In 1817, a young French writer, Marie-Henri Beyle (1783–1842), better known by his pen name, Stendhal, went to see art in Florence, and lost his shit.
I was in a sort of ecstasy, from the idea of being in Florence, close to the great men whose tombs I had seen. Absorbed in the contemplation of sublime beauty … I reached the point where one encounters celestial sensations … Everything spoke so vividly to my soul. Ah, if I could only forget. I had palpitations of the heart, what in Berlin they call ‘nerves’. Life was drained from me. I walked with the fear of falling. —Stendhal, Naples and Florence: A Journey from Milan to Reggio
The medical community, long accustomed to treating visitors with similar symptoms, called it Stendhal’s Syndrome.
After a year of pandemic isolation in our house looking over Florence, I had only days left before our return to Scotland to see centuries of the painting, sculpture, architecture, and other masterpieces that shaped and defined Western art. But unlike the multiple Covid-19 vaccines available, there was nothing to protect me from Stendhal’s Syndrome.
How did I keep from going all Stendhal? Luckily, I was able to apply the right medication, Florence style: