Provincia Adumbrata
Encounters in the Realm of Shadows

The work entitled Provincia Adumbrata concerns a collection of 34 phrenological plaster casts of heads of hanged men and women dating from the 19th century. Originally displayed at the notorious Newgate Prison, the collection is today housed in The Crime Museum (formerly The Black Museum) at New Scotland Yard (the Metropolitan Police HQ) in London.

Phrenology, the study of character, was a particularly popular field of science in 19th-century Britain. Phrenologists believed that measuring the bumps on a person’s head would be a reliable means of determining their actual character. The heads of so-called “abnormal” individuals were the most sought-after. Is it possible to recognise the head of a criminal? Do all socially “worthless” people exhibit a bump at the same spot on the skull? This was studied empirically by casting the heads of hanged individuals with a view to examining the plaster casts through phrenological means. Although phrenology went out of favour at the end of the 19th century, the 1930s saw the disastrous reapplication of the concepts behind this research. The 34 plaster casts illustrate a specific part of the history of modern brain research, but at the same time represent an expression of dramatic developments also caused by repression, miscalculation and at times by an arrogant and omnipotent attitude according to which everything seems to be feasible.

This work involved Lang taking the route that leads us to the most foreign side of our self: that of shadow. In this way, Lang succeeds in both recalling something lost and leading us closer to the individual. Between July 2006 and April 2007 he created silhouettes from the front and side profiles of the 34 phrenological busts. He had the privilege of being allowed to carry out this part of the work directly at New Scotland Yard’s Crime Museum.

C. N.


This work would not have been possible without the generous support of Alan McCormick, the curator of the Crime Museum at New Scotland Yard.

The work earned the artist a Sciart Award from the Wellcome Trust.


While working at New Scotland Yard, Lang was also given permission to realise a cycle of drawings inside the collection of the Crime Museum. This body of work will be presented on an extra page under the menu item ‘Work’ in the near future.

During the preparation of the work Provincia Adumbrata Lang conducted a series of conversations in Austria, Germany, Great Britain, Italy, Switzerland and in the United States with individuals from different disciplines. The comprehensive material has been put together in files and two note books. The following individuals took part in the series: (please click here)


The Crime Museum:
More about phrenology:

Ill. I a / I b: DM 16, Photo: Gerhard Lang
Ill. II a / II b: DM 2, Photo: Gerhard Lang
Ill. III: Transformation process. Photo: Gerhard Lang
Ill. IV a / IV b: Transformation process. Photo: Alan McCormick
Ill. V: Transformation process. Photo: Alan McCormick
Ill. VI: Cutting out of the silhouette. Photo: Alan McCormick

I a. / I b.

II a. / II b.


IV a. / IV b.



Gerhard Lang © VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn