Overcome by Beauty

'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

The 19th century French author, Marie-Henri Beyle, better known as Stendhal, is famous not only for his fabulous wit, dandyism and sexual conquests, but also for having a strange disorder named after him.  Stendhal syndrome, which involves experiencing: heart palpitations, confusion, feeling totally overcome and possibly hallucinating, is induced by: a magnificent art piece; or the beauty of a place, or the natural world.

David (Michelangelo)Credit: Wikipedia

After Stendhal visited Florence in 1817, he wrote about his intense reaction to the awe-inspiring art and magnificence of the city:

"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,"

Swooning Syndrome

Primavera by Sandro BotticelliCredit: Wikipedia

Primavera by Sandro Botticelli, Wikipedia

Stendhal died in 1842, but his name lives on, in this strange beauty induced, swooning syndrome. In 1989 Graziella Magherini, an Italian psychiatrist wrote a book called La Sindrome di Stendhal, where she details 107 Stendhal syndrome cases, that she authenticated while working at a hospital in Florence. Magherini seems to view the experience of those who become utterly overwhelmed, "when faced with this city", as temporary psychosis.

Sigmund Freud however, also experienced a similar phenomena to Stendhal syndrome. He described in a letter to Romain Rolland in 1936, how he had dreamed of seeing the Acropolis and the Greek and Roman ruins since he was a teenager. When he did finally visit such wonderous historical places, he was seized with a sense of the uncanny and he said that nothing seemed real.

Freak Out!

The Love of Helen and Paris Jacques-Louis David (1748–1825)Credit: Wikipedia

The Love of Helen and Paris, Jacques-Louis David.

In 2009 a Russian woman visiting the Louvre Museum freaked out and threw a cup at the Mona Lisa. Luckily the cup bounced off the bullet proof glass, but the women was taken into custody and received psychological testing for Stendhal Syndrome, as some suffers lose their marbles and become violent. Another strange incident occurred at the Louvre in 1998, when a mild-mannered family man and mathematics professor, attacked with a hammer, a statue of the Roman philosopher Seneca.

Psychologists trying to figure out if Stendhal syndrome is real, have performed "multi-sensory" testing on visitors to the  Palazzo Medici Riccardi in Florence, Italy. Staff however at Santa Maria Nuova hospital in Florence, are quite accustomed to the swooning, disoriented, hallucinating  tourists, who stop by the hospital after viewing Michelangelo's statue of David. So it seems Stendhal Syndrome, although strange, is in fact true.


Mona Lisa Song by Nat King Cole