Vicar Preaching To The Prisoners

George Cruikshank

English, 1792 - 1878

Vicar Preaching to the Prisoners, 1830

  • Not On View

Etching on paper

Dimensions: 6 × 4 1/2 in. (15.2 × 11.4 cm)

Gift of Ruth and Cyril Leder, 2010.183

Depicting a clergyman offering spiritual guidance to the incarcerated, Cruikshank's scene reflects London's rapid growth, which strained the city's social welfare systems. Lack of sympathy for adult individuals who were disadvantaged often stemmed from judgments made about a person's appearance. A notable difference between the facial depictions of the vicar and his subjects reflects the rising popularity of phrenological studies. Based upon the notion that a person's character could be determined by one's facial countenance, including one's profile, shape of skull, and other bodily properties, phrenological studies, as they were called, promoted the idea that personal appearance corresponded to personal behavior. There were those who questioned the accuracy of phrenology, but it thrived nevertheless, perhaps in part because of the rise of satire and caricature in popular illustration, which would have conditioned viewers to expect certain outcomes based upon the appearance of different characters. Simply put, the ability to read an image quickly was closely connected to life in London, where a rapid assessment of fellow individuals in a crowd could hold considerable advantages in surviving the confusion of urban life. Here, in the scene of a prison, the incarcerated are portrayed with heavy brows, hunched postures, knobby joints, crazed eyes, wild hair, and other supposedly notable features of the untrustworthy.

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