Joseph Vimont was born in Caen, France, on March 27, 1795. He attended the Faculté de medicine de Paris, from which he graduated in 1818 with a dissertation on ophthalmia. Little else is known of his career with the exception of his publication of the magnificent Traité de phrénologie humaine et comparée from 1832 to 1835. He died in 1857.
The field of phrenology was founded in the early 19th century by Franz Josef Gall (1758–1828). Its basic tenets hold that different intelligences and personality traits have specific loci in the brain and that if a locus is large, it reflects an individual's strength in that trait. Such differences in brain shape corresponded to the shape of the cranium; hence, the cranium could be examined in order to detect certain traits.
In the 1830s, phrenology gained the attention of a number of influential physicians in France, notably François J. V. Broussais at the Faculté de medicine de Paris. A number of works were published on the topic, but none so magnificent as Joseph Vimont's Traité de phrénologie, which contained a large double folio atlas containing life-sized lithographs of human and animal crania.
By the end of the 1840s, scientists were debunking many of phrenology's most notorious claims, but it remained a popular field of study amongst lay people until late in the 19th century. Other movements can be said to have found their beginnings in phrenology, however, such as Broca's studies of brain localization, the study of the human animal (anthropology), and the study of the "races," which eventually led to many eugenics and ethnic purity movements. Indeed, Vimont's own work compares the crania of people of various ethnicities, as well as people with various talents and personality disorders.
The illustrations in the 133 plates were executed by a large number of artists and lithographed by the noted Godefroy Engelmann. The publisher, J.-B. Baillière, with offices in Paris and London, was a champion of phrenology and was responsible for disseminating most of the important French publications in the field in the 1830s and 1840s.
Lanteri-Laura, G. Histoire de la phrénologie: l'homme et son cerveau selon F. J. Gall. (Paris: Presses universitaires de France, 1970).
Van Wyhe, John. "The history of phrenology on the web." http://www.historyofphrenology.org.uk/
_______. Phrenology and the Origins of Victorian Scientific Naturalism. (London: Ashgate Publishing, 2004.)