Marinus Cureau de la Chambre
Marinus Cureau de la Chambre (1594-1669) was perhaps the most famous of all the French chiromancers of this period. Although he contributed very little to the practical development of chiromancy, like Taisnier a hundred years before him, he too had the ear of the Royal Court and the private confidence of Louis XIV. Officially, De la Chambre was only personal physician to the King, but it is known that he also acted as his private oracle.
He wrote only one treatise on chiromancy, published separately in Paris in 1653 but which was also included in his encyclopaedic work 'L'Art de Connaitre Les Hommes' of 1662 as a 'Discours sur les Principes de la Chiromancie'. This whole work is an extensive treatise on the principles of chiromancy, physiognomy and astrology and was translated into English by a certain John Davies as 'The Art How to Know Men' and published in London in 1665. As the title of the chiromantic essay suggests, the main emphasis of the text is the elucidation of the principles involved in the study of chiromancy to show why it is that the physical form of the hand should reveal the vertues and inclinations of the man. He includes no diagrams of hands with multitudes of signs and markings at all!
The treatise is essentially a general text on what might now be referred to as 'constitutional psychology', with considerations on the physiognomical significance of the whole body as well as of the face and the hand. He accepts the principle of interreflectivity, that each organ and part of the body correlates with specific areas of the hands and face and using astrological physiognomy reveals why he thinks the ancients labelled the fingers as they did rather than following the natural order of the planets. The natural sympathy between the index finger and the liver, the middle finger and the spleen and the ring finger and the heart reveals why these fingers are labelled as they are given that Jupiter, Saturn and the Sun rule the liver, spleen and heart respectively.
He also recognises that all hands are different and that the lines on the hand can change. He goes to some length to explain how the lines on the palm are not caused by the folding action of the hands since '..the articulations are equal in all men who nevertheless have all their lines unequal..'. The lines must therefore be formed by some other means or by some 'secret influence' of the soul or the spirit. A considerable part of the book therefore considers the 'Natural Inclinations', the 'Vertues and Vices' and the 'Motions' of the Soul, the Heart, the Spirit and the Passions.
As it stands, it reads more like philosophical treatise on human understanding than a working chiromantical text and as such may be the first real attempt to give a philosophical basis to the divinatory study of the hand. Although from this we can see that Cureau de la Chambre contributed little to the practical body of chiromantical knowledge, his life and work again clearly illustrates how wide-spread and widely accepted the practice of both chiromancy and astrology were during this whole period.
By the end of the sixteenth century, chiromancy in Europe has become a more or less coherent tradition with a general agreement on nomenclature and methods of interpretation utilising astrological symbolism. The concern was to integrate chiromancy and astrology in such a way so as to ensure chiromancy a secure intellectual and metaphysical basis. The earlier forms of simple 'fixed sign' interpretations were being left behind as it was recognised that many features of the hand needed to be read together including the morphology of the hand rather than just the lines.
However it is also obvious that there was still a considerable preoccupation with making predictions from the hands, particularly as far as the estimation of lifespan and manner of death was concerned. Despite the fact that many chiromancers catered for the higher echelons of society, the bulk of their work would still have been with the ordinary folk of the world for whom these concerns were paramount, given the conditions of life at that time. But, as we can see from the foregoing account of the most eminent practitioners of the art in these centuries, chiromancy was very much in favour with all strata of society in all areas of Europe, from the Popes and Royal Courts through to medics and physicians, even to the point of its acceptance as a legitimate study in some of the Universities of the day. The sixteenth and seventeenth centuries was the 'Golden Age' of chiromancy, for this was the time when it was the most widely accepted as a respectable academic and intellectual discipline.