What is Stendhal Syndrome ?

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Stendhal, the French writer, recounted a destabilizing and extraordinairy experience that today bears his name : Stendhal Syndrome

An impression of « sublime

In 1817, in his autobiographical account “Rome, Naples and Florence”, the French writer Stendhal recounts an extraordinary experience he had in Florence, more precisely during his visit to the Basilica of Santa Croce. “I had reached this point of emotion where the celestial sensations given by the Fine Arts and passionate feelings meet. Coming out of Santa Croce, I had a heartbeat, life was exhausted at home, I walked with the fear of falling,” he wrote. This sensation is called the “Stendhal Experience”. A person with Stendhal syndrome experiences excessive admiration for one or more works of art (during a museum visit, for example). « This impression of « sublime » leads to a psychiatric disorder close to delirium in the subject. Note that Stendhal’s syndrome should in no way be confused with Brulard’s syndrome, the latter concerning memory disorders ».

Overcome by dizziness

The Stendhal syndrome comes from a strong experience lived by the French writer Stendhal (1783-1842) while he was traveling in Florence. He knelt on a prie-dieu during his visit to the Basilica of Santa Croce and feeling overcome by dizziness, contemplated the frescoes of the dome of the Niccolini chapel: the Sibyls of Volterrano. He felt a « sublime moment of closeness to paradise ». It was not until 1989 that a psychiatrist, the Italian Graziella Magherini, head of the psychiatry department of the Santa Maria Nuova hospital in the historic center of Florence, characterized this syndrome. She observes and describes more than 100 similar cases among tourists visiting this cradle of the Renaissance, and reports her findings in a book. The Stendhal Syndrome would cause a mild acute decompensation affecting subjects traveling outside their country and deeply passionate about art », reports our interlocutor. It includes symptoms such as tachycardia and dizziness, depression and delusional perceptions .

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