Antonio Meneghetti

Prof. Antonio Meneghetti, biography

Antonio Meneghetti is an Italian philosopher and artist. He is the founder of the Ontopsychological school of psychology and of the contemporary art movement called ontoarte. He was born on 9 March 1936 in Abruzzo, Italy.

At the age of 11 he was sent to the Roman Catholic Church where he received theological education. He would later remember this period of his life with a particular awe and warmth and point out that it was this clerical experience that raised the best in him and proved to be essential for his future academic work.

In his teenage years, while studying at the seminary, he spent a lot of the time in buildings where the walls, ceilings and every tiny detail were pieces of great art humanity inherited from such artists as Michelangelo, Giotto, Raphael, Cimabue and many others. This stirred his interest in fine arts and prompted him to spend his spare time in ancient trade shops.

As he grew older, he started serving as a parish priest and receiving confessions. He was supporting his ailing mother with nine under age siblings but kept thinking about existential issues and searching for his own way.

Later these searches would lead him to Victor Frankl, Jacques Lacan, Carl Rogers and Rollo May but for now he felt anxious in this darkness.

Education and studies of psychology

While struggling with all these existential questions and failing to understand what his own vocation was, Meneghetti persistently continued to deepen his knowledge in various fields, from mathematics and physics to philosophy and theology. He would then get his PhD in Theology at the Pontifical Lateran University in Rome, in Philosophy and Social Sciences at the Pontifical University of Saint Thomas Aquinas in Rome and also a degree in Philosophy at the Catholic University of Sacra Cuore in Milan. He also got a certificate of a librarian in Vatican which gave him access to the ancient manuscripts in the collections of Vatican. To read these he would later learn Latin, Greek and Aramaic.

In 1954 a posthumous edition of Edmund Husserl’s speeches made in Vienna in 1935-1936 was published. These had a great impact on Meneghetti. Husserl spoke of a radical innovation of philosophy. Husserl was not opposed to science, what is more, he saw emerging psychology as an epistemic science which would be able to give a new justification to the very concept of a scientific character and make it authentic.

In the 1960s Antonio Meneghetti started working as a pastor and had a chance to get some first-hand experience of human existential problems. He would not call it psychotherapy at the time but this essentially what it was. Not knowing how to help people heal their wounds, he found this job really hard. He found himself thinking that if God had created man, and he could not have made a mistake. These and many other thoughts made him do a more profound search for a solution to this problem (he was troubled about his own life, after all).

Meneghetti would later remember that period as follows, ‘… Ontopsychology saved me as well. I was already an expert in theology and philosophy; I knew sacred texts and lived within the Holy Church, I knew all existing formulae for the soul and being but they did not provide an answer. I had faith but I did not have knowledge.’

It was the idea of the unconscious, developed by Husserl’s colleague from university and a friend, Sigmund Freud, that became his starting point in psychology. He believed he should go beyond the teachings of Freud, Adler and Jung, who focused too much on disorders. The new direction of psychological research, set by Existentialism, provided a new interpretation of the therapist-client relationship (the client had now stopped being a patient) and stated that it was the unconscious that concealed the best human features. That meant that a person could find the way to their true self-realisation in being.

The Catholic Church did not remain on the side lines of this universal crisis (it engulfed it entirely and affected the spiritual calling) and started internal searches for the relevant way to connect to the secular world. This happened during the Second Vatican Council (1962-1965). The Council provided a powerful impetus: the openness of the Church enabled the brightest intellectuals to overcome the obsolete paradigms in pursuit of an open engagement with the world. Among the key participants were such prominent theologians as Karl Rahner.

Antonio Meneghetti actively worked in this direction. The experience and education he obtained within the church enabled him to see the soul in a broader spiritual sense, unlike other researchers who only had their academic medical education. Despite this, Meneghetti felt the need to integrate his already extensive knowledge with some practical experience and secular education.

Determined to expand his vision, he combined his work with more studies which he paid himself. Antonio Meneghetti studied and compared various theoretical approaches and ideas of contemporary psychology and psychiatry. He wanted to see how they dealt with the issues brought up by Husserl, existentialists and such psychiatrists as Karl Jaspers and Ludwig Binswanger whose studies verged on philosophy. Meneghetti was particularly impressed by the approach demonstrated by Victor Frankl; he met the creator of logotherapy in person while in Vienna and further deepened his knowledge of the aspects related to the language of the unconscious and clients’ personal responsibility.

He also went to Tavistock, England, where he met Lacan and was deeply impressed by him. He studied all the existing schools of psychology, visited the places where Freud and Adler had lived and worked and met their students. In 1968 he did some studies at the Jung Institute in Switzerland but despite having all this knowledge he still did not have a single simple, precise and practical way of curing people.

In his first philosophical essays Antonio Meneghetti expressed intuitive understanding that the problem was not in the human beings themselves but to an extent in the aspect of rationality and its application. Indeed, whatever form an ideological position takes, the form of fashion, philosophical school of thought or a political ideology, it should not be perceived as an absolute.

By the time the Second Vatican Council finished Antonio Meneghetti had finished his studies and got an invitation to teach at one of the institutions which had undergone a reform owing to the work carried out at the Vatican Council, namely the Pontifical University of Saint Thomas Aquinas in Rome. Meneghetti already had enough experience and authority within the Church and he read ‘The Basics of Pastoral Psychology’, ‘Rogers’ Person Centred Therapy’ and ‘Human Ontopsychology’. That, however, was not yet clinical ontopsychology but some sort of an intuitive philosophical ontopsychology. 

The term ‘ontopsychology’ was proposed at the Paris Conference in 1956 by American psychologist Anthony Sutich as a name for a promising field of psychology which would combine the ideas of humanist psychology and existentialism.

As Meneghetti would later explain, 'When I started with clinical practice, I called that ontopsychology. It was obvious that a man needed to be seen as a part of being. I only found out later that other people were also talking about a need for ontopsychology in psychology’.

Development of Ontopsychology as a Scientific School

In the early 70s Meneghetti left the church, still full of love and respect for it, in order to carry out his own independent research and prove that the theories he had been teaching were valid. In 1970 he started carrying out his own experimental psychotherapeutic activity, which resulted in the launch of the first Centre of Ontopsychological Therapy in Rome on 15 November, 1972.

In 1973 Meneghetti also left his post at the Catholic University in Rome and organised the first congress on ontopsychology. He already had some materials for lectures on ontopsychology that he read at the University of Saint Thomas Aquinas. They presented his philosophical views on the individual and their place in the world. Over the following years Meneghetti tested each of his ideas using relevant methods and clinical practices and presented the results of these tests both in publications and at various conferences and congresses up until 1991.

As Meneghetti would say himself, ‘Ontopsychology was born out of my success in clinical cases, not out of theories. I took the most extreme cases. People came to me when nothing else could be done.’

In his spare time, in order to recover from his exhausting counselling sessions where he would often work with patients suffering from grave mental disorders who could no longer be treated at state-run hospitals and clinics (such as drug addiction and schizophrenia), Meneghetti spent a lot of time on drawing and music. He would study and then try and replicate works by such artists as Murillo, Raphael, Michelangelo, Cimabue, the Macchiaioli, Corot, Van Gogh and the Zen school. As for music, he got into Gregorian chant and polyphonic works by Perosi, Refice, Stella and Rizzi.

In 1975 Meneghetti married Loretta Lorenzini. The couple later had two daughters, Silvia and Aurora, whom Meneghetti later dedicated his book ‘The Wise Man and the Art of Life’.

Social Activity

The 70s were generally quite intense for Meneghetti. In 1978, at the age of 42, he established a non-governmental organisation, the International Association of Ontopsychology, which in the late 90s was given a special status at the United Nations Economic and Social Council. Lizori, which then was nothing but a few ruins dating back to the 12th century near a place called Borgo San Benedetto, was taken on as the first ecobiological project in the world.

Lizori became another way to escape and recover from exhausting work as a psychotherapist. This led Meneghetti to the realisation that it was necessary to introduce a concept of ecobiological centre and establish a contact with nature. He then started an in-depth study of Classical Architecture. This is where he began mastering the instrument of the ontopsychological authenticity residence. This is where the first OntoArte music was performed and a lot of wonderful discoveries were made. This is also where Meneghetti first considered the possibility of creating a new artistic movement called OntoArte and together with other artists of this school organised the first exhibition in Perugia in 1981. All the paintings had been sold even before the exhibition was launched.

Lizori epitomized the era of the ontopsychological school. It became the first place where friends, colleagues and their families would gather, brought together by their interest in ontopsychology. At the time they had no idea that a few years later they would be accused of organising a cult and a criminal community.

In the 80s two contradictory events happened. On the one hand, in 1980 the General Committee of the Italian Council of Ministers gave Meneghetti an Award for his cultural contribution, and on the other hand, Meneghetti’s detractors started launching the first attacks against the founder of the school of ontopsychology accusing him of forging his academic titles. Meneghetti, however, managed to win a court case against Judge Cappelli from Rome for ‘abuse of office’ regarding the unfounded accusations by demonstrating proof of the authenticity of his titles.

After this, though, Meneghetti was taken to court again, this time for, allegedly, ‘organising a criminal community’. This difficult time would provide a lot of experience which would later enable him to understand a lot and would be behind the logic of many of Meneghetti’s monographs. After about a month in detention, Meneghetti was released and all the charges were dropped due to the lack of evidence. Meneghetti then sued the second judge and won the case again on the grounds of ‘abuse of office’.

During this period Meneghetti finished his clinical practice as by that point he had already formulated all the main principles and ideas of ontopsychology and left Rome for many years. He set off for Lizori where he continued restoring the 12th century ruins together with his friends and funding the project with his own money. He also launched a new and important project, the Lizori College, for the children whose parents worked at Lizori.

In the mid-80s Meneghetti showed interest in fashion and started his own brand, Moda Antonio. A few years later, in 1986 he was awarded a prize from the Italian Taoilors’ Federation. The same year, the President of Accademia Internazionale di Arte Moderna, Francesco de Benedetta, conferred Meneghetti the title of the Honourable Member of the Academic Council at the institution.

In 1987 Meneghetti held the second exhibition of his art works in Rome; it took place at the Protomoteca Hall at the Rome City Council, and again, all the works had been sold even before the launch. The same year, and then again, in 1989, Meneghetti was awarded more prizes by the General Committee of the Italian Council of Ministers. He finished the College project that he was working on in a different place this time, in Scandriglia near Rome.

Later on, the way the school of ontopsychology developed and moved on to different goals (from teaching to sociology and leadership) put a logical end to this particular project. The acquired experience and all the relevant materials, however, remained the methodological foundation for similar projects in the area of education. The results of this experiment were later used in books and articles, as well as studied within research programmes and congresses.

Despite all that, Meneghetti continued to organise regular international congresses on ontopsychology inviting such distinguished figures as Rollo May, Frank X. Brarron, Jean Godin and many others. He published a few more monographs on ontopsychology and was invited to speak at various large congresses. In 1988 he was first invited to the Federal University of Santa Maria in Brazil.

Recanto Maestro was officially founded on 9 March, 1988. This was the day when Meneghetti gave his famous lecture after which together with his friend and student from the University of Saint Thomas Aquinas, Alesio Vidor, they found this neglected land which twenty years later would turn into a paradisiacal place in Rio Grande do Sul.

Relations with Russia

1989 was marked with many significant events. The Leonardo da Vinci National Science and Technology Museum in Milan held the third OntoArte exhibition. Later in the year, in Amsterdam, Meneghetti met Boris Lomov (the first dean of the Faculty of Psychology at Saint Petersburg (then Leningrad) State University. In the following years it was Lomov who initiated all Meneghetti’s trips to the USSR.

Meneghetti was already familiar with Russian academics and admired their way of thinking, which was so different from the Western one. In 1987 he organised a USA-Europe-USSR conference on creativity in Lizori. This conference brought together F. Barron and A. Matyushkin (the head of the USSR Psychology Society, the head of the Research Institute of General and Pedagogic Psychology of the USSR Pedagogics Academy, an academician at the Russian Education Academy). According to Rogers, Barron was seen as the leading expert on creativity in the USA and the world in general.

This was not the last time Meneghetti saw Matyushkin and Barron. “Matyushkin was excelled in his intelligence and the level of cultural knowledge. Barron was not familiar with the great psychology of humanism while Matyushkin was familiar both with Ananiev and with Rogers’s works’”.

While in Lizori, thanks to Meneghetti’s efforts, an American and a Russian were talking about creativity, in the outside world the United States and the Soviet Union were involved in the Cold War.

The following year Matyushkin and Barron went to Lizori again and together with Meneghetti organised the First Summer School of Ontopsychology; later that year, in August, Matyushkin gave a speech at the 12th International Congress on Ontopsychology in Rome. The Soviet academic said that Ontopsychology had managed to create a constructive relationship between psychologists, doctors, psychotherapists, architects, teachers, writers and people of other creative professions.

But a full dialogue with Russia only started after the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989. Meneghetti was first invited to Moscow where he saw Matyushkin again, as well as other Soviet scientists. Meneghetti then went to Leningrad, where he met another person who would later become a key figure in establishing Ontopsychology – Albert Krylov (the dean of the Faculty of Psychology at Leningrad State Univesrity). Meneghetti read lectures for an audience of 700 psychologists. It was Professor Krylov who in 1998 suggested opening a department of Ontopsychology at Saint Petersburg State University.

This was followed by many other meetings and lectures.

Visits to Russia and meeting Russian academics left many wonderful memories and became truly unforgettable for Meneghetti. They inspired him to write a monograph on ‘The Image and the Unconscious’. He would come again to the USSR and later, to Russia.

The 90s: Changes and Globalisation

Starting from the 90s, Antonio Meneghetti followed a strategy of changes as a way of being not only for himself but for the whole context surrounding him. Perhaps, he intuitively knew that after hibernating for 50 years of the Cold War the world was ready for greater changes.

The world entered the 90s and was faced with the reality of globalisation. The situation was accentuated by the powerful breakthrough of technological progress. In this new world ruled by technologies where everything kept changing Meneghetti tried again to draw attention to the figure of a human being, of a personality. In the 90s Onotopsychology became truly international.

1990 started with a pleasant event. At the Valentini Palace during the presentation of new monographs on ontopsychology, the Italian Senate gave Meneghetti another award for his contributions to culture and science, recognising the ‘importance for the society as a whole and not just for the academic world of people who keep exploring the human mind and discovering new extents of intelligence.

In March the Association of Ontopsychology organised a conference titled ‘East and West: Is the Academic Unity Possible?’. Among the participants were two Japanese academics: Mr Mitsushima (the president of the Japanese Humanist Psychology Association at Bunkyo University) and Noriyuki Ueda (the president of the Japanese Institute of Oriental Culture at the University of Tokyo).

The same year, Meneghetti greeted the first delegation from China, gave Rollo May an honorary diploma of an ontopsychologist and a member of the International Association of Onotopsychology. On 6 June, following an official request from A. Krylov which had been approved by the head of the University and the mayor of Leningrad, Meneghetti went to Leningrad in order to read a series of lectures about the fundamental principles of ontopsychology.

One could say that in the early 90s Meneghetti put an end to ontopsychology as a part of psychology and expanded it towards philosophy and sociology. He understood the importance of human resources in the changing world of globalised technological progress and started actively working in this direction. He continued to appear at various academic events, demonstrating the effectiveness of the ontopsychological method, and travelling around the world while feeling a particular affinity with Russia. He held several exhibitions in Italy and Brazil, met Oscar Niemeyer and then spoke at the Faculty of Psychology at the La Sapienza University in Rome together with other Italian academics.

In 1992 Meneghetti received a citation from the Faculty of Philosophy of Pontifical University of Saint Thomas Aquinas and in 1993 came to Saint Petersburg again and read several lectures on ontopsychology at Saint Petersburg State University. During the lectures he urged the audience not to see ontopsychology as just one of many ways to study human pathologies but to see it as an opportunity to generally reconsider the critical abilities of human cognition which is an essential means but not an ultimate goal of the process which is aimed at creative development of the profound meaning any human conceals’.

1994 was marked with another award from the social institutions. On his birthday Meneghetti received an honorary degree from University of Albany, New York, for his discovery of the semantic field.

In 1995 Meneghetti organised the tenth exhibition of OntoArte works at Palazzo Ducale, the Venetian landmark. Later that year, at the 14th Internatinal Ontopsyhology Congress in Brazil, Meneghetti first started discussing business-related topics. He would always emphasize what exactly he meant by the term ‘entrepreneur’, ‘Ontopsychology works for people who take high positions in the society involving a lot of responsibility, and who need to foresee the possible events and find solutions that would suit everyone.

The same year Meneghetti started being in close contact with the Chinese academic world. In May he did a five-day seminar on the Basics of Ontopsychology at the Peking University in Beijing for famous Chinese academics. In October a group of Russian OntoArte fans organised an exhibition at the Gallery of the Artists’ Union in Saint Petersburg. At the end of the year he took part in a congress on Cardiology and Psychosomatics in Brazil which was just a start of a series of events in Brazil. In March 1996 he met the president of Brazil, Henrique Cardoso, and later that year went to Russia to found the Slavic Ontopsychology Association.

In April Meneghetti returned to Beijing, this time to see the largest hospital in the city, the Tongren Hospital, and read a lecture there.

1997 saw the first International Congress on Ontopsychology in Moscow which had around 600 academics participating. The Congress resulted in publication of a monograph titled ‘The Ethical Criterion of an Individual’.

In May 1998 the State Hermitage Museum hosted an international seminar on OntoArte, ‘Life Order as an Aesthetic Function’, followed by a series of other events in Russia and Brazil on the subject on psychosomatics and leadership.

At the end of the century the spotlight shifted to women. In March over 500 women (entrepreneurs, professionals, psychologists, doctors, scientists, journalists, politicians etc) from all across the world gathered in Florianopolis, Brazil, for an international seminar on the subject of Female Leadership. In May the International Association of Ontopsychology and Vice Principal on International Relations, Professor A. Efimov, and the head of the Faculty of Psychology, Professor A. Krylov, on behalf of Saint Petersburg State University signed an agreement. As a result of this agreement the faculty of Psychology opened the department of Ontopsychology and started a professional retraining programme in Ontopsychology. In June, 1999, the International Association of Ontopsychology was granted the Special Consultative Status at the Economic and Social Council of the United Nations.

At the turn of the century Meneghetti held an international congress in Rio de Janeiro titled ‘The Woman of the Third Millenium’ which brought up new topics for discussions.

In 2000 Meneghetti had to get a divorce from Lorenzini.

The early 2000s: International Recognition

In 2000 Meneghetti spoke at UNESCO on the subject of ‘The Role of the Leader and Human Resources in the Information Era’ and then, in 2001, at the UN Conference on Intellectual Leaders for Sustainable Development of Humanity. 2000 was also marked with an OntoArte exhibition at the Russian Museum, and in 2001 independent consulting FOIL companies started opening in Europe, Brazil and Russia. They were designed to analyse the psychological aspects in business.

In 2000 Meneghetti received a Gold Medal for his artistic achievements. 3 September 2001 became another key date in the history of ontopsychology and Meneghetti’s life.

This was when the first graduation ceremony took place at the Protomoteca Hall at the Rome City Council in the presence of the president of Saint Petersburg State University and the head of the Faculty of Psychology A. Krylov.

‘… I was lucky enough to see the academic community comprehend the profound meaning of ontopsychology during my lifetime,’ said Professor Meneghetti in his speech.

Apart from organising a large congress in Milan on ontopsychology and memetics in 2002, Meneghetti launched the first ecobiological project in Russia – a place called Bernia, near Saint Petersburg.

In 2003 Meneghetti was invited to a session of UNDESA, an event organised by the UN together with the Turkish government. The topic of this session was the ‘Implementation of the World Summit on Sustainable Development Solutions in Developing Countries’. Professor Meneghetti presented a report on ‘Entrepreneurial Psychology as a Factor of Natural Social and Economic Development in developing countries’.

2004 was marked with a few major events. First of all, a master’s programme in Ontopsychology was launched and the Department of Ontopsychology was officially launched at Saint Petersburg State University. Apart from that, the Business-Intuition 2004 International Congress was organised in Riga with the support of the European Commission and leading European Universities, and two more ecobiological projects, Niotan and Lizari, were launched. The latter was funded partly by the European Union, and the project was approved by the UN and the European Commission.

In 2005 Meneghetti took part in the International Congress on Psychotherapy in Buenos-Aires and received an award at the International Congress on Architecture in Istanbul.

Meneghetti went back to the issue of assistentialism and excessive consumerism in the societies at special UNESCO conferences in Paris in 2006 and 2007 and then again, at the Peking University in Beijing. These continue to be major issues in teaching all over the world and got in the way of producing future responsible leaders. In 2007 the UN also recognised the importance of the activities carried out by the International Association of Ontopsychology in relation to the Recanto Maestro project.

Throughout these years the Summer Course in Ontopsychology continued its work and at some point it took on the role of the International Congresses on Ontopsychology which started back in 1973. In 2007 Meneghetti set up research foundations in Switzerland, Russia and Brazil, and in 2011 he gave out awards on behalf of the foundations for research projects in psychology, physics, economics and medicine.

In 2008 Meneghetti took part in the 29th International Congress on Psychology and then in the 5th International Congress on Psychotherapy, demonstrating yet again the simplicity and novelty of the ontopsychological methods.

In 2010 the Brazilian government recognised the importance of Meneghetti’s contribution to the development of the country and granted him the title of an Honorary citizen of Brazil and authorised the establishment of a private institute of Management and Administration named after Antonio Meneghetti in Recanto Maestro, the town founded by him and a friend of his back in 1988.

This institute was designed to provide quality training in economics, sociology, philosophy and other classic disciplines. The lecturers also worked for leading universities of Brazil and other countries, including Saint Petersburg State University. The best Brazilian businessmen and politicians shared their expertise with the students.

In 2011 during the 24th Summer Course in Onotopsychology in Assisi, the General Committee of the Italian Senate awarded Meneghetti a medal for his exceptional contribution to science. Later that year, on 24 April, at an opening ceremony Meneghetti opened another personal art gallery at the very heart of Umbria, near the Medieval town of Trevi. At the end of the year, Meneghetti was invited to have a personal exhibition at the National Gallery of Umbria.

Certain specialists do not share Meneghetti’s views on science, while others see his works on ontopsychology as the missing essential element of their research. Either way, Antonio Meneghetti was a successful academic, philosopher, theologian, psychologist, artist, tailor, composer, entrepreneur and a musician whose concerts took place in the halls of Peterhof and Rome; an architect who built and restored towns in various corners of the world. You can find more information about other events as well as photographs on the timeline page.