Signorelli parapraxis

Signorelli parapraxis

Ask a question about 'Signorelli parapraxis'
Start a new discussion about 'Signorelli parapraxis'
Answer questions from other users
Full Discussion Forum
The Signorelli parapraxis represents the first and best known example of a parapraxis and its analysis in Freud's The Psychopathology of Everyday Life
The Psychopathology of Everyday Life
The Psychopathology of Everyday Life is the eighth album by avant-garde band King Missile, and the band's second in its incarnation as "King Missile III." It was released on January 21, 2003...

. The parapraxis centers on a word finding problem and the production of substitutes. Freud couldn't recall the name (Signorelli) of the painter of the Orvieto
Orvieto is a city and comune in Province of Terni, southwestern Umbria, Italy situated on the flat summit of a large butte of volcanic tuff...

 frescos and produced as substitutes the names of two painters Botticelli and Boltraffio. Freud's analysis shows what associative processes had linked Signorelli to Botticelli and Boltraffio. The analysis has been criticised, not only by linguists.

Botticelli - Boltraffio - Trafoi

One important ingredient in Freud's analysis was the North-Italian village Trafoi where he received the message of the suicide of one of his patients, struggling with sexual problems. Without Trafoi the substitute Boltraffio rhyming to it would be incomprehensible. Freud links Trafoi to the theme 'death and sexuality', a theme preceding the word finding problem in a conversation Freud had during a trip by train through Bosnia-Herzegowina.

The second important ingredient in Freud's analysis is the extraction of an Italian word signor from the forgotten name Signorelli. Herr, the German counterpart of Signor, is then linked to Herzegowina and the word Herr occurring, as Freud tells us, in the conversation.

Freud denies the relevance of the content of the frescos. Nevertheless psychoanalysts have pursued their investigations particularly into this direction, finding however no new explanation of the parapraxis. Jacques Lacan
Jacques Lacan
Jacques Marie Émile Lacan was a French psychoanalyst and psychiatrist who made prominent contributions to psychoanalysis and philosophy, and has been called "the most controversial psycho-analyst since Freud". Giving yearly seminars in Paris from 1953 to 1981, Lacan influenced France's...

 suggested that the parapraxis may be an act of self-forgetting.

Trafoi in Kraepelin's dream

The first critique to Freud came from Emil Kraepelin
Emil Kraepelin
Emil Kraepelin was a German psychiatrist. H.J. Eysenck's Encyclopedia of Psychology identifies him as the founder of modern scientific psychiatry, as well as of psychopharmacology and psychiatric genetics. Kraepelin believed the chief origin of psychiatric disease to be biological and genetic...

, who in a postscript to his 1906 monograph on language disturbances in dreams
Dream speech
In 1906 the famous German psychiatrist Emil Kraepelin published a monograph titled Über Sprachstörungen im Traume . In his psychiatry textbook Kraepelin used the shortcut Traumsprache to denote language disturbances occurring in dreams...

, relates a dream involving Trafoi. The dream centers around a neologism Trafei, which Kraepelin links to Trafoi. The dream may be seen as an implicit critique on Freud's analysis. Italian trofei is associated to Trafei in the same way as Trafoi (cf. van Ooijen, 1996) and clarifies Kraepelin's dream. The meaning of trofei reads in German Siegeszeichen (victory-signs) and this German word together with Latin signum clearly links to Freud's first name (Engels, 2006, p. 22-24).

Sebastiano Timpanaro

In The Freudian Slip Sebastiano Timpanaro discusses Freud's analysis in chapter 6 "Love and Death at Orvieto." (p. 63-81). He in fact doubts, that the name Boltraffio would have played a mayor role during the parapraxis, as he states: "Boltraffio is a Schlimbesserung [that is a substitute worse than another substitute]" and adds "the correction goes astray because of incapacity to localize the fault."(p. 71). He calls Botticelli an "involuntary banalization" and Boltraffio "a semi-conscious disimproved correction."(p. 75). As to the Signor-element in Freud's analysis he puts: "The immediate equivalence Signore= Herr is one thing, the extraction of signor from Signorelli and of Her(r) from Herzegowina is another."

Swales' investigation

Peter Swales (2003) investigated the historical data and states that Freud probably visited an exposition of Italian masters in Bergamo
Bergamo is a town and comune in Lombardy, Italy, about 40 km northeast of Milan. The comune is home to over 120,000 inhabitants. It is served by the Orio al Serio Airport, which also serves the Province of Bergamo, and to a lesser extent the metropolitan area of Milan...

 mid-September 1898, showing paintings of Signorelli, Botticelli and Boltraffio one next to the other. In his view the paintings at the exposition were the source of the substitute names in the parapraxis. Swales dwells largely on the three paintings. The association of the name Boltraffio to the name Da Vinci, another hypothesis formulated by Swales (because Freud might have seen the statue of Boltraffio at the bottom of the Da Vinci monument on Piazza della Scala in Milan some days before his visit to Bergamo), is not further pursued by Swales. Although Freud visited Trafoi on the 8th of August 1898, Swales doubts whether Freud received a message on the suicide of one of his patients.

Freud neglected his own observation

Engels (2006, p. 66-69) points out, that Freud in his analysis did not use the fact, that he remembered very well a picture of the painter in the left lower corner of one of the frescos (see: Fresco of the Deeds of the Antichrist
Luca Signorelli
Luca Signorelli was an Italian Renaissance painter who was noted in particular for his ability as a draughtsman and his use of foreshortening...

). The picture, a sort of signature, was thus a third substitute. Engels then interprets the signature of Signorelli as a reference to the Italian verb signare and uses this word, instead of signore, to obtain a very simple analysis of the Signorelli . There seems to be no more need for the Bosnia-Herzegowina associations Freud himself introduced. Engels maintains the suicide message in Trafoi as an important point to understand the parapraxis (this message being a blow to Freud's self-esteem) and does not question - as Swales does - the occurrence of the Signorelli parapraxis during Freud's trip from Ragusa to Trebinje (in Herzegowina).


  • Engels, Huub (2006). Emil Kraepelins Traumsprache 1908-1926. ISBN 978-90-6464-060-5
  • Timpanaro, S. (1976). The Freudian Slip: Psychoanalysis and Textual Criticism. London: NLB.
  • Swales, P. (2003). Freud, Death and Sexual Pleasures. On the Psychical Mechanism of Dr. Sigm. Freud. Arc de Cercle, 1, 4-74.

Further reading

  • Molnar, M. (1994). Reading the Look. In Sander, Gilman, Birmele, Geller & Greenberg (ed.): Reading Freud's Reading. pp. 77–90. New York: Oxford.
  • Ooijen, B. van. (1996). Vowel mutability and lexical selection in English: Evidence from a word reconstruction task. Memory & Cognition, 24, 573-583. Ooijen shows that in word reconstruction tasks e.g. the non-word kebra is more readily substituted by cobra than by zebra. This is what is meant by 'vowel mutability.'
  • Owens, M.E. (2004). Forgetting Signorelli: Monstruous Visions of the Resurrection of the Dead. Muse: scholarly journals online.

External links