Axel Munthe

Submitted by Cecilia Klynne on Fri, 2007-07-06 06:21.


Axel Munthe, the son of a chemist, was born at Oskarshamn in 1857 and grew up in Vimmerby and Stockholm.

After completing a preparatory degree in medicine at Uppsala University in 1876, he was sent in the autumn of that same year to Menton on the French Riviera for the sake of his lungs. It was in this connection that he visited Capri for the first time.

What was it that persuaded the young medical student to take himself off to Capri as soon as he had left Sweden? In northern Europe, including Sweden, romantic notions of Italy flourished, and not unnaturally they inspired Axel Munthe too. But why Capri in particular?

During the 1850s the book Wanderjahre in Italien by Ferdinand Gregorovius, the German expert on Italy, appeared, with the chapter on Capri published separately in 1868.

Jangfeldt writes:

Whether it was Gregorovius who awakened Munthe’s interest in the island, or whether he read the book only later, is impossible to say. But there is no doubt that he did know of it. A phrase in one of Munthe’s travel sketches from 1885 – that the poets had compared Capri to »a dreaming sphinx or an antique sarcophagus« – was taken almost word for word from Gregorovius’s book. (From Ferdinand Gregorovius, Wanderjahre in Italien, 1858)

Whatever the inspiration looked like, this first visit resulted in a love affair between Munthe and Capri which would last throughout his life.

(From Munthe’s Capri, A Pictorial Biography by Bengt Jangfeldt, Translated from the Swedish by Harry D. Watson, © Bengt Jangfeldt 2004, Värnamo 2005, p. 9-12.)