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Monday, 6 November 2017

Cesare Lombroso – criminologist

Professor who first encouraged study of criminal mind


Cesare Lombroso changed the way the  world thought about criminals
Cesare Lombroso changed the way the
world thought about criminals
Cesare Lombroso, a university professor often referred to as ‘the father of criminology’ was born on this day in 1835 in Verona.

Although many of his views are no longer held to be correct, he was the first to establish the validity of scientific study of the criminal mind, paving the way for a generation of psychiatrists and psychologists to create a greater understanding of criminal behaviour.

In broad terms, Lombroso's theory was that criminals could be distinguished from law-abiding people by multiple physical characteristics, which he contended were throwbacks to primitive, even subhuman ancestors, which brought with them throwbacks to primitive behaviour that went against the rules and expectations of modern civilized society.

Through years of postmortem examinations and comparative studies of criminals, the mentally disturbed and normal non-criminal individuals, Lombroso formed the belief that ‘born criminals’ could be identified by such features as the angle of their forehead, the size of their ears, a lack of symmetry in the face or even arms of excessive length. He even argued that certain characteristics – he called them “stigmata” – were common to particular types of offenders.

He also believed that criminals had less sensitivity to pain, sharper vision, a lack of normal morals, were more vain, vindictive and cruel, although he did not suggest that there was no prospect of anyone born with “stigmata” leading a blameless life.

Lombroso at work at the University of Pavia
Lombroso at work at the University of Pavia
Indeed, he proposed reforms to the Italian penal system that included more humane and constructive treatment of convicts through the use of work programmes intended to make them more productive members of society.

Lombroso’s theories were initially widely influential in Europe and the United States, even though over time the idea that criminal behaviour had hereditary causes was largely rejected in favour of environmental factors, and the idea that someone could be born a criminal was established as implausible.

At the time, however, Lambroso was a respected figure. Born into a wealthy Jewish family in Verona, descended from a long line of rabbis, Lombroso studied at the universities of Padua, Vienna, and Paris.

From 1862 until 1876 he was a professor of psychiatry at the University of Pavia and of forensic medicine and hygiene (1876), psychiatry (1896) and criminal anthropology (1906) at the University of Turin. He was also the director of a mental asylum in Pesaro. 

The monument to Lombroso in his home town of Verona
The monument to Lombroso in his home town of Verona
He published books entitled L’uomo delinquente (The Criminal Man; 1876) and Le Crime, causes et remèdes (Crime, Its Causes and Remedies; 1899).

In addition to his work in the field of criminology, Lambroso devoted much time to studying his belief that genius was closely related to madness.  He wrote a book in 1889, The Man of Genius, in which he argued that artistic genius was a form of hereditary insanity and in which he claimed that, in his exploration of geniuses descending into madness, he could find only six men who exhibited no tendencies towards madness - Galileo, Da Vinci, Voltaire, Machiavelli, Michelangelo, and Darwin – but that Shakespeare, Plato, Aristotle, Mozart and Dante all displayed what he called "degenerate symptoms".

The Roman amphitheatre in Verona
The Roman amphitheatre in Verona
Travel tip:

Verona, Lombroso’s home town – under Austrian rule at the time of his birth – is now the third largest city in the northeast of Italy, with a population across its whole urban area of more than 700,000. Famous now for its wealth of tourist attractions, of which the Roman amphitheatre known the world over as L’Arena di Verona is just one, the city was also the setting for three plays by Shakespeare – one of those geniuses Lambroso believed sat on the cusp of madness.  Romeo and Juliet, The Two Gentlemen of Verona and The Taming of the Shrew all had Verona as their backdrop, although it is unknown whether the English playwright ever actually set foot in the city.  There is a monument to Cesare Lombroso in a park also named after him on the banks of the Adige river opposite the Cathedral of Santa Maria Matricolare.

The Courtyard of the Statues inside the University of Pavia
The Courtyard of the Statues inside the University of Pavia
Travel tip:

Situated only 35km (22 miles) from Milan, Pavia has the advantages of close proximity to all the services and opportunities on offer in northern Italy’s principal city yet itself offers a calmer way of life amid its ancient streets and elegant buildings, which remain as a legacy of its stature as the one-time capital of the Lombardy region. It is a city of rich cultural heritage with 19 museums, four public libraries, four cinemas and theatres, two schools of music arts and a music conservatory. Its university, home to 24,000 students, was founded in 1361 and now has 13 faculties.


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