To the Editor:
Abele De Blasio was a rather eclectic physician in the history of medicine, with interests ranging from ethnography, linguistics, sociology, botany, chemistry, and dentistry to wider horizons within the field of anthropology.1 Starting in 1892, with the authorization of the renowned Minister of the Interior Giovanni Giolitti, he began to carry out the research on the analogy between crime and the geometric shape of the face and the human skull. The idea of setting up an anthropometric office in the first police headquarters in the Kingdom of Italy was created to broaden the general perspective of criminal anthropology, placing this science at the service of public security in the country. At that time, the Italian school of criminal anthropology was permeated with biologist and positivist thinking. In fact, this scholar agreed with the Lombrosian concept of a born criminal and argued that the behavior of offenders was quite certainly related to socioeconomic and environmental factors; however, their disregard for the law was above all due to inherited factors or diseases of the nervous system.2,3
The research of De Blasio4 was published in the article entitled “Crime and the geometric shape of the face amongst the Neapolitan criminals.” The initial part of the article contains criticism of all the staff employed in administration, including the police headquarters, prisons, municipalities, and so on, who until then had only been able to describe this mass of indicted individuals by the simple distinction between a round and oval face. De Blasio believed that it was necessary to not ignore the possibility of more accurate facial geometries that, as the famous Italian anthropologist Giuseppe Sergi claimed,5 would identify facial shapes as square, triangular tetragonal, pentagonal, and orbicular.
To supplement the shapes indicated by Sergi, De Blasio added “ellipsoidal, dolico ellipsoidal, brachy ovoid” as terms to describe facial shape. The extensive research and related observations of the anthropologist were focused on 200 faces of individuals who had been sentenced, and 200 faces of subjects who for some reason had never returned to the criminal courts. The 400 subjects were carefully examined by means of a geometric check in parallel with their biographies. The descriptions reported below show De Blasio's thorough anthropological analysis of the faces of socially deviant subjects such as Camorrists, thieves, and other convicted criminals, permeated by the theory, which he widely shared, on genetic transmission or pathological mutation as the basis of deviance and crime.6 The following provides the findings that emerged from De Blasio's notes on the connection between the orbicular, triangular, square, rectangular, and rhomboidal shape of the subjects examined and the type of crimes committed.
The orbicular shape (Fig. 1A) coined by Sergi, which leans towards a more circular contour of the face, is identified among the 400 individuals studied in solely 14 people, of which 4 were honest and 10 were criminal offenders. Among these 10, the majority were defined as thieves or pickpockets and only 2 were violent criminals.
De Blasio identifies the triangular shape, which is nothing more than ovoid, growing thinner in the lower parts of the face, among those criminals with a low degree of danger (Fig. 1B). More specifically, this type of face was seen among those living in disadvantaged socioeconomic conditions and dedicated to petty theft. From the parallelism between geometric and biographical analysis of these individuals, we also find the generational hand down of what is defined as the “art of theft.”
The square shape, or a face tending to have rather parallel sides, is that which more greatly prevails among the convicted criminals from the Camorra mafia. In fact, among the 50 convicted criminals studied, 28 are violent criminals; among these, there are also 3 uxoricides and 1 parricide.
The rectangular face also abounds among the criminals convicted of serious or bloody crimes (Fig. 1C). Among these, 10 were violent crimes, and De Blasio held that the shorter the facial rectangle, the greater the cruelty of crime. Lastly, the rhomboidal shaped face (Fig. 1D), which occurs when wide cheekbones are paired with a narrow chin and forehead, corresponds to small-caliber criminals who were mainly dedicated to petty theft such as pick pocketing watches and wallets.
Influenced by Darwinist thinking, De Blasio redirected the study of crimes from a sociological and philosophical perspective towards a more scientific paradigm, pushing the Minister of the Interior Giolitti to invest in criminal anthropology as an effective tool for fighting crime.
Department of Molecular Medicine Unit of History of Medicine Sapienza University of Rome Italy
Centre of Research in Osteoarchaeology and Paleopathology Department of Biotechnology and Life Sciences University of Insubria Varese, Italy
Centre of Research in Osteoarchaeology and Paleopathology Department of Biotechnology and Life Sciences University of Insubria Varese, Italy firstname.lastname@example.org
1. Borgo M, Martini M, Bragazzi NL, et al. Corpus loquens: the speaking body and Abele De Blasio (1858–1945). Act Med Medit
2. De Blasio A. Gli zingari di Napoli. Rivista di Psichiatria Forense, Antropologia Criminale e Scienze Affini
4. De Blasio A. Delitto e forma geometrica della faccia tra i delinquenti napoletani. Rivista di Psichiatria Forense, Antropologia Criminale e Scienze Affini
5. Sergi G. Specie e Varietà Umane
. Fratelli Bocca Editori: Torino; 1900.
6. De Blasio A. Anomalie multiple in un cranio di prostituta. Rivista di Psichiatria Forense, Antropologia