Stendhal syndrome  

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"As I emerged from the porch of Santa Croce, I was seized with a fierce palpitation of the heart (that same symptom which, in Berlin, is referred to as an attack of the nerves); the well-spring of life was dried up within me, and I walked in constant fear of falling to the ground." --Stendhal syndrome excerpt in Rome, Naples, and Florence by Stendhal, tr. unidentified.

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Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.
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Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.

Stendhal syndrome, Stendhal's syndrome, hyperkulturemia, or Florence syndrome is a psychosomatic disorder that causes rapid heartbeat, dizziness, fainting, confusion and even hallucinations when an individual is exposed to an experience of great personal significance, particularly viewing art. It is not listed as a recognised condition in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders.

Contents

Translations of the relevant excerpt

« Enfin, je suis arrivé à Santa Croce. Là, à droite de la porte, est le tombeau de Michel-Ange; plus loin, voilà le tombeau d'Alfieri, par Canova: je reconnais cette grande figure de l'Italie. J'aperçois ensuite le tombeau de Machiavel; et, vis-à-vis de Michel-Ange, repose Galilée. Quels hommes! Et la Toscane pourrait y joindre le Dante, Boccace et Pétrarque. Quelle étonnante réunion! Mon émotion est si profonde, qu'elle va presque jusqu'à la piété. Le sombre religieux de cette église, son toit en simple charpente, sa façade non terminée, tout cela parle vivement à mon âme. Ah! si je pouvais oublier...! Un moine s'est approché de moi; au lieu de la répugnance allant presque jusqu'à l'horreur physique, je me suis trouvé comme de l'amitié pour lui. [...] Je l'ai prié de me faire ouvrir la chapelle à l'angle nord-est, où sont les fresques du Volterrano. Il m'y conduit et me laisse seul. Là, assis sur le marchepied d'un prie-Dieu, la tête renversée et appuyée sur le pupitre, pour pouvoir regarder au plafond, les Sibylles du Volterrano m'ont donné peut-être le plus vif plaisir que la peinture m'ait jamais fait. 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 c?ur, ce qu'on appelle des nerfs à Berlin; la vie était épuisée chez moi, je marchais avec la crainte de tomber. »

Dutch

“Ik had het emotionele punt bereikt waar hemelse gewaarwordingen opgeroepen door de schone kunsten zich mengen met gepassioneerde gevoelens. Toen ik uit Santa Croce kwam, had ik hartkloppingen. Het leven in me was weggevloeid, ik was bang dat ik zou vallen.”[1]

English

"I was in a sort of ecstasy, from the idea of being in Florence, close to the great men whose tombs I had seen. 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, what in Berlin they call 'nerves'. Life was drained from me. I walked with the fear of falling." -- tr. unidentified.

History

The illness is named after the 19th-century French author Stendhal (pseudonym of Marie-Henri Beyle), who described his experience with the phenomenon during his 1817 visit to Florence in his book Naples and Florence: A Journey from Milan to Reggio.

When he visited the Basilica of Santa Croce, where Niccolò Machiavelli, Michelangelo and Galileo Galilei are buried, he was overcome with emotion. He wrote:

"I was in a sort of ecstasy, from the idea of being in Florence, close to the great men whose tombs I had seen. 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, what in Berlin they call 'nerves'. Life was drained from me. I walked with the fear of falling."

He had been shown the frescoes in the church including those by Giotto, and modern writers frequently attribute his emotions mistakenly to the latter rather than powerful historical associations of the tombs.

Although psychiatrists have long debated whether it really exists, its effects on some sufferers are serious enough for them to require treatment in hospital and even antidepressants. The staff at Florence's Santa Maria Nuova hospital are accustomed to dealing with tourists suffering from dizzy spells and disorientation after admiring the statue of David, the masterpieces of the Uffizi Gallery and other treasures of the Tuscan city.

Even though there are many descriptions of people becoming dizzy and fainting while taking in Florentine art, especially at the aforementioned Uffizi in Florence, dating from the early 19th century on, the syndrome was only named in 1979, when it was described by Italian psychiatrist Graziella Magherini, who observed and described more than 100 similar cases among tourists and visitors in Florence. There is no scientific evidence to define the Stendhal syndrome as a specific psychiatric disorder; on the other hand there is evidence that the same cerebral areas involved in emotional reactions are activated during the exposure to artworks.

See also

For the film, see The Stendhal Syndrome.




Unless indicated otherwise, the text in this article is either based on Wikipedia article "Stendhal syndrome" or another language Wikipedia page thereof used under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License; or on original research by Jahsonic and friends. See Art and Popular Culture's copyright notice.

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