Understanding 19th Century Criminals – One Head at a Time

The head of 19th century physician and psychiatrist Cesare Lombroso has been preserved in a glass chamber since his death in 1909. The former professor of forensic medicine’s sleeping face is now displayed in the Museum of Criminal Anthropology in Turin, Italy, along with the wax-covered heads, brains, body parts and skulls of the soldiers, civilians and convicts whom he studied.

Although the exhibition opened recently, Lombroso displayed his collection to the public as early as 1884. The spectacle grew as scholars and doctors, who were interested in his work, sent more artifacts from various parts of the world to support his research. In 1892, he established the Psychiatric and Criminology Museum in Turin, where he formally presented the labelled skulls and wax-covered heads of convicts alongside the tools and weapons which they used to commit their crimes. Lombroso was interested in how physical features could indicate whether an individual was prone to crime or ‘madness.’


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