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Stendhal Disorder


By: Gene Carla Chua


StendhalHave you ever seen something so beautiful, you thought you might faint or suddenly fall to the ground? Have you encountered such beauty, that your heart began to palpitate and you started to hallucinate? Most people answer no or even think that such question is very bizarre, but there are actual people who have experienced these sensations when presented with beautiful pieces of art, or confronted with the spectacular beauty of the natural world. These are the individuals who have Stendhal Disorder – also called Florence Syndrome, or Hyperkulturemia.

Stendhal Disorder is a psychosomatic illness. A psychosomatic illness means that this illness involves or relates to both mind and body. This causes fast heartbeat, extreme dizziness, and confusion. In worst cases, it may even cause hallucinations when the affected individual is exposed to art. It worsens when the person is exposed to particularly beautiful works of art, large amount of art or even beautiful natural sceneries.

It has been long debated by psychiatrists if this disorder even exists. We can’t actually blame them because this illness sounds fairly profound to many. They have not even found what causes this reaction within the human brain or anywhere in the body. Surely, this disorder has to be further studied and tested. There has been proof though, that it is really a serious disorder. After touring inside the Palazzo Medici Riccardi in Florence, Italy some tourists have experienced the symptoms of Stendhal Disorder. Some of the affected tourists even needed serious medical attention and treatment in a nearby hospital. The employees at Florence’s Santa Maria Nuova hospital are accustomed to dealing with tourists suffering from dizzy spells and disorientation after admiring the statue of David, the masterpieces of the Uffizi Gallery and other treasures of the Tuscan city.

This illness is named after the renowned nineteenth century French author more commonly known as Stendhal. Stendhal is a pseudonym for his real name, Henri- Marie Beyle. It was named after him since he described his experience with the phenomenon during his visit to Florence in 1817 in his book Naples and Florence: A Journey from Milan to Reggio. Although there have been a lot of descriptions of people becoming dizzy, fainting, and getting confused while admiring and taking pictures of Florentine art, especially at the Uffizi, dating from the nineteenth century onwards – surprisingly it was only named in 1979. It was named when an Italian psychiatrist named Graziella Magherini described the phenomenon. She has observed and described more than a hundred of similar cases among the many tourists and visitors in Florence, Italy.

Since not a lot of information about this illness is known to us, researchers are currently using hi- tech instruments to record and measure the reactions of the visitors as they survey through the treasures exhibited in the Palazzo Medici Riccardi in Florence.

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