Cover image for A brief history of the smile
A brief history of the smile
Trumble, Angus.
Personal Author:
Publication Information:
New York : BasicBooks ; Oxford : Oxford Publicity Partnership, [2004]

Physical Description:
xlv, 226 pages : illustrations ; 25 cm
Format :


Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Item Holds
BF592.F33 T78 2004 Adult Non-Fiction Central Closed Stacks

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It has been said that supreme enlightenment is reflected in the holy smile of the Buddha. Yet, the Victorians thought of open-mouthed smiling as obscene, and nineteenth-century English and American slang equated "smiling" with drinking whisky. Every smile is the product of physical processes common to all humans. But since the dawn of civilization, the upward movement of the muscles of the face has carried a bewildering range of meanings. In A Brief History of the Smile, Angus Trumble deftly weaves art, poetry, history and biology into an intriguing portrait of the many nuances of the human smile. Elegantly illustrating his points with emblematic works of art, from 18th and 19th century European paintings to Japanese woodblock prints, Trumble explores the meanings of smiling in a variety of cultures and contexts. But he also asks key questions about the behavioral and psychological aspects of smiling: When and how in infancy does human smiling become a profound act of communication? Is smiling unique to human beings? How does smiling function to foster our attachments to each other? Effortlessly mingling erudition, wit, and personal anecdote, Trumble weaves a seamless interdisciplinary tapestry.An established talent in the art worlds of Europe, Europe and Australia, Trumble challenges our most deeply held assumptions about smiling. In his analysis of Jusepe de Ribera's Girl Playing a Tambourine, Trumble explores the sinister side of the smile-the leer, the snarl, the lewd grin. And from J.A. Ingres' portrait of the Princesse de Broglie, he extracts the implications of "public" smiling, the tension between decorum and beauty. Trumble brings his expertise as a writer, historian and thinker to bear on the art of smiling in this charming and distinctive work.

Author Notes

Angus Trumble is the youngest of four brothers and was born and raised in Victoria, Australia. He is a graduate of the University of Melbourne and of New York University's Institute of Fine Arts. He was Curator of European Art at the Art Gallery of South Australia, Adelaide, before settling permanently in Connecticut, where he is Curator of Paintings and Sculpture at the Yale Center for British Art in New Haven.

Reviews 2

Publisher's Weekly Review

All smiles may be triggered by an "instantaneous chemical reaction in the brain," but that's where their similarities end, says art historian and curator Trumble in this eclectic and engaging look at the phenomenon throughout art and history and across cultures. He breezily traces the representation of the smile, from its mild, mask-like expression in early Greek sculpture to its ever-debated, enigmatic presence on da Vinci's Mona Lisa, to its gaping glory days in 17th-century Dutch and Flemish painting. Unabashed tooth display in formal portraiture was frowned upon right up to the 20th century, when sufficient progress had been made in the fields of photography and dentistry to usher in the wide-mouthed grin. Trumble travels east to explain the Indonesian smile, often misread by Westerners as unconditionally welcoming, and to present the evolutions of the Muslim concept of purdah, "the most obvious form of modesty or physical concealment," as well as the Japanese custom of tooth-blackening, which coyly flirted with Oriental notions of "exposing and concealing." Readers learn that Buddha's transcendent beam represents intelligence, compassion and ethereality, while the fleeting appearance of the "Gothic smile" in 12th-century Christian iconography is considered a departure from more characteristic Jesus imagery. Trumble also tackles a bit of science, detailing the smile's physiological mechanisms; child development, explaining the involuntary radiance of infants; and trends, examining our celebrity-crazed, Angelina-lipped pop culture. Since Trumble sets out to tackle "the smile in the broadest possible sense," his resulting chronicle, while packed with factoids and whimsy (who knew George Washington wore a makeshift bridge of carved hippopotamus teeth?) feels fun but diffuse. (Jan.) Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.

Library Journal Review

Chronicling something as ephemeral as a smile can be a tricky thing. For art historian Trumble, the task at first seemed simple: How has the smile been depicted in art through the ages? The search was less than easy, however, and certain smiles-such as the open-mouth, full-toothed smile-were difficult to locate. In this genial exploration of the depicted smile, Trumble touches on such topics as the meaning of the smile in different cultures, the use of lipstick and tooth-dyeing, and the relationship between smiling and laughing. In an art historical mode, Trumble traces the changing meaning of a smile through ages, media, and cultures. Among the meanings explicated are lewdness, desire, mirth, wisdom, deceit, and even, perhaps, happiness. The primary focus of the book is Western art of the last millennium, including such examples as the Mona Lisa, Franz Hals's The Laughing Cavalier, the works of Ingres and Hogarth, the Cheshire Cat, and the "Smiley Face." However, there are excursions into the world of early Greek and Asian art. This work makes an interesting bookend to James Elkins's Pictures and Tears and is suitable for comprehensive public and special collections.-Martin R. Kalfatovic, Smithsonian Inst. Libs., Washington, DC (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Table of Contents

List of Illustrationsp. xi
Prefacep. xv
Introduction: "The Serious and the Smirk"p. xxi
1 Decorump. 1
2 Lewdnessp. 31
3 Desirep. 49
4 Mirthp. 73
5 Wisdomp. 103
6 Deceitp. 133
7 Conclusion: Happiness?p. 157
Appendix The Spectator, no. 173p. 167
Notesp. 171
Bibliographyp. 197
Indexp. 217