Donated by the Medicine Academy Museum in 1913, the phrenological collection consists of “phrenological heads” once kept by Gall, founder of the discipline, and his pupil Spurzheim, as well as plaster casts of the skulls and heads of famous individuals (artists, scientists, soldiers, politicians and criminals).
Among these are Raffaello Sanzio, Napoleon Bonaparte, the Prince of Talleyrand, the Count of Cavour, Goffredo Mameli, Vincenzo Bellini, and famous criminals such as Giorgio Orsolano, also known as “the hyena of San Giorgio.”
Phrenology was in vogue during the first half of the 19th century and constituted an initial attempt to anatomically locate cerebral functions. Phrenologists were convinced that the various “tendencies, moral qualities and intellectual faculties” which, to some degree, characterize each individual, are the result of different forms of brain development and therefore of skull shape. They thought an external investigation of the head could help identify “traces” of kindness, affectivity and a fighting spirit, of poetry and self-esteem...
An analysis of the heads and craniums of famous figures was thought to lay the scientific groundwork needed for the identification of such “traces”. What phrenologists created was a pseudoscience, yet the idea of localizing certain cerebral functions was indeed a superb intuition. From 1861 onwards, different functions from those they has imagined were located in specific areas of the brain (such as language).
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