chapter 5 Graphic representation.
     Artistic background
     Drawing and passions
     Ploos’ misreading
     Drawing differences: protrusion and retraction
Chapter 6 The intersection of race and beauty.
     Skulls in history
     Discovery of the facial angle
     Measurement in the eighteenth century: Daubenton and Hunter
     Lavater: physionomy
     Man and ape reconsidered: similarity and sex
     The image of the walking ape
     The question of speech
     The head
     Kalmuck, African, and ape
     Morphology and metamorphosis: history and skeleton of forms
     The artifice thesis: moulding race
     Nature and aesthetics
     Relative beauty
Chapter 7 History of the Facial Angle Theory.
Chapter 8 Conclusion.
Appendix: Camper’s lecture On the Origin and Color of Blacks.
List of plates
General bibliography
Camper’s publications
Camper’s manuscripts and drawings
List of personal names

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Petrus Camper (1722-1789)
Camper's drawing of an orangutan
Camper's drawing of an orang skull
Camper's drawings of a child

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