Overwhelming Art: What is Stendhal Syndrome?

Have you ever had an extreme reaction to viewing a stunning piece of Artwork? Have you ever been stopped in your tracks, experienced heart palpitations and extreme excitement when you walk into a gallery? If so, you may have experienced symptoms of Stendhal Syndrome. Stendhal Syndrome is defined as experiencing a physical reaction when viewing art. Some variations include crying, confusion, disorientation, fainting or hallucinations.
People Viewing Art @ Atlas Fine Art Services © Lisa Jo Roden

People Viewing Art @ Atlas Fine Art Services © Lisa Jo Roden

One of the ArtFire staff, Lisa Jo Roden, is familiar with the syndrome. “I have experienced symptoms of Stendhal Syndrome twice in my life and I feel lucky to have the capacity for such a reaction,” she said. “Both times I was viewing photography that was extremely breathtaking, one work was by Amy Stein and one work by Frances Murray Jones. I got very excited and emotional and burst into tears while laughing (from embarrassment!) I felt pretty silly, but then realized that I was emotional because the art had moved me in such a way that I felt compelled to physically react and that is pretty powerful.” Lisa stated.
Left: Photography © Frances Murray Jones Right: Photography © Amy Stein

Left: Photography © Frances Murray Jones Right: Photography © Amy Stein

The history of this syndrome dates back to 1817 when French author, Stendhal, described his experience of visiting Florence in his book Naples and Florence: A Journey from Milan to Reggio. “On leaving the Santa Croce church, I felt a pulsating in my heart. Life was draining out of me, while I walked fearing a fall.” Stendhal recounted, thus the first recorded incident in history. Florentine psychiatrist, Dr. Graziella Magherina, treated many patients with these symptoms and eventually named the phenomenon “Stendhal’s Syndrome” and wrote a book on the subject titled  La Sindrome di Stendhal, where she looks at over a hundred case studies. The syndrome became so wide-spread that there was even a horror movie made about it, titled The Stendhal Syndrome. There is also a band from Barcelona, Spain that has used the name The Stendhal Syndrome.
Man Viewing Art @ Atlas Fine Art Services © Lisa Jo Roden

Man Viewing Art @ Atlas Fine Art Services © Lisa Jo Roden

So next time you are viewing a piece of art and you start to get a little weak in the knees, you know that you have been affected by this rare and interesting phenomenon.              

1 Comment

  • Reply November 20, 2013

    Anne

    That actually happened to me! I was looking at a Van Gogh, one of the wheat fields painting, I think at MoMA or Guggenheim. The wheat started blowing in the wind and I was very unbalanced and dizzy. It was amazing and something I’ll never forget. What’s more incredible is that she felt the same way too!

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