“Lombroso’s 1000 faces”: criminal anthropology and physiognomy on show in Turin

by Barbara Palladino

On 25 September, Turin’s Cinema Museum inaugurated “Lombroso’s 1000 faces” (“I 1000 volti di Lombroso”), which until 6 January 2020 will display for the first time a range of photographs selected from the archive of the “Cesare Lombroso” Criminal Anthropology Museum, owned by the University of Turin. Some of the images were restored especially for the exhibition.

Cesare Lombroso was a doctor, sociologist, anthropologist, philosopher and jurist, and is often described as the father or modern criminology and founder of criminal anthropology. His work was deeply influenced by physiognomy and social Darwinism, to the point that it hinged on the idea that criminal behavior was determined at birth. According to him, individuals who committed crimes were “physically different” from the “normal” man because they carried anomalous traits and atavisms that led to their deviant social attitudes.

From 1860 to 1909, Lombroso catalogued an impressive number of photographs, which documented the criminal and psychiatric world. He was able to do so thanks to his close-knit network of coroners, criminologists and psychiatrists, as he researched the relation between photography and the social role of science between the end of the 19th century and the beginning of the 20th.

“Lombroso’s 1000 faces” is organized into four sections. The introduction focuses on the portraits of psychiatric patients and criminal anthropology. Lombroso studied the human face and other “forms of evidence” on delinquents’ bodies, such as tattoos. He considered the latter similar – in terms of purpose and semantics – to the markings on primitive people; this led him to develop the concept of “criminal atavism”, according to which delinquents were “modern savages” with specific physical traits.

The second section is dedicated to brigandage and political and juvenile crime, and showcases portraits of anarchists and revolutionaries. The third is all about the “criminal woman”, and the last one dives into criminology, racism and homosexuality. The exhibition ends with an area about mug shots and forensics, where portraits of various criminals, as well as information sheets and fingerprints are on display. Indeed, it was Lombroso who, in 1886, introduced photography and science into police investigation methods in Italy. He was followed by Salvatore Ottolenghi, who later became the first scholar to focus on scientific investigation techniques.

“Lombroso’s 1000 faces” thus offers visitors an imposing gallery of faces and stories that speak volumes about marginalization, mental disease, criminality and social revolution – through a quiet exercise of gazes, staring back at us and at the caducity of human nature.

National Museum of Cinema
Mole Antonelliana
Via Montebello, 20
10124 Turing  
Tel.: 011 813 8564


“Lombroso’s 1000 faces”: criminal anthropology and physiognomy on show in Turin

Via Montebello, 20
011 813 8564


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