Art meets medicine with Duncan Geddes

Art meets medicine with Duncan Geddes

The Professor of Medicine gives entertaining talks taking a medical perspective on paintings.

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Fri 03 Nov 2023 10:42 AM

A distinguished professor of medicine at Imperial College London, Duncan Geddes was connected to Florence through marriage, spending summers here with his children, and is now permanently based in the city. His series of highly entertaining and well-researched Wednesday lectures at The British Institute of Florence take a quizzical medical view of Medieval and Renaissance painting, with his next one on November 22 at 6pm titled ‘Between the Sheets: Conception, Birth, Adultery, Illness, Death and Dreaming, 1300-1600’. The topic reminds us of the fact that we spend a third of our lives in bed, with art and literature recording significant events therein. Concentrating on a period when religion and spirituality played a huge role in people’s lives, Duncan Geddes points out surprises of a biological and medical nature, casting a curative lens over well-known works. 

Geddes elaborates, “I’ve lived here full-time for seven years now. Having been married to a Florentine, I’ve always known the city and watched it change. My relationship with The British Institute was originally limited because we were based in the countryside, but since moving to the city, it’s been a major resource for me. One of the biggest advantages of this city is that there’s always something going on and, because I live in the centre, it’s always easily reached either by walking or cycling. That’s something that, in a major cultural centre, is difficult to find anywhere else. I’m a hospital doctor, and my wife was a picture dealer, so I’ve always been in the world of art and pictures, but I’m not an expert. I would never pretend to be an art historical expert. But when I go to a gallery, I can’t help but also be a doctor, and there’s nearly always something of medical interest because there are human bodies, some clothed and others not, just like a hospital ward. I may see a picture of the plague or an arthritic joint, and in one talk I showed sequential paintings of Galileo’s face with a slowly growing black spot suggesting a possible skin cancer.”

On his decision to stay in the city, he commented, “By coming to live here when my wife was ill, I had to develop a new life for myself. At my age this was not an easy thing to do, but Florence was very kind to me, partly because I had an ‘in’ to Italian life through my wife’s family, but you also need to be pushed to do new things and to make new friends. There’s a very good lesson in that. The British Institute proved very helpful through their community initiatives. For example, there are life drawing classes, Lori Heatherington’s writers group, a concert program, bridge lessons and many other activities. I have recently helped to start new carol singing sessions in SOTTO al British where all are welcome as there is increasing evidence that singing is not only fun but good for mental and physical health.”

To attend the talk in person at lungarno Guicciardini 9, register on the website or by emailing bif@britishinstitute.it, with the event costing 12 euro. Alternatively, it’s possible to join the lecture via Zoom. 

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