hidden europe 59

Culture Shock: Stendhal in Florence

by Nicky Gardner

Picture above: The Uffizi Gallery in Florence (photo © Gordon Bell).


Take care how many art galleries of great Baroque churches you visit in a day. Overdoing it can have dire consequences. Too many cherubs or crucifixions might induce transient paranoid psychosis or even irrevocable breakdown. Or so they say. We take a look at Stendhal Syndrome.

The French writer Marie-Henri Beyle, better known by the nom de plume Stendhal, was wise to have stuck in the main to writing novels. For although he made one serious foray into travel writing, he was temperamentally ill-disposed towards the task. His one travel book was published in late 1817 and called Rome, Naples et Florence — it’s a memoir of an Italian journey which takes in far more than just those three cities.

Stendhal’s account of having palpitations of the heart and feeling faint after gazing at the frescoes in Florence’s Basilica di Santa Croce suggests that here was a man not cut out for travel in Italy. As many a travel writer will attest, taking in too many angelic hosts or Renaissance crucifixions before lunch can take its toll on both the heart and the soul. And, in extreme cases, such intense exposure to grand art might even lead to total mental breakdown.

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