Tomasi Di Palma Alessandra

Dropped on:October 28, 2020
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Alessandra Tomasi Di Palma (Nizza, 1896 – Palermo, 1982)

Pioneer of psychoanalysis in Italy, she has actively participated in the establishment of the Italian Psychoanalytic Society and its re-establishment during the years after the War. She has been the only woman to hold the position of President of the Italian Psychoanalytic Society. She played an active role in the organization of national and international conferences. She has been Honorary President of the Center of Psychoanalysis in Palermo.

The Life

Alessandra Tomasi, Baroness Wolff of Stomersee, Duchess of Palma, Princess of Lampedusa was born in Nice on November 27, 1896. She lived in St. Petersburg , in the Winter Palace, where her father, the baltic baron Boris Stomersee Wolff, was a high dignitary of Tsar Nicholas II. Her italian-born mother, Alice Barbi, was a famous opera singer.

The Princess grew up in the cultured and refined environiment of the Tsar’s Court, with her younger sister Lolette, although under the shadow of the decaying magnificence of the dying Tsarist culture.

At the beginning of the Twentieth Century, during the Russian Revolution, Wolff family moved to the Castle of  Stomersee, near Riga where, in 1918, one year after her father’s dead, the Princess married the Baron André Pilar, at the age of 22.

In here the Princess knew about Psychoanalysis for the first time, and remained immediately attracted. Following her passion, she went to Berlin where, during the Twenties, started to attend at the Institute of Psychoanalysis, founded and directed by Karl Abraham. She made a first personal analysis with Felix Boehm, a training analysis with Max Eitingon, and a third control analysis (perhaps comparable to a supervision) with Hans Liebermann.

In 1927, after a short stay in Vienna, where she met Freud, she began to practice psychoanalysis in Stomersee . She had some patients even in London, where she used to go visiting her mother, who, after the death of her husband, married Pietro Tomasi della Torretta, a noble Sicilian and Italian ambassador to the court of St. James.

In London she met Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa, guest of his uncle. Once obtained the divorce from Baron Pilar, the Princess married Giuseppe Tomasi in the Castle of Stomersee during 1932, and two year later they moved to Italy. She spent her time moving from Rome to Palermo, and she used as well to stay in Castle of Stomersee for long periods, far away from her husband. Unfortunately she had to leave the Castle in 1939, when the Government confiscated it, and used it as a Government’s seat.

At the castle she continued, among others, also the analysis of S., and in 1936 she presented a report, discussing it with Edoardo Weiss, for the admission to the Psychoanalytic Society. The only thing that witnesses this analysis is a letter that she wrote to her husband, in order to describe to him, with considerable wealth, the progress of the analysis and her own way of working.

In Rome, the Princess met Weiss and the small group of founders of the Italian Psychoanalytical Society, especially Cesare Musatti, Nicola Perrotti and Emilio Servadio. She became a ordinary member and, later, Member teacher of SPI.

In the postwar years she worked actively for the rebirth of the Italian Psychoanalytic Society and for the resumption of the publication of the Journal of Psychoanalysis.

She was the only woman who has ever been President of the SPI, between 1954 and 1959.

In Palermo, the Princess was not well received, having to collide, as she had to face the hostility and the mistrust of a land that, in those years, had become a cultural and moral desert, even with the mother-in-law, Donna Beatrice Mastrogiovanni Tasca di Cutò, imposing matriarch and possessive of her son.

Nevertheless she and her husband cultivated a cultural oasis that slowly grown.

After her husband’s death in 1957 she retired in partial isolation, continuing the clinical work with her patients. Meanwhile she managed to publish and release her husband’s work, the Gattopardo, supporting its global success. She followed the making of of the famous film by Visconti, based on the book.

She died at Palermo on June 22 , 1982 , at the age of 86 years old.

Solitary, shadowy and manner alter, the Princess was a woman known for her grandeur and her temper, but at the same time nostalgic and suffering, generous and helpful to all who, had a huge passion for Psychoanalysis and for her patients.

To the Princess goes the credit of importing in Sicily Freud and the European cultural and scientific model. Francesco Corrao accepted the analytic legacy, promoting in 1978 the foundation of the Psychoanalytic Center of Palermo, of which the princess was, until his death, Honorary President.

The contribution to psychoanalysis.

Alessandra Tomasi has played a pivotal role in the early days of psychoanalysis in Italy.
Her few works are an example of rigor and method and an opening to epistemological and technical horizon, with however a strong and indisputable loyalty to Freud’s thought.
Among her contributions, the work entitled Developments in diagnostic and psychoanalytic technique deserves special attention. It was presented in 1946 at the first National Congress of Psychoanalysis, that she had contributed to organize.

In this paper, Tomasi anticipates the clinical concept borderline, demonstrating how new techniques of psychoanalysis acquisitions have able to treat psychosis, the psychopathy, the criminal and the Borderlines.

She also devotes several pages to a discussion of the amazing Psychoanalysis of group, which will then be largely developed by Francesco Corrao.

In 1950, at the Second Congress of the S.P.I. she presents paper entitled: The aggression in the perversions, in which, isolating and extending the concept of the death instinct, placed the foundations for a theory of narcissism aggressive, investigating a case of necrophilia, published few years later in the Italian Journal of Psychoanalysis.

In the wake of this research, is placed the famous work The case of the werewolf, presented first in Rome and then to the Center of Psychoanalysis in Palermo. Here, the author aims to demonstrate how lycanthropy falls between neurosis and, recalling the Kleinian concept of projective identification, coined the neologism identificatory introjection.

Before her death (1980), she writes The pact with the devil, that she defined: “a compendium of a life dedicated to Psychoanalysis.” Here the author, starting with a fascinating and compelling examination literal, cultural and mystical of the figure of the devil, delves into a accurate and scientific analysis of the psychic mechanisms that come into play in the obsessional neurosis, where there are references to the divine, sacrilege, blasphemy, up to the devil.


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