During my last trip to Italy I had the pleasure of visiting Turin, one of the most beautiful cities in the country. At the end of the 1800s and the beginning of the 20th century, the city was rife with scientists, doctors and men of culture. One of them was Cesare Lombroso (1835-1909), often referred to as the father of criminology. He created the theory of anthropological criminology, which essentially stated that criminality was inherited, and that someone “born criminal” could be identified by physical (congenital) defects, which confirmed a criminal as savage or atavistic. Lombroso started his “collection” of skulls and skeletons when he joined the army as a doctor and started measuring and comparing the different skulls and brains for his theory. His collection first opened to the public in 1884, but the actual museum was opened in 2009. As you enter the museum you are shuttled back in time, at the beginning of the 20th century. A video is played at the beginning of the exhibition after which you are welcomed by the skeleton of Cesare himself, who very kindly donated his body to science.
The first room of the museum is entirely dedicated to a collection of skulls, wax masks and weapons belonging to criminals, brigands and killers. Almost all the reperts come with the name of the person that they belonged to, which I found very interesting; I thought it actually created a link between their life and the story that we are told about criminals.
The amount of reperts is just astonishing! I should probably let you guys know at this point that Lombroso was often criticised regarding the procurement of these skulls and brains, if you know what I mean…
Cesare Lombroso mostly focused his studies on the criminals as opposed to the crime, trying to understand how they could be “redeemed”. His research enabled him to create a bond with some of the “samples” of his studies; he studied how they behaved in prison, their approach to the punishment and their “creativity” during their imprisonment.
The exhibition goes on with many more reperts, studies and testimonials from the era, and it ends with a reproduction of Lombroso’s study, where you can listen to the scientist’s last words read out loud. Cesare’s studies have been highly criticised both while he was alive and many years after his departure. Sometimes it’s difficult to understand that mistakes (both in judgment and practice) are part of the natural flow of events during studies. Mistakes and errors play a main part in progress, and we must learn from them. That’s why, after a group of people tried to shut down the museum because of its “Apology of racism” the museum started a petition, which everybody can sign (here), to help prevent its closure.
The Museo Cesare Lombroso is open to the public Monday to Saturday, from 10 am to 6 pm and it’s definitely worth a visit if you find yourself in Turin.
*Copyright Museo di Antropologia criminale “Cesare Lombroso”, Università degli studi di Torino.*