Does great art make you swoon and faint?

The magnificent interior of the Santa Croce Church in Florida has caused emotional breakdowns in visitors.

Some of the sufferers had actually had hallucinations and heard voices when viewing the masterpieces.

In nineteenth-century Italy, a famous French writer was visiting the Santa Croce Church. The novelist, Marie-Henri Beyle found himself so overwhelmed by the beauty of the structure he was touring that he had an emotional breakdown. An Italian psychiatrist became got wind of the event, investigated, and gave the breakdown its own name.

Fast forward to the 1970s when foreign tourists began having similar emotional breakdowns when viewing remarkable classic works of art. There can be no doubt that there had been similar emotional events before and after the 1970s, but there was a genuine spike of documented cases at this time.

The victims were usually unmarried and also not used to traveling. They swooned before Caravaggio’s painting of the Roman god Bacchus. They fainted when they confronted Michelangelo’s glorious statue of David. They swooned and fainted in the presence of many other magnificent works of art.

When they recovered they remembered profuse sweating, heart palpitations, hyperventilation and stomach cramps, among myriad other symptoms connected with the episodes. There were many others who probably didn’t even report their events.

The psychiatrist—Dr. Graziella Magherini of Florence, Italy—concluded that some of the tourists became disoriented because of the city’s powerful, magnetic, evocation of the past. She had given the emotional condition the name, Stendhal Syndrome. Why? You will not know the answer unless you are extremely well-read. Stendhal is the pen name of Marie-Henri Beyle, the first documented victim of the condition.

Some of the sufferers had actually had hallucinations and heard voices when viewing the masterpieces. Were they overwhelmed by the mysteries of Florence, the beauty of the creations, or did they have an overreaction to jet lag? There will need to be more investigation to know the true cause.

Sara Marie Hogg is the author of It Rises from the Pee Dee. Please click HERE to find the book on Amazon.

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