Introductory Notes on the Origin of Phrenology: the Work of Vincenzo Malcarne

Fabio Martelli, Luigi Baratta, Stefano Arieti


The authors examine and evince the links between F.J. Gall's phrenology and Vincenzo Malcarne's studies of encephalous anatomy and mental disorders, especially in the ideas developed by the latter from 1760 to 1794. Malacarne came to believe in those years that mental disorders were organic in nature, being exhibited through alterations in the endocranium organs that could be anatomically detected and diagnosed by studying the patient's cranium. His correspondence with Bonnet enabled Malacarne to anticipate gall in positing that the faculties of the intellect are congenital and those of the endocranium are organs consisting of indivual parts each of which controls a specific intelllectual activity. This in turn strenghtened Malacarne's convinction that the cranbium's structure matched the development of its parts and led him to invent the cephalometer. Thus convinced of the compund nature of the endocranium's organsm, Malacarne went on to develop Bonnet's thesis whereby the peculiarity og the nerve cells and their interaction were assigned a central role in intellectual activities. Yet, despite the evident fact that Malacarne attributed to the cerebellum functions proper to the brain, the points at which his and Gall's ideas overlapped were such as to make ambiguous the former's violent polemics against the latter. Many of the criticisms he directed at Gall seemed to be dictated by Malacarne's desire to side with Napoleon's and the Catholic Church's condemnation of the former. Others showed that Malacarne wove together personal motives, especially irritation over Gall's outright rejection of his Encefalotomia and scientifically well grounded criticism of Gall's erroneous ideas concerning the substance of the cortex and the latter's links to nerves, to name the most prominent of many such errors. Even more damaging was Malacarne's unfounded allegation that Gall had less than a thorough grasp of anatomy in that it led the Italian medical establishment to view phrenology as a popular science for many decades thereafter. 


Key words: Malacarne - Phrenology 

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