Beauty and Civilization

Buffon’s considerations on human somatic features in Histoire Naturelle de l’Homme


  • Julia Jacob Johns Hopkins University



Natural History, aesthetic judgment, race, anthropology, Beauty, Histoire naturelle de l'Homme, Buffon


The presence of an aesthetic judgment in an anthropological, scientific study may seem incongruous. One would think that the human body should be approached only in terms of "objective" criteria of functionality and measurable proportions.

However, to our surprise, two adjectives keep coming up in Buffon's description of the human body in his Histoire naturelle de l'Homme: 'beautiful' and 'ugly'.

To be sure, it is possible to determine that a person is beautiful through measurements and observations of bodily and facial symmetry, but most often, these proportions are not enough to explain why we find a person beautiful.

How does Buffon think about beauty when he writes the Natural History of Man? Does he understand it as a classificatory tool based on an objective system of measurement, or does he use his personal preference? On what criteria does he judge the physical aspect of the varieties in the human species?


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Jobart, Jean-Charles. 2012. « Laideur objective et beauté subjective du corps en droit », Droit et société, vol. 80, n°1, 2012, pp. 189-210.

Mariana de Lurdes Carrito, Isabel Maria Barbas dos Santos, Carmen Emilia Lefevre, Ross David Whitehead, Carlos Fernandes da Silva, David Ian Perrett. 2016. "The role of sexually dimorphic skin colour and shape in attractiveness of male faces", Evolution and Human Behavior, Vol. 37, Issue 2, 2016, pp. 126-133.

Nahoum-Grappe, Véronique. 1988. « Beauté et laideur : histoire et anthropologie de la forme humaine », Chimères. Revue des schizoanalyses, n°5-6,1988, pp. 1-27.

Sagaert, Claudine. 2012. « La laideur, un redoutable outil de stigmatisation », Revue du MAUSS, vol. 40, n°2, 2012, pp. 239-256.

Slaney, Frances. 1986. " Maquillage, sexualité et culte de la Vierge Marie en Occident ", Anthropologie et Sociétés, vol.10, n°3, , 1986, p.81-90




How to Cite

Jacob, Julia. 2021. “Beauty and Civilization: Buffon’s Considerations on Human Somatic Features in Histoire Naturelle De l’Homme”. Aesthetic Investigations 4 (2). Utrecht, NL:219-35.