Brain-injury survivor Phineas Gage (1823–1860):
discovered a portrait of the younger Gage?

Are these portraits of the same person? At a first look you might not think so. But at a second sight, considering several matching characteristics between the two photographs, your impression might change: there is a striking similarity!

The nose of the 'younger' man appears longer. Hypothesis: The severe injuries may have changed the skull structure and consequently the face proportions. "In the past there were encountered late posttraumatic vertical contracture of the middle face", in particular a foreshortening of the nose.

(Mund-Kiefer-Gesichtschirurgie / hrsg. von Hans-Henning Horch. - 4., vollst. überarb. Aufl.- München : Urban & Fischer, 2007)

Comparing Phineas Gage with another portrait. Click to enhance

Collection Jack & Beverly Wilgus (click to enlarge) Photograph by Bill Becker of (click to enlarge)

Figure A: Laterally reversed photograph of daguerreotype
from the collection of Jack and Beverly Wilgus

This portrait is believed to be the only known image of Phineas Gage

"[...] We have chosen to flip the published image to show Gage's features as they actually appeared. When we were researching the identity of the subject we found that we had to first explain that it was the left and not right eye that was closed because the daguerreotype was a mirror image."
Beverly Wilgus on December 27, 2009

Note: different lighting angles have produced different aspects. The posing position of fig. B is slightly from right. Note the same eye(s) and eyebrows as well as the chin area. Their distances match exactly as the width of the lips. The missing sign of a scar on his forehead could have been retouched or is not visible due to an overexposure from the right. Question: Why there can be seen any scar at all on the left side of his face where the bar entered?*

Figure B: Unreversed photograph of daguerreotype of unknown man
by William Bell (1830-1910)
"Daguerreotype of unidentified man with ptosis (drooping of an eyelid) by William Bell, taken in 1852. Bell was the Army Medical Museum's main photographer during the Civil War".
Note: Hand-colored and retouched daguerreotype. - The medical diagnosis "ptosis" attributed to this 1852 portrait explains nothing about the cause (Phineas' physician, J.M. Harlow, relates in April 1849 the same diagnosis: ""Ptosis [drooping] of the left eyelid..."). - W. Bell became the Army Medical Museum's main photographer not before 1861, where he took many photographs of wounded soldiers. Therefore his 1852 portrait has nothing to do with is later activity as the Army Medical Museum's main photographer (Bell's activity as a daguerreotypist began in 1848. He was listed in Philadelphia, Pa., 1852-1860. In fact this daguerreotype is signed on the red fabric "W. Bell Jenny Lind Gallery 86 N. Second St. Phila").

If the year 1852 is correct, the fig. B could have been taken eight years before fig. A., which may show Gage in his later years. This would explain the younger aspect. After the accident Gage continued to work in various places like New England, Chile and California as a long-distance stagecoach driver or a farmer. Working in all-weather conditions has inevitably matured his face in a few years.

Phineas Gage: two pictures overlaid (Gianni Casagrande)
fig. A + B overlaid

click to enhance
Life mask and skull of Phineas Gage
(Harvard’s Countway Library of Medicine)

Diagram of damage according to Ratiu (© Deakin University 2010) (click to see animation)
Reconstruction of the trajectory of the tamping iron
(click for animation
© P. Ratiu and I.-F. Talos in:
The New England Journal of Medicine, vol. 351, issue 23)

click to enhance

Phineas Gage skull diagram 1868

Life mask compared

Does he look like Gage's life mask?

His charisma looks far from seriously traumatized. The nose and chin look a little different to me. This view is confirmed by Prof. Dr. med. Andreas Neff at Marburg: "On the life mask in side view is noticeable that Mr. Gage had a clearly longer nose, than the strictly frontal exposure [on fig. A] let's suppose. There is by no means a small "snub-nose", as suggested by the Wilgus' photograph.
Chin area retouched?

Why the chin area seems to be retouched?

(enlarged detail from  WilgusPhoto2008-12-19_Unretouched_Color.jpg)

Perhaps to hide the chin dimple as it can be seen on fig. B?

Are these railworker's hands?

Do horny railworker hands look smooth like these? They rather seem to belong to an aristocrat...

cheek scar

*Why on the photographs there can be seen any scar at all on the left side of his face where the bar entered?

"The mind sees what he wants to see...".
Indeed, Harvard hasn't officially confirmed the daguerreotype's authenticity.

Anyway, the main purpose of this small 'study' is to indicate whether the two portraits represent the same or different individuals. Now it's on you to decide if figure B may be attributed to the younger Phineas Gage.

Your opinion is important.

Please e-mail to Roberto Casagrande, Lugano (Switzerland)

Next page: Further findings, evidents, challenges and opinions

External links:

Wikipedia - Phineas Gage
Phineas Gage Information Page
"Meet Phineas Gage"

See also my unique American daguerreotype

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This site was created
on January 13, 2010 and last updated on February 2, 2010

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