Lorenzo Tenchini (1852-1906): Neuroanatomy and society

1Neurology Department, M. Mellini Hospital, Chiari, Italy.  walton AT libero.it
2General Psychology, University of Brescia, Italy
3History of Medicine, University of Brescia, Italy

At the end of the 19th century Phrenology was very popular in society and in Medicine. However, the correlation between skull conformation and personality was not further developed owing to its lack of scientific bases. In Italy at the same time, Cesare Lombroso (1835-1909) proposed a new approach to the study of cranial conformation and its influence on society, particularly between the morphology of the brain and criminality. An important role was played in this context by the anatomist Lorenzo Tenchini (1852-1906), who studied the relationship between neuroanatomy and society.

Lorenzo Tenchini was born in Brescia and studied Medicine in Pavia. He became a lecturer of Anatomy in 1880, at which time he wrote a book on the doctrine of Gall. In 1881 he published a volume on cerebellar anatomy. In the same year, at the age of 29 years, he was conferred the Chair of Anatomy at the University of Parma. In this city Tenchini began to study the morphology of the brains of criminals, later founding the “Museum of Criminal Anthropology”. He collected the brains of delinquents and wax masks of their faces. He studied the relationship between neuroanatomy and criminality and promoted the building of a lunatic asylum in the province of Parma. He was also interested in social medicine, including the pellagra scourge in Northern Italy.

He illustrated the Anatomy with microscopy research, particularly on the nervous system and its embryogenesis, and discovered anatomical variations in the cerebellum.

He wrote books for students including a monography on the brain, published by Vallardi, and his compendium of descriptive anatomy was very successful in Italy, confirmed by the fact that the first edition was sold out in a short space of time.

His main research works were important in the field of neuropsychiatry and anthropology. Tenchini was one of the founders of criminal anthropology in Italy and sought to explain criminal behaviour through the study of neuroanatomy.

Session IX.  Italian Heritage and the Galvani-Volta Controversy
Saturday, 24 June 2006, 2.50 - 3.15 pm

11th Annual Meeting of the International Society for the History of the Neurosciences (ISHN)

Pavia, Italy, 2006