Stendhal's syndrome

DEFINITION

Dizziness, panic, paranoia, amnesia, or other nervous conditions caused by viewing certain art objects or by trying to see too many works of art in too short a time.The French novelist Stendhal (born Marie-Henri Beyle, 1783-1842) was 34 when he visited Florence, Italy, in 1817, and very shortly found himself overwhelmed by the city's legacy of art and history. When he visited Santa Croce (the cathedral in which Michelangelo, Machiavelli, and Galileo are buried) and saw Giotto's ceiling frescoes for the first time, he was overcome with emotion: "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.''Much later, in the late 1970s, Dr. Graziella Magherini, then the chief of psychiatry at Florence's Santa Maria Nuova Hospital, noticed that a number of tourists who visited Florence were disoriented by the experience, suffering from symptoms ranging from temporary panic attacks to truly debilitating mental illnesses that lasted several days. Reminded that Stendhal had had similar symptoms, Dr. Magherini began to call it the Stendhal syndrome. (pr. sten-dahl' sin'drum, or, sin-drohm)Quote: "In Tuscany they have a term for it. They call it 'Stendhal's syndrome' because the 19th century French novelist is said to have been the first to write about the dizzying disorientation some tourists experience when they encounter masterpieces of the Italian Renaissance." Phil Kukielski, "In Umbria, Pottery becomes High Art," The Tallahassee Democrat, September 1, 2002 Also see attention, beauty, d?j? vu, forget, memory, mind, motivation, , obsession, sublime, theory, unconscious, and volute.

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