History of Psychiatry Museum

Museo di Storia della Psichiatria

museo della psichiatria iconaThe collection of the History of Psychiatry Museum has a very long history. The museum was established in 1875 by the then director of San Lazzaro Psychiatric Hospital, Carlo Livi, in order to show – in a positivist light – the advances, discoveries and applications that were a source of pride for psychiatric science and its institution. The museum was expanded by subsequent directors who kept some of the obsolete treatment paraphernalia for its collection. Its founder wrote: “today all these old tools, used at a time when force prevailed over reason, have been brought out again, not in order to torment humanity, but to bear testimony to the fact that our present times are not only wiser than the olden times, but also kinder, more humane and more charitable.”

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    The collection is displayed in the Lombroso wing, situated inside the San Lazzaro Psychiatric Hospital complex. Constructed in 1892 and then named “Casino Galloni”, the building was originally designed to house harmless, chronically insane patients. Following the 1904 “Decree on mental institutions and the insane”, it was transformed into an isolation ward for “discharged insane criminals” and “convicted lunatics”; two annexes with cells and surrounding wall were added to the wing which was then renamed after the scholar of criminal anthropology Cesare Lombroso. The building came to host around seventy inmates and from 1923 onward it also took in those with short-term convictions. It was not until 1972, and after hosting non-criminal inmates as well, that the building was eventually abandoned and its surrounding wall demolished, some photographs of which are kept in the records. The renovation, supervised by the Superintendency for Architectural and Environmental Heritage, has taken into account the building’s original spaces and materials (including the tables and benches that can be seen in the rooms, for example), the original colours and traces of the damage wrought by time, and particular attention has been paid to the marks left by the inmates, such as the graffiti that can be seen under the portico over the entrance (made with different materials including shoe soles). Displayed on the ground floor is a selection of the most significant instruments of restraint, science lab tools and treatment machines. After an introductory section on the history of psychiatry and the San Lazzaro Hospital, we reach the multimedia room where video and audio clips give an idea of the wealth of materials held in the San Lazzaro archives. The room was designed with the valuable contribution of Annamaria Ternelli Gerra. On display in the left wing of the building are the oldest instruments restraint, a number of tools used in early attempts to treat mental illness as well as some skulls from what was once the vast collection of the raniological Museum (now mostly lost). On the other side of the rear courtyard is the right wing of the building with exhibits relating to activities of the inmates, scientific research and twentieth-century therapies including electric shock treatment. There are also some very interesting marks left by the inmates to be seen, particularly those found in one of the cells where demands for better treatment are intermingled with fantastical images recalling the Apennine area near Reggio Emilia. The museum display ends with three cells featuring educational panels and multimedia tools that show the various stages during which the psychiatric hospital was phased out and the current mental health services were put in place. The aim is to raise awareness of the struggle against the stigma attached to those who suffer from mental health problems and against people’s prejudices in their regard. The exhibit on the upper floor, by contrast, can be seen as an “open repository” which brings together the other items from the historical holdings of the former San Lazzaro Hospital. The first room features the impressive terracotta works and sculptures produced by the inmates between the late 1960s and 70s, as well as a selection of around 8,000 drawings made from the late 19th century through to the closure of San Lazzaro. The first school of drawing was opened in San Lazzaro by Augusto Tamburini, and was meant for well-to-do inmates who were not employed in manual jobs, while a modern painting and sculpture workshop was opened in the 1960s. The second room features two pieces of furniture made in the 19th century for the pharmacy of San Lazzaro Hospital exhibiting the tools used in the science labs that were set up by Carlo Livi in 1874 and dedicated to the memory of Lazzaro Spallanzani on the centenary of his death (1899). These included the histology, bacteriology, chemistry and microphotography labs (in addition to the Photographic Bureau tasked with portraying the physiognomies and postures of the mentally ill) as well as the psychology lab – one of the first in Italy – established by Gabriele Buccola in 1880. Next to these, laid out on a wooden platform and some racks reminiscent of the old displays at the Livi Library, are science and treatment tools, objects of everyday life and employment and further instruments of restraint. Along the display areas visitors will notice a number of QR codes; these were designed by the students of the “Matilde di Canossa” Human Sciences secondary school under the regional programme entitled “Io amo i beni culturali” (I love cultural heritage). By photographing them with a smartphone visitors will be able to access related additional contents posted on the City Museums’ website.


v. Amendola, 2 (Former S.Lazzaro area)
42122 Reggio Emilia


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History of Psychiatry Museum