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Stendhal Syndrome: The Experience of Being Overwhelmed by Art

Stendhal Syndrome: Overwhelmed by Art
Ever heard of an 'art attack'? The Stendhal Syndrome, a.k.a Florence Syndrome, is a psychosomatic disorder featuring a similar condition. Here's a PsycholoGenie post that elaborates more upon the Stendhal Syndrome.
PsycholoGenie Staff
Last Updated: Mar 9, 2018
Jerusalem Syndrome
This syndrome being very similar to the one in discussion is characterized by delusions, religiously-backed obsessive thought, and other mental disturbances after visiting the city of Jerusalem.
You might be wondering what an art attack exactly means. An art attack is a state characterized by symptoms like palpitations, dizziness, panic, and even hallucinations, after being exposed to extraordinary works of art. Though 'art attack' is a slang or rather informal term, it always sounds easier to comprehend than Stendhal's Syndrome.

The condition was first described by a famous French author of the 19th century, Marie-Henri Beyle going by the pen-name Stendhal. This is how he described his experience: "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."

Certain art lovers and connoisseurs describe a similar feeling after visiting or viewing extraordinary art works. Though there isn't conclusive evidence regarding the syndrome, some medical professionals have recorded instances of individuals exhibiting the classic signs of this syndrome. Now, let us take a closer look at the symptoms, and a few more facts about this Syndrome.
An Overview of the Stendhal Syndrome
Definition
Hyperkulturemia, in scientific terms, is a psychosomatic condition that mostly leads to palpitations, dizziness, confusion, fainting, and even hallucinations in an individual, when overwhelmed by extraordinary works of art.
Symptoms
Possible symptoms include rapid heart rate (palpitations), feelings of nausea, confusion, and disorientation; panic attacks, paranoia, temporary amnesia, dissociative episodes, and even hallucinations (in extreme cases).
Facts and Further Research
► In 1979, psychiatrist Dr. Graziella Magherini (Chief of Psychiatry at Florence's Santa Maria Nuova Hospital) began observing several tourist who visited Florence exhibiting symptoms of the said syndrome. After almost a decade, Dr Magherini reported a total of 107 cases who mostly were single men or women between the ages of 26 to 40, traveled alone or in small groups, and had previous contact with a psychiatrist or a psychologist.
► One such case encountered recently (2009), was reported by Dr. Timothy Nicholson and was published in British Medical Journal Case Reports. It was about a 72-year-old individual who developed paranoid psychoses after a tour of Florence. The report further said that whilst standing on the Ponte Vecchio bridge―a destination that the individual was most eager to visit―he experienced a panic attack and became disoriented. Following this, he also experienced delusions of persecution, which made him believe that he was monitored by international airlines, and his hotel room was bugged. However, these symptoms were seen to disappear after three weeks.
► Dr. Magherini also has mentioned two notable cases. The first one being of Martha, a 25-year-old who went delirious after standing before the Fra Angelico paintings in the museum of St. Mark. Further, when she returned to her hotel, she withdrew herself into a corner of the room, and didn't speak or move for a long time.
► The second case is of a lady named Inge who was in her 40s and belonged to a small town in a Northern European country. She felt unnerved after looking at the frescoes in the Strozzi Chapel in Santa Maria Novella. She felt even more delirious especially after looking at panels of women pointing fingers, which convinced her that they were pointing at her. While talking to Dr. Magherini, Inge showed extreme paranoid feelings. She said - "It seemed that they were writing about me in the newspaper, they were talking about me on the radio and they were following me in the streets.
Many psychiatrist believe that in most cases the people who experience the above mentioned symptoms greatly appreciate art, and the symptoms are a result of stuffing too much into very little time. The only way to prevent this syndrome is to avoid absorbing a lot of art in a very short time.
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