The Unexplained: The Mysterious Stendhal Syndrome
September 18, 2021
Sara Marie Hogg
It is a psychosomatic illness of rapid heartbeat, confusion, hallucinations, and often fainting caused by viewing or being in the presence of great works of art
A French author, Marie-Henri Beyle, chose for his pen name, Stendhal.
Stendhal, who lived from 1783-1843 was famous for his novels., The Red and the Black, and The Charterhouse of Parma. He is described as being one of the most complex writers of the early 19th Century—and one of the most original.
He was a practitioner of the technique of realism, and he included a dissection of the psychological traits of the main characters in his work.
He also wrote this passage: “I was in a sort of ecstasy from the idea of being in Florence (Italy), 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 fear of falling.”
Because of his vivid description, this medical condition was named after him. Stendhal’s Syndrome. It was officially named in 1979.
An Italian psychiatrist had observed and documented over 100 cases of the condition. There were many more accounts of this strange malady before Graziella Magherini got around to giving it a suitable name.
It is a psychosomatic illness of rapid heartbeat, confusion, hallucinations, and often fainting caused by viewing or being in the presence of great works of art—objects of great beauty, antiquity, or historical importance.
At the Santa Maria Nuova hospital in Tuscany, the healthcare workers are used to seeing patients suffering from dizziness and disorientation after being in the presence of Michelangelo’s David, there in Florence, and the other brilliant artistic artifacts at the Uffizi Gallery.
Marie-Henri Beyle, Stendhal, wrote his descriptive passage about his supreme anxiety in the book: Naples and Florence, A Journey From Milan to Reggio.
He was overtaken with emotion when he visited the entombments of Machiavelli, Michelangelo, and Galileo, in the Basilica of Santa Croce.
Some serious debates continue over whether Stendhal Syndrome is real. It is hard to be a nonbeliever when medical attention and hospitalization are required for some of the cases.
In fact, as recently as 2018, there was another incident—this one resulting in a heart attack. The visitor was in the Uffizi Gallery of Florence. The tourist was viewing Botticelli’s, The Birth of Venus.
A movie has been made about the mysterious ailment, Stendhal’s Syndrome.
Sara Marie Hogg is the author of Curious, Indeed, a collection of stories about the bizarre and unexplained. Please click HERE to find the book on Amazon.