Overheard at the Uffizi

Again from Melville’s Journal Up the Straits:

“It’s as bad as too much pain: it gets to be pain at last” Heard this broken latter part of sentence from wearied lady coming from Ufezzi (sic) Palace. – She was talking no doubt about excess of pleasure in these galleries.”

This feels a pedestrian version of Stendhal’s response – now known as Stendhal Syndrome – to first arriving at Santa Croce:

Mon émotion est si profonde qu’elle va presque jusqu’à la piété … J’étais déjà dans une sorte d’extase, par l’idée d’être à Florence, et le voisinage des grands hommes dont je venais de voir les tombeaux. Absorbé dans la contemplation de la beauté sublime, je la voyais de près, je la touchais pour ainsi dire. J’étais arrivé à ce point d’émotion où se rencontrent les sensations célestes données par les beaux-arts et les sentiments passionnés. En sortant de Santa Croce, j’avais un battement de cœur, ce qu’on appelle des nerfs à Berlin ; la vie était épuisée chez moi, je marchais avec la crainte de tomber.


My emotion was so profound that it came near piety … I was in a sort of ecstasy, from the idea of being in Florence, and the proximity of the great men whose tombs I had seen. Absorbed in the contemplation of sublime beauty, I saw it at hand, I touched it so to speak… I reached the point where we encounter the celestial sensations granted by the fine arts and impassioned feelings.  On leaving Santa Croce, I felt a fluttering in my heart, what they call ‘nerves’ in Berlin; Life was drained from me, I walked on but with fear of collapsing.


The comparison leads me to a hierarchy of aesthetically inflicted sufferings:

1)Stendhal syndrome – a genuine swooning from contact, nearly religious in nature

2)That of Melville’s sufferer – call it aesthetic exhaustion, a running through of your mind’s resources and resulting exhaustion; mental as much as physical, from over-exposure and over-stimulation

3)The average visitor  – who sustains memories of wrist-ache from too many selfie-stick selfies and possibly a back-ache as well from violently leaning over me in the process

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