CLOSE

Stendhal Syndrome: Overdosing On Beautiful Art

Imagine that you’re in Florence, looking at awe-inspiring, breathtaking works of art. If you suddenly start to feel that you literally cannot breathe, you may be experiencing Stendhal Syndrome. A psychosomatic disorder, Stendhal Syndrome causes rapid heartbeat, dizziness, sweating, disorientation, fainting, and confusion when someone is looking at artwork with which he or she deeply emotionally connects. 

Also called Florence Syndrome, Stendhal Syndrome is similar to Paris Syndrome, in which tourists who visit Paris for the first time experience anxiety, dizziness, tachycardia, hallucinations, or delusions after they realize that Paris is drastically different from the idealized city they thought it would be. Another extreme form of culture shock is Jerusalem Syndrome, in which tourists suffer from obsessive religious thoughts and delusions in the holy city of Jerusalem. 

Stendhal Syndrome is not merely a modern phenomenon or #FirstWorldProblem. In 1817, a French author named Marie-Henri Beyle described his experience visiting the Basilica of Santa Croce in Florence. Beyle, who wrote using the pseudonym Stendhal, felt overwhelmed by all the beauty and rich history surrounding him: The Basilica featured magnificent frescoes created by the Italian Renaissance artist Giotto, and it was where Machiavelli, Michelangelo, and Galileo were buried. Emotionally, he felt inspired by the sublime beauty, but physically, he experienced heart palpitations and weak, shaky legs.

Over a century later, visitors to Florence continued to suffer from similar symptoms. In 1979, Dr. Graziella Magherini worked as the Chief of Psychiatry at the Hospital of Santa Maria Nuova in Florence. After observing more than 100 tourists who were hospitalized after looking at art in Florence, she coined the term Stendhal Syndrome. In 1989, she published a book, La Sindrome di Stendhal, about these tourists, who experienced a range of symptoms that included anxiety, panic attacks, hallucinations, and even psychotic episodes—all after seeing renowned artwork.

Describing the patients she observed, Magherini said they were sensitive, emotional people who essentially "overdosed" on art. Because Florence has so much famous artwork on display, tourists tend to squeeze in as much art as they can in a few days. Victims are typically impressionable, single people between 26 and 40 years old, who are stressed by travel and may be struggling with jet lag. Of the people she studied who were hospitalized, about half had prior treatment for mental illness—although "prior treatment" could simply mean that someone attended weekly therapy sessions.

So why Florence? Some cases of Stendhal Syndrome have occurred in other Italian cities with stunning artwork, but Magherini says that Florence is the locus because it has the most Renaissance art, which is superficially beautiful and recognizable but often contains darker, disturbing details. Magherini notes that art can provoke subconscious feelings and memories in sensitive viewers. After a few days of rest, or better yet, leaving Italy and resuming their normal lives, patients usually recover fully.

Stendhal Syndrome does not currently appear in the American Psychiatric Association’s DSM (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders). Psychiatrists have, however, documented the syndrome in medical journals  and advise that tourists pace themselves in art museums and get enough rest in between viewings of Italy’s breathtaking, powerful masterpieces.

Bonus trivia: A 1996 Italian horror movie called La Sindrome Di Stendhal was about a serial killer who kidnaps a woman who is experiencing Stendhal Syndrome at a museum. The film’s writer and director, Dario Argento, was inspired by his own intense experience with Stendhal Syndrome as a child while visiting the Parthenon with his parents.

nextArticle.image_alt|e
Hulton Archive/Getty Images
arrow
Art
Museum Discovers Classic Renaissance Painting Hidden in Its Own Collection
Andrea Mantegna circa 1475
Andrea Mantegna circa 1475
Hulton Archive/Getty Images

A long-lost painting by a master artist of the Renaissance was recently rediscovered in the storeroom of an Italian museum near Milan, according to The Art Newspaper and The Wall Street Journal.

The painting in question, Andrea Mantegna’s 15th century The Resurrection of Christ, was found by a curator at an art museum in the city of Bergamo. The Accademia Carrara has been in possession of the Mantegna painting since the 19th century, but long ago discounted it as a copy. While working on a catalogue for the museum in March, Accademia Carrara curator Giovanni Valagussa took note of the tempera-on-panel work and began to investigate its origins.

Count Guglielmo Lochis purchased the painting in 1846, cataloguing it as an original Mantegna; it was bequeathed to the museum as part of his collection after his death in 1859. But decades later, other experts cast doubt on the originality of the work, first re-attributing it to the artist’s son, and later suggesting that it was a copy that was not even made in his workshop. The museum removed it from display sometime before 1912, and it has been in storage for more than a century.

A painting depicting Jesus rising from the dead while soldiers look on
The Resurrection of Christ
Andrea Mantegna, Accademia Carrara

Upon inspecting the painting, Valagussa suspected it was more than just a copy. The painting features a small cross at the bottom of the image that looked disconnected from the rest, and the structure of the back of the painting made it seem like it might be part of a larger work. Valagussa tracked down another Mantegna painting, Descent Into Limbo, that seemed to fit underneath—the paintings are likely two halves of one image that was cut apart.

The Accademia Carrara also conducted an infrared survey of The Resurrection of Christ, discovering that the artist drew nude figures first, then painted over them with images of clothed soldiers, a technique that Mantegna was known for.

A world expert on Mantegna, the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Keith Christiansen, did his own analysis and believes the painting in Bergamo to be an authentic, high-quality Mantegna. That means that the Accademia Carrara’s forgotten wood panel, previously insured for around $35,000, is probably worth between $25 million and $30 million.

The museum hopes to one day bring the two parts of the painting, The Resurrection of Christ and the privately owned Descent Into Limbo, together in an exhibition in the future.

[h/t The Art Newspaper]

nextArticle.image_alt|e
USPS
arrow
Art
USPS Is Issuing Its First Scratch-and-Sniff Stamps This Summer
USPS
USPS

Summertime smells like sunscreen, barbecues, and—starting June 20, 2018—postage stamps. That's when the United States Postal Service debuts its first line of scratch-and-sniff stamps in Austin, Texas with perfumes meant to evoke "the sweet scent of summer."

The 10 stamps in the collection feature playful watercolor illustrations of popsicles by artist Margaret Berg. If the designs alone don't immediately transport you back to hot summer days spent chasing ice cream trucks, a few scratches and a whiff of the stamp should do the trick. If you're patient, you can also refrain from scratching and use them to mail a bit of summer nostalgia to your loved ones.

Since it was invented in the 1960s, scratch-and-sniff technology has been incorporated into photographs, posters, picture books, and countless kids' stickers.

The first-class mail "forever" stamps will be available in booklets of 20 for $10. You can preorder yours online before they're unveiled at the first-day-of-issue dedication ceremony at Austin's Thinkery children's museum next month.

SECTIONS

arrow
LIVE SMARTER
More from mental floss studios