To be Done with Cesare Lombroso?

An Incandescent Figure

As a historian and the scientific director of the Cesare Lombroso Museum of Criminal Anthropology, I must begin with a general disclaimer: sometimes, scientific ideas are wrong, and Lombroso’s frequently were, or else engendered negative consequences as they were passed from theory into practice or from Lombroso to his disciples.  

A racist, a misogynist, and for much of his life a supporter of the death penalty, Lombroso is an indefensible figure whose reputation has only worsened with the recent publication of hitherto unseen correspondence1. However, the fact alone that this 19th century figure has become a symbol displayed in football stadiums2 should alert us to a manipulation of his historical memory that must be assessed and explained lest the condemnation that rightly surrounds him spread unjustly to those working to conserve – in an always critical fashion – a precious museal and archival heritage. The Museo Lombroso has no interest in engaging in apologia for the man whose name it bears.  It tells the story of Lombroso, a psychiatrist and anthropologist who was born in Verona in 1835 and who died in Turin in 1909, without seeking to minimize or dissimulate his errors and his flaws. The museum conserves and seeks to valorize the collections that Lombroso left to the institution, encouraging research by students and academics into archives which consist of drawings and writing produced in psychiatric asylums and prisons, legal and police photographs, correspondence between scientists, reproductions of tattoos, collections of weapons, and so on3.


Portrait de Cesare Lombroso dans sa jeunesse

Portrait of Cesare Lombroso in his youth

Deuxième Congrès international d’anthropologie criminelle, Paris, 1889

Second International Congress of Criminal Anthropology, Paris, 1889

Portrait photographique de Cesare Lombroso (sans date)
Portrait de Cesare Lombroso (sans date)

on the left: Photographic portrait of Cesare Lombroso

on the right: Portrait of Cesare Lombroso

In order to analyse the various ends to which Lombroso and his work have been utilized since his death, it is important to begin by assessing the influence that he exerted over Italian culture during his lifetime, in particular at the end of the 19th century, and to explore the reasons behind his significant public profile, due for the most part to his engagement with the Italian Socialist Party. I will then discuss the main criticisms of Lombroso’s work that were successively put forward in public discourse, first by Catholic and idealist circles around the time of his death, then by the fascist movement, which targeted many of his closest collaborators, and finally by Gramscians. The third section of this article will turn to the period following the Second World War, the commemoration of the 50th anniversary of Lombroso’s death, and the instrumentalization of Lombroso as an example of an ideological dispositive in critiques of psychiatric institutions and bourgeois science.

While Lombroso has been the subject of numerous studies by historians in Italy and abroad over the course of previous decades – the first scientific biography was published in 19754 – he has yet to be ‘consigned to the history books’ in the figurative sense, and continues to elicit strong emotional reactions. We need only look to the polemic sparked off in 2009 when the University of Turin opened the Museum of Criminal Anthropology and its collections, compiled by Lombroso and his followers, to the general public. A protest movement quickly emerged calling for the museum’s immediate closure on the grounds that Lombroso had been responsible for the racist prejudices of northern Italians against southern Italians. A further example of Lombroso’s actuality comes from the field of neurobiological research, specifically from specialists in criminal behaviour who would elevate him into a noble forefather of research into deviancy and criminality.

However, when the literary critic Theodor de Wyzewa voiced his opposition to Lombroso and lamented his influence over Italian intellectuals more than a century earlier in an 1897 issue of the Revue des deux mondes, it was on an altogether different basis.

“[Italian writers] have shown themselves to be highly preoccupied with science’s new theories, or rather the hypotheses of science, and in particular those that are expounded daily, with an unshakeable assurance and fertility, by Italy’s ‘anthropologists’, ‘criminologists’, ‘psycho-physiologists’ of the school of monsieur Lombroso. We know how active and vocal this school is, and its pretension to transform into general laws the most minor phenomena observed in passing. Yet we have yet to measure the vast importance that this school has taken on in Italy, and the rather extraordinary repercussions that it has produced across many different areas of intellectual life. For every twenty books published in Italy at present, at least ten are clearly inspired by Lombrosian doctrines.”5 

Wyzewa, for whom Lombroso’s influence was “regrettable”, alludes in his text to the role that the psycho-anthropological school had come to play in the literary field, in particular in debates surrounding the permanence of aesthetic reason in the age of scientism and the creative redeployment of psychiatric doctrines.  Like many Italian intellectuals, Wyzewa was alarmed at the prospect that a doctor whose thought was currently in vogue could become a literary theorist and influence the field. His concerns were not unfounded: many authors, at the end of the century, were indeed inspired by Lombroso’s ideas. His major impact on Italian culture, by way of the articles and essays that he regularly wrote for the country’s most prestigious journals and in books by leading publishing houses, made Lombroso into a fashionable figure at a time when the sciences were becoming omnipresent in newspapers and were subject to ever greater public demand6. This was no mere editorial ploy that sought to exploit a niche in the literary market: Lombroso was one of the most prominent figures in a generation of researchers who believed that they had played a foundational role in the creation of the Italian state and who were determined to pursue a project of cultural reform that would consolidate a still-precarious political and social unity.7 But the new public role afforded to science brought with it a series of duties and demands that the field was incapable of satisfying. This overexposure led science to become the subject of controversies that opposed various political coalitions, providing numerous arguments to its detractors, and ultimately exacerbating the crisis of positivist scientism in Italy that Ferdinand Brunetière had summarized in his famous expression of 1895 as the “bankruptcy of science.”8

As a public figure and an intellectual better known for his combative attitude than his expertise, Lombroso became a symbol around which the debate as to the aspirations and the purposes of science in late 19th century Italian society could coalesce. Civiltà Cattolica, the Jesuit journal and mouthpiece for the Catholic Church’s position on new scientific discoveries,9 paid particularly close attention to Lombroso’s work. They contested Lombroso not only on the question of free will – an idea that criminal atavism refuted by challenging the religious notion of sin – but also on others that were important from a theological perspective such as scientific inquiries into the supernatural and the unknown of the kind undertaken by various representatives of Italian positivism. Cultural practices such as magnetism, sleepwalking and spiritism that had been investigated by scientists towards the end of the 19th century had already been condemned in the 1850s by the Church, which thus felt that its authority in matters of the marvellous and the exceptional, as well as in matters of illness, was now under threat.

These popular practices, which filled theatres and newspaper columns alike, came under fire from two opposing camps that were in fact waging war against one another. The first, religion, sought to preserve its cultural hegemony while the second, science, hoped to wrest this dominance away from the Church and to affirm a model of scientific rationality that the was challenged by the activities of magnetisers and occultists10. The research into hypnotism, suggestion, spiritism, and occult psychic abilities conducted by Lombroso and his colleagues ventured into a domain whose contours had hitherto been defined exclusively by the Catholic religion, the only body capable of defining what was miraculous – or demonic. The verification of the unknown and the supernatural through experiments sought to push the boundaries of knowledge, yet at the same time introduced a significant contradiction into organicist conceptions of science whose methods relied on facts and statistic quantification as their cornerstones11. Regardless of the pitfalls into which positivism may have fallen by pursuing a kind of factual mysticism and the elevation of science into an absolute, it is worth pointing out that in the 1870s and 1880s, Civiltà Cattolica did not dispute Lombroso’s ideas and in fact went as far as echoing his denunciations of the abuses of the Italian legal system and favourably citing him as a practitioner of therapeutic hypnotism in contrast to the commercial hypnotism of popular entertainment12

From the 1890s onwards, however, the situation changed radically. The most violent attack on Lombroso came in 1892, when he was portrayed as the leader of a group of scientists responsible for the spreading of socially corrosive materialist ideas and general miseducation, and as a member of a Judeo-masonic conspiracy that supposedly dominated the University of Turin, if not the entire city. His theories were the targets of vicious attacks: criminal atavism was denounced as a “monstrous assertion”, and L'uomo delinquente described as “a now obsolete book”13. Alongside a pitilessly dissection of the errors in his scientific method, Lombroso was described as a “known arch-materialist”, “a Jew, and proud of it”. His interest in spiritist and hypnotic practices and his physiological interpretation of these phenomena were also attacked, as was his reading of genius, which was rejected as an affront to human dignity14. In reality, there were other specialists far more radical than Lombroso: Eugenio Tanzi, in his Trattato delle malattie mentali, had likened religions to a form of collective paranoia; Max Nordau, in Dégénérescence, had ben more critical still of art and artists. Yet it was Lombroso who was the subject of the most virulent attacks, the price for his visibility in the media and his influence over other scientists.

During this period, Lombroso was becoming more and more politically engaged, a process that culminated in his much-commented adhesion to socialism in November 1893. More than any other Italian public figure at the time, Lombroso could bolster the scientific credibility of the new party. Though his criminological theories and his reduction of the anarchist movement to an abnormal physical phenomenon had generated a fair number of polemics, Lombroso’s adhesion was hugely significant for the nascent party, which had been founded in Genoa the previous year: one need only to look to the often enthusiastic and triumphalist tones in which his “conversion” to the party was feted in the international socialist press as a sign of the maturation and the clear success of Italian socialism.15

Lombroso’s public image was enhanced by this coverage, and he began to be considered as a valuable referent for a broad range of initiatives advanced by the first socialist movement, which was keen to establish a link between his work and the emancipation of individuals belonging to the lowest social strata through the application of new scientific knowledge. However, Lombroso’s own positions with regard to the political questions of the age were somewhat peculiar. Attempts to interpret broad, collective social phenomena using the concepts of evolutionary anthropology inevitably led to a contradictory attitude that oscillated between bold confidence in progress and a fundamental skepticism as to the processes through which society, classes, and institutions concretely developed. Particularly delicate was the theme of the masses and their role in modern society. Lombroso had to reconcile a rather rigid thesis – which held that the crowd weakened the superior qualities of the individuals and encouraged their baser instincts – with progressive idealistic and political visions. This contradiction led Lombroso to publicly adopt some disconcerting positions: alongside his condemnation of anti-Semitism, reactionary thought, militarism and imperialism, he aired a range of ideas on the socio-psychological and morphological characteristics of different races, carelessly applied the categories of “genius” and “madness”, and expressed a radical pessimism with regards to the parliamentary system and the emancipation of women.16

In spite of this, Lombroso became a spokesperson for socialist activists and for progressive, anti-clerical public opinion, and would remain one for some years17. Two episodes in particular demonstrate the public importance that Lombroso came to assume. The first was linked to his decision to donate his body to science and exhibit his skeleton in the museum that he had created at the University of Turin18. Contemporary newspaper reports made a great deal of Lombroso’s wish, which was duly reprinted on front pages as part of the vast media coverage of his death in 190919. This “strange will” prompted outpourings of sarcasm from right-wing and Catholic daily newspapers, and came in for particular scorn from French titles which were slow to forget his denunciation of anti-Semitism during the Dreyfus affair and his attacks on the growing black peril of militarism and clericalism on the other side of the Alps.20 For liberal commentators, however, Lombroso’s wish was evidence of a desire to “die as a scientist” by leaving “a final posthumous gift of himself to science”, a gesture of admirable humility, and a welcome incitation to philosophical reflection upon the fragility of human life.21

Sunday Magazine, 14 novembre 1909
Procès-verbal de dépôt du testament de Cesare Lombroso, octobre 1909
« La morte de Cesare Lombroso », Tempo, octobre 1909

on the left: Sunday Magazine, 14th November 1909

in the middle: Minutes of the deposition of the will and testament of Cesare Lombroso, October 1909

on the right: ‘La morte di Cesare Lombroso’, Tempo, October 1909

Lombroso is dead, “Long Live Lombroso !”

A second episode that is particularly illustrative of Lombroso’s public importance centred on the attacks launched against him by Brother Agostino Gemelli, which began during the last months of Lombroso’s life and continued after his death, with Gemelli announcing in the title of his book “the funeral of a man and his theory”22. He organized a conference on 21st February 1910 in the Teatro Balbo in Turin which brought together representatives of the Piedmontese clergy. However, Gemelli’s speech did not go ahead as planned: a sizeable crowd largely made up of students and social party members burst into the theatre and prevented him from speaking. The bitter altercation between the two groups continued in the streets of the city, where socialist sympathisers distributed a manifesto praising the recently deceased Lombroso.23 

Gemelli’s attacks were paralleled by those of Benedetto Croce and by Giovanni Gentile, both representatives of the idealist current. Decrying the gross errors committed by Lombroso, they sought to cast doubt upon the positivist culture that he represented as a whole, as well on as a range of new phenomena in Italian society: socialism, democracy, and the political centrality of the masses. Between the end of the 19th century and the start of the 20th century, the revolt of men of letters against the Lombrosian school also simmered over: for journals like Marzocco and La Voce, which promoted an aestheticizing approach, psychiatric appraisals of the lives of great authors seemed to correspond far too closely to the horizons of expectation of a massified public. They feared that the socially ascendant figure of the doctor would impinge upon the territory of literature, undercut the values of Truth and Beauty, and desacralize artistic genius24. In Benedetto Croce’s historiographical works, the thirty years making up the age of positivism were described as a negation of culture; for Croce, as for Gentile, Lombroso’s exaggerations and outright errors were the symbol of a sombre era which early 20th century Italy was at last leaving behind.25



Le monument à Cesare Lombroso, à Vérone, dans son emplacement d’origine

Monument to Cesare Lombroso, Verona, in its original location

In the years following the end of the First World War, in September 1921, the inauguration of a monument to Lombroso that had been commissioned by the Veronese authorities and financed by an international fundraising campaign offered an opportunity for an assessment of his legacy. The event prompted a vast, albeit short-lived, renewal in interest on the part of daily newspapers. Even as they were careful to praise the artistic qualities of the statue by Leonard Bistolfi, articles on the monument’s unveiling also emphasized the extent to which Lombroso’s ideas had faded into obscurity. For Augusto Guido Bianchi, a disciple of criminal anthropology and editor of the Corriere della Sera, the period of a dozen years that had passed since Lombroso’s death seemed far longer, such was “the silence surrounding his books and his oeuvre.” 26 

“No one could have envisaged such a decline twenty years ago,” wrote another journalist, “at a time when Lombrosian theories sparked a series of heated debates that stirred the scientific world, and when we students attended the lectures of the Master himself as if we were witnessing the messianic revelations of a prophet.”27

Croce and Gentile’s attacks on positivism found an echo in a series of critiques that emanated from a wholly different political perspective, namely that of Antonio Gramsci. For him, positivism had been the official culture of the reformist strain of socialism that the government of Giolitti had relied on to encourage the development of industry and freedom in the North at the expense of the South, which was abandoned to landowners and the criminal class. Gramsci accused Lombroso and his disciples of having justified the pact between the industrialists of the North and the ruling classes of the South by promoting racist and prejudicial views of southern peasants amongst the northern working class. By hampering the development of a revolutionary front uniting different exploited classes in this way, Gramsci considered that positivism’s racism had been the pivot of a form of domestic colonialism28. This line of critique did not circulate as soon as Gramsci articulated it: at the time, the founder of the Italian Communist Party was imprisoned by the fascist authorities. However, in the years following the Second World War, Gramsci’s thought would become very influential in readings of Italian culture in general and of positivism and criminal anthropology in particular.

Loathed by anti-Semites, appreciated by idealists for his creation of new tools for controlling crime (though they mocked his thought in general), celebrated by endocrinologists as the founder of their nascent discipline, and respected by criminologists and forensic doctors, Lombroso was amongst the figures celebrated as an incarnation of Italian genius by the fascist regime until the decisive turn of 193829. It was in that year that a raft of racial laws were passed, after which Lombroso was cast out by fascism as a Jew, a socialist and a positivist30. Giuseppe Maggiore, one of the regime’s most important legal scholars, ranked Lombroso alongside Freud and Marx as a symbol of the power that “Jewish materialism” had exerted over “19th century Italian culture”31. The anthropologist Giovanni Marro meanwhile denounced Lombroso, along with his son-in-law Guglielmo Ferrero, as an eminent figure of the “Jewish and Judaist current” that was now destined to fade into obscurity.32


After the racial laws entered into effect, the fascist authorities eliminated Lombroso’s name from the toponymy of Verona, Turin and Novara, embarking upon a harsh campaign of repression that also directly targeted his descendants. His son Ugo, a professor of human physiology at the University of Genoa, was dismissed from his chair. His son-in-law Mario Carrara, a professor of forensic medicine and the director of the Museum of Criminal Anthropology, was meanwhile dismissed from the University of Turin in 1932 after he became one of the twelve Italian academics to refuse to swear an oath of loyalty to fascism; suspected of anti-fascist activity, he was also imprisoned for a spell. Lombroso’s daughters Gina and Paola and his other son-in-law, Guglielmo Ferrero, went into exile, and their writings were forbidden as “Jewish literature”33. The monument in Verona was removed, though not destroyed34. The fate of this statue, which was first on public display before being removed and hidden from view, albeit preserved, serves as an apt metaphor for Lombroso’s legacy under the dictatorship: fascist policies that sought to control prostitution and juvenile delinquency more strictly had in fact been prefigured by positivist criminology.35

Lombroso in the Aftermath of the Second World War

In 1948, the city of Verona restored Lombroso’s monument following a decision by the municipal administration, then made up of representatives from the Christian Democrats, the Communist Party, and the Socialist Party36. In Paris in 1950, an exhibition on the history of psychiatric studies organized alongside the first World Congress of Psychiatry foregrounded Lombroso as one of the few Italians to have contributed to the discipline’s development37. However, in 1957 La Stampa published an inquiry into criminality in southern Italy which cited Lombroso as a representative of out-dated theories on the origins of crime that attributed criminality to individual nature rather than social contexts38. In reality, other thinkers had been far more radical than Lombroso in terms of their biologically deterministic explanations of the South’s problems. Criminal anthropology also had a number of fervent partisans in both the universities and psychiatric hospitals of southern Italy. Responsibility thus belonged to a large group of intellectuals, yet it was more expedient to attribute it solely to Lombroso, a preeminent figure of Italian positivism.

The perception of Lombroso as a proponent of an anti-meridional determinism in a period which saw a mass migration of southern Italians to the industrial centres of the North did not prevent the fiftieth anniversary of his death in 1959 from being marked by numerous academic commemorations. Legal scholars held a congress in his memory in his birthplace of Verona that was attended by the Minister of Justice and accompanied by a second congress and an exhibition on psychopathological art39. In Turin, La Stampa published a series of articles on Lombroso, featuring interviews with those who had known him personally as well as anecdotes and different points of view on the worth of his scientific enterprise40. In the absence of genuine historiographical studies and in the midst of opposing interests, divergent readings, and various dissimulations and prejudices, along with internal conflicts amongst criminologists under fascism, no single, univocal interpretation of Lombroso could emerge in the post-war period in Italy.41

It was only with time that the publication of Gramsci’s writing and research into the direct historical links between liberal Italy and the fascist regime would contribute to the construction of a negative perception of Lombroso amongst informed public opinion. This perception was only reinforced in the late 1960s and early 1970s by new elements that emerged with the process of decolonization, the American civil rights movement, the feminist movement, and the work of groups seeking to reform the penal system and psychiatric institutions. In the ‘long 1968’, Lombroso became a controversial figure who was painted as the most zealous proponent of repression in prisons and asylums, despite his critiques of such “total institutions”, of which he favoured a radical reform. The psychiatrist Agostino Pirella wrote that “Lombroso’s genius was that of a man without qualities, a servant of the bourgeoisie who made a show, from time to time, of objecting or being scandalized.” For Pirella, “the obsession of diversity, the anxiety of normality” that haunted Lombroso were revelatory of a wavering and “fascist” attitude42. Anthropologists determined to cut ties with Darwinist anthropology once and for all, as well as historians, were responsible for Lombroso’s demonization, denouncing the errors in his study of pellagra as correlating with the interests of the property-owning classes. His invective against the selfishness of landowners was dismissed as nothing but rhetoric, while his criminal anthropology was interpreted as an attempt to provide a scientific foundation for the right to sanction, punish, and isolate those who opposed Italy’s new bourgeois order43.  This critique by various but interrelated elements of the left in the 1960s and 1970s – the antipsychiatry movement, the feminist movement, and the movement for prison reform – depicted the father of criminal anthropology as an ideologue of the liberal, capitalist, and patriarchal regime44.

Once this stigma had developed in Italian culture, it deepened and spread to other countries. In the United Sates in the 1970s, the work of George Mosse and Stephen J. Gould promoted Lombroso as the founder of scientific racism and a proponent of the most extreme forms of essentialist anthropology, and by extension an inspiration for the Holocaust45. Historians, and those thought of as historians, here made a paradigmatic use of Lombroso, selecting particularly paradoxical statements by Lombroso that were openly racist or misogynist and deploying them as evidence of a broader opinion omnipresent in the repressive apparatus of the liberal state. As often happens, Lombroso’s writings were interpreted outside of the context of the culture and contemporary political debates that produced them, and without analysis of his relationships with other authors and events in the latter half of the 19th century that are very much present in his work46. Particularly illustrative of this partial reading of Lombroso is the occlusion until recent years of his defence of Judaism in the face of the threat posed by an alliance between nationalism and anti-Semitism, his pacifist and antimilitarist engagement, and his desire to reform Italian society47. All of these positions coexisted with his racism, his mistrust of the masses, and other attitudes in an instable and contradictory whole that merits a more nuanced understanding that would go beyond the demonization of Lombroso as the epitome of a prejudiced and repressive social Darwinism. Though Lombroso has been productively reassessed by researchers since the start of the 1980s, the various extrapolations that emerged in previous decades were later redeployed by small political factions, seeking legitimacy in a very different political and cultural context, that sought to use them as the basis for protesting the reopening of the Museo Lombroso.

The Museo Lombroso

This museum was at the centre of a strange controversy that was nonetheless emblematic of an Italian crisis. In 1985, an exhibition entitled La scienza e la colpa underscored for the first time the importance that the documents and objects collected by Lombroso – as evidence of life inside prisons and asylums – could have for an understanding of systems of control and repression and of the origins of the social sciences. Three years later, Ferruccio Giacanelli, a psychiatrist who had worked alongside Franco Basaglia in the psychiatric reform movement and who had been involved in the restoration and valorization of asylum archives, was the first signatory of a collective letter addressed to the local authorities and the University of Turin calling upon them to guarantee the conservation of Lombroso’s collections and their opening to the public. Signed by a hundred leading Italian intellectuals including numerous cultural anthropologists, folklore experts and historians of science, the letter prompted two parliamentary meetings that sought to expedite renovation work at the museum. Though they were critical of Lombroso, the signatories nonetheless recognized the value of his collections and decried the lacklustre efforts of the University of Turin to protect them and make them available: in short, they distinguished Lombroso’s thought from his museal heritage.48

Le Musée Lombroso aujourd’hui, salle n° 3
Le Musée Lombroso aujourd’hui, salle n° 4

The Museo Lombroso today, galleries no 3 and 4

Le Musée Lombroso aujourd’hui, salle n°6
Le Musée Lombroso aujourd’hui, salle n°8

The Museo Lombroso today, galleries no 6 and 8

Since then, over a number of years the University of Turin worked to restore these collections, to articulate a scientific discourse around them, and to find a place that could host them. To this end they created a working group that was overseen first by Umberto Levra and Mario Portigliatti Barbos, and later by Giacomo Giacobini. The poor state of the material and the absence of a catalogue made this a long and arduous process, and the museum only opened in November 200949. Today it enjoys a considerable level of success amongst the public, with more than 20,000 visitors a year during the first decade of its activity (for a total of 224,275, to be precise), as well as broad media attention and the praise of specialists. However, since the project to reopen the museum was first advanced, the climate has changed dramatically: conceived at a time when Italian culture had been stimulated by writings of Foucault, the project only came to fruition years later in the final throes of Berlusconism, which had introduced a toxic racism into Italian society by way of the Lega Nord. Following the museum’s inauguration, no less than seven parliamentary consultations thus took place calling for the closure of the newly opened institution, while a “No Lombroso” committee was founded with an online campaign that registered almost 10,000 individuals.

This wave of protest brought together a range of different groups. At first, the attacks on the museum sought to challenge the image of the process of state unification in the context of the 150th anniversary celebrations of the founding of modern Italy. The populist and reactionary ideas of various neo-Bourbonist movements that had emerged in southern Italy at the time were amplified by the Lega Nord, which promoted the idea of Italian unification as a brutal colonial conquest carried out by the House of Savoy rather than the result of collective aspirations towards a new order based on principles of liberty, painting it as a form of violence carried out against naturally different peoples. Lombroso, an atheist and materialist Jew, was here depicted as the theorist behind a conquest that ruined the North, destroyed the mythical wealth of the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies, and shattered the power of the Catholic Church. These ideas were also used to attack the Democratic Party that was then in power and the guarantor of national unity, and to explain the social and economic crisis that had spread to Italy in 2008 and which had impacted regions in the South in particular.50

Years after the fireworks of the 150th anniversary of unification ended, today the discourse against the museum is gradually shifting. The preferred critique now relates to waste in public expenditure. The notion that the Museo Lombroso was void of historico-documentary worth was already present in earlier protest, but has reached new prominence following the success of the 5 Star Movement and Beppe Grillo’s singling out of the museum51. The second argument pertains to the respect of human remains52. The remains held by the museum are thought to be those of soldiers in the Bourbon army defeated by Garibaldi, deported to concentration camps in the North and vivisected by Lombroso, as well as those of bandits exterminated during the conquest of the southern kingdom. The existence of an anatomical collection at the museum is described as an unicum, a vestige of a barbaric era, evidence of Lombroso’s insane experiments that were harbingers of those carried out by Nazi doctors at Auschwitz53. The objection amongst certain branches of the Catholic Church to university anatomical collections has been joined, at least in Turin, by a sense of wrongdoing linked not the events of 1860 but rather to the way in which southern immigration to the large northern industrial city was managed until very recently. In September 2019, an exhibition centring on the photographic collections of the Museo Lombroso at the National Museum of Cinema in Turin was criticized by parts of the press, who imputed anti-southern intentions to the display despite the fact that it explicitly denounced the racist elements of Lombrosian thought and its many nefarious consequences, in particular in post-colonial countries54.

Exposition temporaire « Les milles visages de Lombroso » (1/3)

 Temporary exhibition, « Lombroso’s thousand faces » (1/2)

Exposition temporaire « Les milles visages de Lombroso » (2/3)
Exposition temporaire « Les milles visages de Lombroso » (3/3)

 Temporary exhibition, « Lombroso’s thousand faces » (1/2)

A legal dimension was added to the debate in 2012, when the mayor of the hometown of Giuseppe Villella, the Calabrian criminal whose skull Lombroso used as the keystone of his criminological theory, took legal action against the University of Turin to secure the return of his hitherto forgotten remains. The request was initially granted before being overturned by an appeals court in Catanzaro in 2017, which judged that the exhibition of Villella’s skull was legitimate on educational and museal grounds. In June 2019, the court of cassation in Rome closed the case, recognizing the legality of the museum’s possession and exhibition of the skull55. However, this judgment unsurprisingly did little to silence critics who were outraged that a “racist” museum could benefit from the protection of the law in such a way56. This confusion has been perpetuated by influential figures in the cultural establishment who have continued to spread misinformation surrounding the purpose of the Museo Lombroso at the highest institutional levels.57

Le crâne de Giuseppe Villella et l’une des études que lui a consacrées Cesare Lombroso

The skull of Giuseppe Villella and one of Cesare Lombroso’s studies of him

The imaginary Lombroso constructed by neuroscientists and journalists offering sensationalist readings of his work has been put to further use on the international stage. Again he is split between rehabilitation and condemnation, between a precursor of research into the relationship between mind and behaviour, and a mad or incompetent scientist who paved the way for the worst horrors of the 20th century58. Even in this debate, the historical figure and the work of Lombroso are secondary: in these invocations of a phantom Lombroso, what is really under discussion is the role of science in the structures of our society.

Unfold notes and references
Retour vers la note de texte 7910


Silvano Montaldo, Donne delinquenti. Il genere e la nascita della criminologia, Rome, Carocci, 2019.

Retour vers la note de texte 7911


“Atalanta, striscione imbarazzante di Lombroso a Napoli”, Corriere dello Sport, 3rd January 2018 [on line].

Retour vers la note de texte 7912


Silvano Montaldo (ed.), Il Museo di Antropologia criminale Cesare Lombroso dell’Università di Torino, Cinisello Balsamo, Silvana editoriale, 2015.

Retour vers la note de texte 7913


Luigi Bulferetti, Cesare Lombroso, Turin, Utet, 1975. Lombroso studies have undergone a series of different phases and have recently enjoyed an international expansion. For an overview, see: Silvano Montaldo, “Lombroso: The Myth, The History”, Crime, History & Societies, vol. 22, no 2, 2018, p. 31-61.

Retour vers la note de texte 7914


Theodor de Wyzewa, “Le roman italien en 1897”, Revue des deux mondes, t. CXLIV, 1897, p. 698.

Retour vers la note de texte 7915


Andrea Rondini, Cose da pazzi. Cesare Lombroso e la letteratura italiana, Pisa-Rome, Istituti editoriali e poligrafici internazionali, 2011, p. 9-16.

Retour vers la note de texte 7916


Paola Govoni, Un pubblico per la scienza. La divulgazione scientifica nell’Italia in formazione, Rome, Carocci, 2002, p. 105-147.

Retour vers la note de texte 7917


Luisa Mangoni, Una crisi di fine secolo. La cultura italiana e la Francia fra Otto e Novecento, Turin, Einaudi, 1985, p. 3-40; Anne Rasmussen, “Critique du progrès, ‘crise de la science’ : débats et répresentations du tournat du siècle”, Mil neuf cent. Revue d’histoire intellectuelle, no 14, 1996, p. 89-119.

Retour vers la note de texte 7918


Carlo Bovolo, I cattolici italiani e la scienza. Il discorso apologetico sulla stampa clericale nell’età del positivismo, Milan, Editrice Bibliografica, 2017, p. 17-63.

Retour vers la note de texte 7919


Chiara Gallini, La sonnambula meravigliosa. Magnetismo e ipnotismo nell’Ottocento italiano, Milan, Feltrinelli, 1983, p. 147-151.

Retour vers la note de texte 7920


Francesco Paolo de Ceglia, Lorenzo Leporiere, La pitonessa, il pirata e l’acuto osservatore. Spiritismo e scienza nell’Italia liberale, Milan, Editrice Bibliografica, 2018.

Retour vers la note de texte 7921


Francesco Salis Seevis, “La scala del delitto in Italia”, Civiltà Cattolica, series X, vol. 11, 1879, p. 257-268; Giovanni Giuseppe Franco, “L’ipnotismo tornato di moda”, Civiltà Cattolica, series XIII, vol. 3, 1886, p. 5-18, 129-149 ; Giovanni Giuseppe Franco, “Pericoli delle assemblee spiritiche”, Civiltà Cattolica, series XV, vol. 6, 1893, p. 15-36.

Retour vers la note de texte 7922


Francesco Salis Seewis, “Civiltà moderna, scienza e malfattori”, Civiltà Cattolica, series XV, vol. 3, 1892, p. 143-153, 400-411.

Retour vers la note de texte 7923


Giovanni Giuseppe Franco, “Pickman e Lombroso a Torino ossia l’ipnotismo chiaroveggente”, Civiltà Cattolica, series XIV, vol. 6, 1890, p. 285-311; Giovanni Giuseppe Franco, “Indole degli agenti dello spiritismo”, Civiltà Cattolica, series XV, vol. 5, 1893, p. 535, 537; Valentino Steccanella, “L’uomo di genio, scoperta di C. Lombroso”, Civiltà Cattolica, a. 46 (1895), series XVI, vol. 3, 1895, p. 5-18.

Retour vers la note de texte 7924


Marco Scavino, “L’interesse per la politica e l’adesione al socialismo”, in S. Montaldo, P. Tappero (eds.), Cesare Lombroso cento anni dopo, Turin, Utet, 2009, p. 117-126.

Retour vers la note de texte 7925


Marco Scavino, “L’interesse per la politica e l’adesione al socialismo”, in S. Montaldo, P. Tappero (eds.), Cesare Lombroso cento anni dopo, Turin, Utet, 2009, p. 117-126.

Retour vers la note de texte 7926


“I nostri grandi scomparsi. Cesare Lombroso”, Il grido del popolo, 1st May 1910.

Retour vers la note de texte 7927


Archives of the “Cesare Lombroso” Museum of Criminal Anthropology, Turin, Donation Carrara, Handwritten deposition of the will of Professor Cesare Lombroso, son of Aronne, Turin, 25th October 1909 (the archives are part of the museum system of the University of Turin, herein: IT SMAUT).

Retour vers la note de texte 7928


IT SMAUT, Lombroso 35. The folder contains a collection of international press clippings on the death of Lombroso, including 288 articles in French (9 from Swiss newspapers and 9 from Belgian newspapers), 85 in Italian, and 54 in English (from British and American titles).

Retour vers la note de texte 7929


“L’autopsia del cadavere. Lo scheletro al museo antropologico”, Corriere d’Italia, 22nd October 1909; “I funerali di Cesare Lombroso. Il feretro”, Il Momento, 21st October 1909; “Le cerveau de Lombroso”, Peuple Français, 21st October 1909.

Retour vers la note de texte 7930


Nino Berrini, “La salma di Lombroso a servizio della scienza”, Corriere della Sera, 22nd October 1909.

Retour vers la note de texte 7931


Agostino Gemelli, Le dottrine moderne della delinquenza. Critica delle dottrine criminali positiviste, Firenze, Libreria editrice fiorentina, 1908; Agostino Gemelli, I funerali di un uomo e di una dottrina: in morte di Cesare Lombroso, Monza, Tipografia degli Artigianelli, 1910 (2nd ed.: Florence, Libreria editrice fiorentina, 1911).

Retour vers la note de texte 7932


“I giudizi di Padre Gemelli sull’opera lombrosiana”, La Stampa, 11th December 1909; “La conferenza di Padre Gemelli interrotta coi clamori e coi fischi al Teatro Balbo di Torino”, La Stampa, 22nd February 1910; “Le teorie di Lombroso giudicate da P. Gemelli. Scandalose scenate di intolleranza e di violenza”, Il Momento, 22nd February 191; “La sorte toccata a Torino al frate socialista rinnegato”, Il grido del popolo, 26th February 1910.

Retour vers la note de texte 7933


Andrea Rondini, Cose da pazzi. Cesare Lombroso e la letteratura italiana, Pisa-Rome, Istituti editoriali e poligrafici internazionali, 2011, p. 17-18, 81.

Retour vers la note de texte 7934


Giovanni Gentile, “La filosofia in Italia dopo il 1850. III. I positivisti. VI. Cesare Lombroso e la scuola italiana di antropologia criminale”, La Critica, 7, 1909, p. 262-274; Benedetto Croce, Storia d’Italia dal 1871 al 1915, Bari, Laterza, 1928, p. 133-151.

Retour vers la note de texte 7935


Augusto Guido Bianchi, “Il monumento a un dimenticato”, Corriere della Sera, 23rd September 1921.

Retour vers la note de texte 7936


Umberto Turola, “Un monumento a C. Lombroso”, La Nazione, 25th September 1921.

Retour vers la note de texte 7937


Antonio Gramsci, Alcuni temi della questione meridionale [1930]; Antonio Gramsci, Quaderni del carcere. Edizione critica dell’Istituto Gramsci, Turin, Einaudi, 1977, vol. II, p. 879; vol. III, p. 2279.

Retour vers la note de texte 7938


“I cimeli scientifici di Cesare Lombroso all’Esposizione di Chicago”, Archivio di Antropologia criminale, psichiatria e medicina legale, t. LIII, 1933, p. 495-496.

Retour vers la note de texte 7939


Francesco Germinario, Fascismo e antisemitismo. Progetto razziale e ideologia totalitaria, Rome-Bari, Laterza, 2009, p. 36, 47-50, 52.

Retour vers la note de texte 7940


Giuseppe Maggiore, “Logica e moralità del razzismo”, La difesa della razza, 5th September 1938, p. 31-32.

Retour vers la note de texte 7941


Giovanni Marro, “Razzismo vero razzismo spurio”, La difesa della razza, 5th June 1942, p. 4.

Retour vers la note de texte 7942


Delfina Dolza, Essere figlie di Lombroso. Due donne intellettuali tra ‘800 e ‘900, Milan, Angeli, 1990, p. 103-105, 159-165.

Retour vers la note de texte 7943


Archivio storico del Comune di Verona, Atti del podestà, n. 625, 29th December 1942.

Retour vers la note de texte 7944


Mary Gibson, Nati per il crimine. Cesare Lombroso e le origini della criminologia biologica, Milan, Bruno Mondadori, 2002, p. 247-357.

Retour vers la note de texte 7945


Archivio storico del Comune di Verona, Atti del Consiglio comunale, 9th November 1948, n. 117; Serie Carteggi, n. 25203/1947.

Retour vers la note de texte 7946


Valeria P. Babini, Liberi tutti. Manicomi e psichiatri in Italia: una storia del Novecento, Bologna, il Mulino, 2009, p. 129.

Retour vers la note de texte 7947


Nicola Adelfi, “Non è vero che si nasca delinquenti. Lo si diventa per suggestione sociale”, La Stampa, 17th November 1957.

Retour vers la note de texte 7948


“Aperto dal ministro di Grazia e Giustizia il congresso nazionale di criminologia”, L’Arena, 20th October 1959.

Retour vers la note de texte 7949


Giuseppe Gallico, “Come Cesare Lombroso a Torino faceva lezione di criminologia”, La Stampa, 16th October 1959; Francesco Argenta, “L’arte figurativa è efficace per curare i malati di mente”, La Stampa, 19th October 1959.

Retour vers la note de texte 7950


Corrado Tumiati, Vite singolari di grandi medici dell’Ottocento, Florence, Valecchi, 1952, p. 69-79.

Retour vers la note de texte 7951


Agostino Pirella, “Prefazione”, in Cesare Lombroso, L’uomo di genio (1888), Napoleone, Rome, 1971, p. XVI.

Retour vers la note de texte 7952


Alberto De Bernardi, Il male della rosa. Denutrizione e pellagra nelle campagne italiane fra ‘800 e ‘900, Milan, Angeli, 1984, p. 109-113, 121-123.

Retour vers la note de texte 7953


Alberto Asor Rosa, La cultura, Storia d’Italia, vol. IV, Dall’unità a oggi, vol. II, Turin Einaudi, 1975, p. 895; Luigi Lombardi Satriani, Menzogna e verità nella cultura contadina del Sud, Naples, Guida, 1974, p. 180-181; Id., “Lombroso scienziato razzista”, Storia illustrata, novembre 1978, p. 61-67; Sandra Walklate (ed.), Gender and Crime. Critical Concepts in Criminology, vol. 1 Sex and Crime or Gender and Crime?, London-New York, Routledge, 2012, p. 9-39.

Retour vers la note de texte 7954


George L. Mosse, Toward the Final Solution. A History of European Racism, New York, Howard Fertig Inc., 1978, p. 83-87; Stephen Jay Gould, The Mismeasure of Man, New York-London, Norton, 1981, p. 124-125.

Retour vers la note de texte 7955


Giuseppe Gangemi, Stato carnefice o uomo delinquente? La falsa scienza di Cesare Lombroso, Milan, Magenes, 2019.

The criticism of Lombroso by Giuseppe Gangemi, professor of Sociology at Padua, also concerns the museum’s “supporters”: “What do the supporters of Lombroso’s museum today represent? They are, from a social point of view, representatives of white collar crime, convinced now as in the past that they are above the law and above ethics. They are representatives of a category of criminals enjoying an elevated social situation” (Giuseppe Gangemi, “Il cranio conteso di Giuseppe Villella (I parte)”, Foedus, no 38, 2014, p. 77).

Retour vers la note de texte 7956


Emanuele D’Antonio, “Aspetti della rigenerazione ebraica e del sionismo in Cesare Lombroso”, Società e storia, 2001, no 92, p. 281-309; Delia Frigessi, Cesare Lombroso, Turin, Einaudi, 2003, p. 197-290 ; Renato Girardi, Né pazzi, né sognatori. Il pacifismo democratico italiano tra Otto e Novecento, Pisa, Pacini, 2016, p. 173-182.

Retour vers la note de texte 7957


Archives de la Soprintentenza per i Beni artistici e storici, Turin, letters from Giacanelli and others, 22nd December 1988.

Retour vers la note de texte 7958


Giacomo Giacobini, Cristina Cilli, Giancarla Malerba, “Il riallestimento del Museo di Antropologiacriminale ‘Cesare Lombroso’ dell’Università di Torino. Patrimonio in beni culturali e strumento di educazione museale”, Museologia scientifica, t. IV, vol. 1-2, 2010, p. 137-147.

Retour vers la note de texte 7959


Silvano Montaldo, “La ‘fossa comune’ del Museo Lombroso e il ‘lager’ di Fenestrelle: il centocinquantenario dei neoborbonici”, Passato e presente, t. XXX, no 87, 2012, p. 105-118.

Retour vers la note de texte 7960


Silvano Montaldo, “Il cranio, il sindaco, l’ingegnere, il giudice e il comico. Un feuilleton museale italiano”, Museologia scientifica, t. 6, no 1-2, 2012, p. 137-146.

Retour vers la note de texte 7961


Maria Teresa Milicia, Elena Canadelli (eds.), “Il grande laboratorio dell’umanità. Il dibattito sulla repatriation dei resti umani tra storia e antropologia”, Contemporanea, t. XX, 2017, p. 109-146.

Retour vers la note de texte 7962


Maria Teresa Milicia, “Nel laboratorio sociale dell’odio: un anno di ordinario razzismo su Facebook”, Voci, t. XIII, 2016, p. 124-147; Maria Teresa Milicia, “How Lombroso Museum Became a Permanent Conflict Zone”, in V. Golding, J. Walklate (eds.), Museums and Communities. Diversity, Dialogue and Collaboration in an Age of Migrations, Newcastle upon Tyne, Cambridge Scholars Publishing, 2019, p. 42-60.

Retour vers la note de texte 7963


“‘Delinquenti napoletani’, è polemica sulla mostra di Lombroso a Torino”, Corriere del Mezzogiorno, 26th September 2019, p. 1-2; Alessandro Chetta, “Lombroso non muore mai”, Corriere della sera. Campania, 27th September 2019, p. 15; “Studi lombrosiani in mostra. È polemica: ‘Scatti razzisti’. ‘No, di pregio storico’”, Quotidiano nazionale, 7th September 2019, p. 25. On the latest development of the neo-Bourbonist movement, see: Maria Teresa Milicia, “Retour vers le futur Royaume des Deux-Siciles”, Passés Futurs, no 4; 2018 [on line].

Retour vers la note de texte 7964


Silvano Montaldo, “Sudismo. Guerre di crani e trappole identitarie”, Passato e presente, t. XXXII, no 93, 2014, p. 5-18; Maria Teresa Milicia, Lombroso e il brigante. Storia di un cranio conteso, Rome, Salerno editore, 2014.

Retour vers la note de texte 7965


Stefano Massini, “Il teschio del brigante e il fake di Lombroso”, La Repubblica, 21st August 2019, p. 36.

Retour vers la note de texte 7966


See for example the speech given by Jean-Noël Schifano at the 40th edition of the Priso Dorso, Palazzo Giustiniani, Rome, 20th June 2019 [on line].

Retour vers la note de texte 7967


Peter Becker, “Lombroso come ‘luogo della memoria’ della criminologia”, in S. Montaldo (ed.), Cesare Lombroso. Gli scienziati e la nuova Italia, Bologna, il Mulino, 2010, p. 33-51; Aman Amrit Cheema, Ashish Virk, “Reinventing Lombroso in the Era of Genetic Revolution: Whether Criminal Justice System Actually Imparts Justice or is Based on ‘Convenience of Assumption’?”, International Journal of Criminology and Sociological Theory, vol. 5, no 2, 2012, p. 936-946; Emilia Musumeci, Cesare Lombroso e le neuroscienze: un parricidio mancato. Devianza, libero arbitrio, imputabilità tra antiche chimere ed inediti scenari, Milan, Angeli, 2012; Adrian Raine, “The Criminal Mind”, The Wall Street Journal, 26th April 2013; Edoardo Boncinelli, “Il cervelletto di Lombroso. La neurocriminologia rilancia alcune tesi dello studioso. Ma serve cautela”, Corriere della Sera, 12th May 2013; Adrian Raine, The Anatomy of Violence. The Biological Roots of Crime, New York, Vintage Books, 2014.