Stendhal syndrome: real pathology or pure postureo?

You walk through the Prado and your steps lead you to ‘The Garden of Earthly Delights’ (for example) because it is a work that you have seen millions of times in books or by searching for it on Google, but you have never before had the opportunity to observe it in all its splendor , live or direct. That of the aura of the works, that Walter Benjamin used to say. You stand before the concrete painting, and suddenly its beauty begins to fascinate you to such an extent that your heart racesYou have palpitations, you get dizzy, you even tremble, like the teenager who falls in love for the first time. It exists and has a name: Stendhal syndrome.

Before you, the author Stendhal already felt it in the 19th century, giving it a name. In addition to a psychosomatic illness, he also became a reference during romanticism due to the sensitivity that seems to surround this particular enjoyment of artistic beauty. Stendhal was walking in 1817 by the Basilica of the Holy Cross in Florence (he wrote his journey in the third person, mentioning a gentleman from Berlin, although it is known that it is based on his own experience), and was impressed to see the tombs of men as important as Galileo, Michelangelo or Machiavelli. That, added to the beauty of the basilica, made me start to feel palpitations, vertigo and confusion. He had to stop admiring the monument in order to recover.

  Basilica of the Holy Cross. Basilica of the Holy Cross.

“I had come to that point of emotion in which the celestial sensations given by the Fine Arts are found and passionate feelings (…) my heart was beating, life was exhausted in me, I was afraid of falling, “he said. The surprising thing is that, after him, other people also suffered something similar while visiting art in Florence (especially the Uffizi Gallery) from the 19th century onwards. Surprisingly it was not described as a syndrome until the 70s by the Italian psychiatrist Graziella Magherini, which came to describe more than 100 similar cases in the city that was once the cradle of the Renaissance.

“I had reached that point of emotion in which the heavenly sensations given by the Fine Arts and passionate feelings are found (…) my heart was beating, I was afraid of falling”

Magherini then decided to carry out a study that helped him to catalog three types of Stendhal syndrome: the first, experienced by 66% of travelers, who suffered thought disorders (alternations in perception when seeing colors or hearing sounds, anxiety …), the second, suffered by a 29%, predominant affect disorders (anguish, feelings of inferiority, euphoria …), and the last, felt by only a 5% of patients, in the form of anguish and panic.

There are relatively similar syndromes and just as fascinating: the one in parisFor example, it is a psychological disorder that, curiously, the Japanese suffer especially when, when visiting Paris, they suffer a great disappointment because it is not as they expected it to be, to the point of being able to have anxiety, hallucinations or depersonalization. Jerusalem syndrome, on the other hand, is a disease that produces psychosis and delirium: when the tourist (sometimes inhabitant) is in Jerusalem, he identifies with a personage in the sacred history of the Old or New Testament and begins to act as such.

It has been reported that many Japanese suffer from the so-called ‘Paris syndrome’ when they visit the city and it does not meet their expectations: they experience anxiety or even hallucinations

Stendhal syndrome has romanticized a lot to the point that it is not uncommon to find people on social networks who claim to experience a work that they especially like (or a person) each time. But to what extent is it a syndrome that we can all experience? Is it posture or is it really something more or less frequent? And, more importantly, if the majority of the population (studied) has experienced it in FlorenceDoes that mean that it is the area where it is most likely to happen?

Fake Stendhals of the world unite

According to the psychiatrist Marc Planella, the personality also has a lot to say in these cases: “It is likely that it usually occurs in people who are more sensitive and emotionally reactive to certain stimuli. Anyway, as the descriptions are varied (in general they resemble an anxiety or dissociative crisis, but the symptoms are quite varied) could include other types of people. It seems that many of them already suffer from some type of mental health problem, or that the symptoms appear after stressful events have happened to them shortly before, or that they are very tired because they have slept little … but today I posture a lot. in everything yeah so I guess there will also be ‘fake Stendhals’ running through social networks “.

It seems that many of them already suffer from some type of mental health problem, or that the symptoms appear after stressful events have happened before

As he explains, it seems that it is easier to experience the syndrome with works of more beauty or historical importance: “There is documentation on Michelangelo’s David, also the Mona Lisa, with cities like Rome, Florence or Paris… anyway, the key is probably more in the person than in the place and it is certain that it occurs in many sites that are not reported because they are not so well known. There is probably a cultural factor that also mediates the appearance of symptoms, with what is usual in mental health, we are faced with a combination of factors (biological, personality, cultural …) that interact to give these symptoms “Marc points out.

And finally, what most catches our attention when we hear about this strange syndrome: its resemblance to what we experience when we fall in love. “In some cases it seems, yes,” says Marc. “Even so, it does not always have to be because of that: just as they can have an intense emotional reaction for linking a work with a love, it can be linked to other emotionally important factors for the person such as a deceased family member or an emotionally traumatic past event. ” And deep down, no matter how much posture there is in networks, experiencing Stendhal syndrome does not really seem pleasant at all.

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