Thursday, March 5, 2009

Who Was Axel Munthe and How Did He End Up In An Italian Villa

Axel Munthe was born in Oskarshamn. His family originally were Flemish in origin and had settled in Sweden during the 16th century. Munthe's father was a pharmacist, who opened his own chemist shop in 1850. Munthe studied medicine at the University of Uppsala (1874-80) and in France at Montpellier, Paris (1880), becoming the youngest M.D. created at Montpellier.

At the age of eighteen Munthe visited Capri and decided that some day he would build a house on the island. Its loggias would be full of light, and there would be a small chapel, a vineyard, and old statues in the garden.

After practicing in Paris and Italy, Munthe became in 1903 physician to the Swedish Royal family. From 1908 he was the personal physician of the Swedish queen Victoria (1862-1930) – she lived on Capri for health reasons for long periods of time.

Munthe made his debut as a writer in 1897 with Memories and Vagaries, an account of his work in Paris and Italy, where he lived for a time in Keats's house in Rome. It was followed by Letters from a Mourning City, describing his experiences during the 1884 cholera epidemic in Naples.

In 1903 Munthe returned to Sweden, and spent many years as the Physician-in-Ordinary to the Queen. After saving enough money, Munthe built his own villa on the highest point of the island of Capri, on the site of the villa of the emperor Tiberius. He named his house San Michele.

In 1887, he moved to Capri and managed to purchase the Villa San Michele and began restoring the buildings there, doing much of the work himself, but also employing local residents, including three brothers and their father.

In 1890, running low on money for the renovations, he opened a practice in Rome which catered to foreign dignitaries as well as the local population. From this time on he divided his time between Rome and Capri.

Axel Munthe willed Villa San Michele to the Swedish nation, and it is maintained by a Swedish foundation. The complex functions as a cultural center, hosting concerts, visiting Swedish scholars, and the local Swedish consulate. The foundation also maintains the Mount Barbarossa bird sanctuary, which covers over 55,000 square meters.

Munthe developed an eye malady which eventually made him virtually blind and unable to tolerate the bright Italian sunlight. At this point he returned to Sweden for a number of years and wrote The Story of San Michele (published in 1929), which was well received, having been translated into at least forty-five languages and said to be one of the best-selling books of the 20th century.
An operation restored his sight, and he spent several more years at San Michele before returning to Sweden in 1942. He spent the final years of his life as an official guest of the King of Sweden.

Villa San Michele - Phone: +39-081-8371401 Fax: +39-081-8373279Villa San Michele V.le Axel Munthe 34, 800 71 Anacapri - ITALY
Built on the ruins of an ancient Chapel dedicated to San Michele, the villa now belongs to the Axel Munthe Foundation and has been transformed in Museum.In his book 'The History of San Michele', the Swedish doctor tells of his arrival in Capri in 1885 and the progressive construction of the villa; which followed a series of sketches made on a wall rather a precise set of plans.The building is articulated on various levels: the study is on the first floor, the loggia crosses pergolas and columns to reach a circular viewpoint which looks out across the Gulf of Naples.In Villa San Michele a number of ancient artefacts are displayed - objects found by Munthe in Capri, Anacapri and elsewhere, some of which donated by friends.
" My home shall be open for the sun and the wind and the voices of the sea - like a Greek temple – and light, light, light everywhere!" - Axel Munthe

An interesting article by Penny Ewles Bergeron ( an artist currently living in Naples)
was published in She writes about the the lovely Villa San Michele, high on the hills of Anacapri built by a man named Axel Munthe. The photographs of the villa were beautiful. It made me want to visit this spot someday. Fortunately the villa is now a museum open all year long to the public. But what peaked my curiosity was this man, Axel Munthe. I wanted to know who he was,what brought him to Italy and how he came to live in Villa San Michele. The above information was what I found. I wanted to share this with you.

"Live unafraid, trust in life!" -Axel Munthe


Laurie said...

Wow -- that view of the water from the villa took my breath away. So beautiful...

Anonymous said...

Interesting story about Axel Munthe. The views are breathtaking!

girasoli said...

Gorgeous views. How sad when he lost his sight to not be able to enjoy the views and how wonderful that he was able to gain his sight back again to once again enjoy his Villa in Capri.

Sandrac said...

What an interesting story, Barb! And the photos are stunning.

I love the quote as well.

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