"The sight of anything
extremely beautiful, in nature or in art, brings back the memory of what one
loves, with the speed of lightning." - Stendhal
A peculiar syndrome related to the viewing of art
has been documented as far back as 1817 and was officially given the name
Stendhal Syndrome in 1979. Although the condition does not yet appear in the
American Psychiatric Association's Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental
Disorders, it has been taken seriously enough to be studied by a research team
in Italy who systematically measured reactions of viewers to the artworks
inside the Palazzo Medici Riccardi in Florence.
The disorder was named after French author
Henri-Marie Beyle (1783-1842), also known as 'Stendhal.' After visiting
Florence in 1817, Stendhal wrote about his intense reaction to the artwork he
had viewed: "As I emerged from the porch of Santa Croce, I was seized
with a fierce palpitation of the heart; the wellspring of life was dried up
within me, and I walked in constant fear of falling to the ground."
Italian psychiatrist Dr. Graziella Magherini, who
later named the syndrome, documented 106 cases of art viewers admitted to the
hospital in Florence between 1977 and 1986 suffering from severe emotional
reactions. Their symptoms included rapid heart rate, dizziness, fainting,
confusion, nausea and, in extreme cases, hallucinations. The trigger for the
condition was the viewing of artworks that are perceived to be of great beauty.
Stendhal wrote: "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."
The disorder is also known as Florence Syndrome.
Doctors have long debated whether it really exists, but the staff of Florence's
Santa Maria Nuova hospital report that they have grown accustomed to treating
patients suffering the symptoms of Stendahl Syndrome after admiring the statue
of David and the artworks of the Uffizi Gallery along with the other cultural
treasures of Florence. Whether these are people of great sensitivity or just
exhausted travelers is not known. What is known is that great art seems to
provoke great emotional responses.
Be careful out there.
And be sure to join us
for more interesting and informative articles at The Artist's Road.
--John and Ann