We use cookies to give you a better experience. Carry on browsing if you're happy with this, or read our cookies policy for more information.

Skip main navigation

Inside Lombroso’s Museum

In this video, Cristina Cilli, curator of the Museum of Criminal Anthropology at the University of Turin takes us on a tour of the museum.
I’m here with Cristina Cilli, who is the curator of the Lombroso Museum. And we’re also stood here with Cesare Lombroso himself, or at least the skeleton of Lombroso. Why is it that Lombroso decided to leave his skeleton to the museum? Because in his holographic will he asked his students to prepare his body and his skeleton, to have it stay in his museum. This is typical of the scientific positivistic people of the 19th century. OK, now we’re going into the main room of the Lombroso Museum. And I think the first thing that would strike anybody that comes into this room is the number of skulls that Lombroso has in his exhibition.
Why is it that Lombroso had so many skulls, and where did he get them all from? What was the purpose of having them here? Lombroso started to collect these skulls at the end of his research, when he was a student during his studies in medicine. And he collected skulls, for example, in cemeteries. He’d go to…
So almost grave robbing, taking them from the graves themselves. Yes. And he tried to understand the difference between each one, and he took different measurements for his studies, concerning, for example, the viability of the dimension of the skull or other anthropological measurements. Another thing that guests at the museum might notice is the large number of wax heads, or death masks, that Lombroso had here. What does the descriptive label tell us about this person, and what is it that Lombroso is trying to express or represent with these displays? In particular, this wax mould shows a criminal. In Italian, ‘uxoricida’ means a husband that killed his wife.
And in this label, you can see all the notes concerning the person, for example, the age of this man, the weight of his brain, and all other measurements important for the study of these people. So where did all these wax heads come from? I mean, how did Lombroso manage to acquire so many over the time that he was working in Turin on his various research projects? Yes, these wax masks came from a colleague of Lombroso. His name was Lorenzo Tenchini, and he was a professor of anthropology in Pavia. And at the occasion of a congress in 1906, a congress of criminal anthropology, Lorenzo Tenchini gave to Lombroso this collection of criminals that shows different categories of criminals.
So what do we have in this cabinet? I can see a lot of knives and different tools that might be used by criminals when they were carrying out their business. What is Lombroso trying to express with this cabinet? What is he trying to explain to the person who comes to this museum? Lombroso was a big collector. And he collected them because they are a sign of different kinds of criminals. We are in the 19th century, so we have a strange kind of knife. And another item, very interesting in the particular, is this one. You see this crucifix? Yes, it’s a crucifix, but there is a blade, a knife, concealed within the crucifix.
Yes, we know that the people that used this knife were dressed… Like a priest or… Like a priest, yeah, and they were four people that go to kill people. So they were assassins. They were assassins, yeah. Oh, OK. Another thing that was of interest to Lombroso was the tattoos that the criminals that he researched had on their bodies. These were tattoos that they would generally get in prison or in the army, and they were a form of identification in many respects. And they were a way in which they could tell their story through the flesh, I suppose. Some of the tattoos that we see in the exhibition here have been drawn by Lombroso.
How many tattoos did he collect over the years? We have, more or less, 100 tattoos of different dimensions. Sometimes they were big like the person.
And in other cases, we have small tattoos that represents only the draw, not all the body of the person. And in general, Lombroso tried to make categories of tattoos. For example, the categories of religion, or the category of sex, and the category of politics. And this is at the base of the theory of Lombroso of atavism.
Another thing that Lombroso studied was the ways in which criminals express themselves, particularly through forms of art. What we have here is another one of his collections. Could you tell us a little bit more about what we have and why it is that he collected them? Yes, this is a collection of jars that came from a prison in Turin. And each cell has a jar for water. And he leaves on the surface of the ceramic different kinds of emotion, for example. This is a particularly interesting piece because what we have here is essentially a suicide note from a man who was incarcerated.
He wrote this on the pot just before he killed himself by hanging himself in the cell where he was imprisoned. Could you tell us what it is that he wrote in this? Yes, ‘I io sono un disgraziato’ means, I am a poor man. ‘Il mio destino edi morir in pricione strangolti’ means, my destiny is to die in prison, hidden.
So on this jar you can see the number of the cell, 150, the name of the prisoner, Carlo, 14 July, ‘innocente’, innocent, and the date is 1901. We’re coming to the end of our tour now, and I’d just like to take this opportunity to thank Cristina for taking us around this wonderful museum. And also, I’d like to thank the museum themselves, the Lombroso Museum of Criminal Anthropology here at the University of Turin. I also want to take this opportunity to ask one final question. And that is what message are you trying to give to the people that visit this museum? What do you want them to take away?
Yes, the main message to visitors is that they have to understand that they’re coming to an historical and scientific museum. And in particular, we can understand the mistakes of Lombroso because we say that he was ‘a son of his time’. And for us, it’s important that visitors, when they go back home, have the right message that this is an historical museum.
Throughout his lifetime, Cesare Lombroso collected skulls, skeletons, brains, wax models and various other types of objects as part of his research into the nature of criminal behaviour. This collection is now housed in the Museum of Criminal Anthropology at the University of Turin.
In this video, the museum’s curator, Cristina Cilli, takes us on a tour of this often gruesome collection and explains the key messages that the museum wants visitors to take away.
This article is from the free online

Crime, Justice and Society

Created by
FutureLearn - Learning For Life

Our purpose is to transform access to education.

We offer a diverse selection of courses from leading universities and cultural institutions from around the world. These are delivered one step at a time, and are accessible on mobile, tablet and desktop, so you can fit learning around your life.

We believe learning should be an enjoyable, social experience, so our courses offer the opportunity to discuss what you’re learning with others as you go, helping you make fresh discoveries and form new ideas.
You can unlock new opportunities with unlimited access to hundreds of online short courses for a year by subscribing to our Unlimited package. Build your knowledge with top universities and organisations.

Learn more about how FutureLearn is transforming access to education