Lavater, Johann Caspar (1741-1801)

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Johann Caspar Lavater was a Reformed minister in Zürich, Switzerland, who attained a wide sphere of influence through his devotional sermons, his prolific writing, and his extensive pastoral correspondence. His keen ability to observe enabled him to find in a human profile the key to the character. He developed his system, founding the modern study of physiognomies. In his Physiognomische Fragmente III he has a picture of Menno Simons and describes it as follows: "Menno Simons – like his teaching and his brotherhood. Simple and sincere. Not hard; not soft; quietly searching with a thirst for the truth; quietly active with gentleness and loyalty. Calm, tinted with melancholy. Calm observation with devouring sympathy. In the outline of the nose, especially at the top – how much loyalty, wisdom, capability! Mouth and chin, as much as can be seen of them, faithfulness, humility, and silence" (Menn. Bl., 1910, 86). However, since the picture has no historical basis, the analysis, of course, had no significance.

With Basedow and Goethe he also visited the Mennonites in Neuwied on 19 July 1774. In his diary are these notes: "Visited the Mennonites Friedenreich and Kinzing(er) – splendid faces, full of simplicity and honor, and round about them – many boys, daughters, mothers, faces, equally noble, innocent, affectionate, went into their church without tower or bell, spoke of their worship, looked into their orthodox catechism – Basedow asked: would they accept one who did not believe in the Trinity? Got this reply: not to communion. Looked at their artistic musical clocks." (Menn. Bl, 1930, 107.)


Goethes Rheinreise mit Lavater und Basedow im Sommer 1774. Dokumente herausgegeben von Adolf Bach. Zürich, 1923: 119.

Hege, Christian and Christian Neff. Mennonitisches Lexikon, 4 vols. Frankfurt & Weierhof: Hege; Karlsruhe: Schneider, 1913-1967: v. I, 625.

Lavater, Johann C.  Physiognomische Fragmente zur Beförderung der Menschenkenntnis. Leipzig, 1778: III, 267.

Mennonitische Blätter (1910): 86; (1930): 107.

Author(s) Christian Neff
Date Published 1957

Cite This Article

MLA style

Neff, Christian. "Lavater, Johann Caspar (1741-1801)." Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. 1957. Web. 16 Feb 2019.,_Johann_Caspar_(1741-1801)&oldid=145119.

APA style

Neff, Christian. (1957). Lavater, Johann Caspar (1741-1801). Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. Retrieved 16 February 2019, from,_Johann_Caspar_(1741-1801)&oldid=145119.


Adapted by permission of Herald Press, Harrisonburg, Virginia, from Mennonite Encyclopedia, Vol. 3, p. 300. All rights reserved.

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