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In front of a work of art, it happens that some are touched in the heart, to the point of having a series of intense physical manifestations. This is called Stendhal’s syndrome.

Art can have great effects on humans. According to a recent study, published in the journal Computers in Human Behavior, looking at works on your computer could help treat anxiety and low morale. At least that’s what a study of just over 200 people in front of Monet’s water lilies reproduced by Google Arts and Culture recently revealed. And this is reminiscent of another reaction to an artistic work, which we do not know if it is a myth or a reality, the famous “Stendhal syndrome”.

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The name of this syndrome comes directly from the author, who describes in his autobiography dated 1817 a strong emotion that arose in front of the ornaments of the Basilica of Santa Croce. As the Cairn site recalls, which cites a work on the question signed by Richard Trèves, professor of medicine, Stendhal then wrote: “I had reached this point of emotion where the celestial sensations given by the Fine Arts meet. and passionate feelings. Leaving Santa Croce, I had a heartbeat, life was exhausted at home, I walked with the fear of falling”.

Hysterical fits have been observed

A hundred other people would have described similar symptoms in front of works: difficulty breathing, dizziness, feeling of dissociation, difficulty seeing correctly, hallucinations, tachycardia… As if they had been hit head-on by the artistic piece in front of them.

The effects are described as such by Richard Trèves: “The visitor is suddenly seized by the deep meaning that the artist has given to his work., and perceives all the emotion that emanates from it in an exceptionally vivid way that transcends the images and the subject of the painting. The reactions of the subjugated victims are very variable: attempts to destroy the painting or hysterical fits have been observed.”

A hundred other cases are then described by an Italian psychiatrist, all of whom took place in Florence. In 1979, she truly theorized this “attack”. Graziella Magherini, then head of the psychiatry department of the Santa Maria Nuova hospital, offers a sociology of those who are affected: Italian tourists are “immune”, already knowing this culture very well, and those from North America and from Asia too because it is not their culture. “Among the others, people living alone and having had a classical or religious education are more affected, regardless of their gender,” reports the Cairn.

A psychosomatic disorder would explain this phenomenon

That said, in a museum, with the temperature variations, the crowd,… many causes can explain these disproportionate emotional reactions, leaving some doubt about the veracity of this syndrome. So, does it really exist?

For his part, the psychoanalyst and psychotherapist Rodolphe Oppenheimer pointed out to Geo magazine that the subject was overwhelmed by his emotions in the face of an impression of the sublime, born of a boundless admiration for the work in front of him.

Richard Trèves’ work evokes for its part a psychosomatic disorder, which characterizes the way in which a psychic disorder becomes a physical disorder. He suggests that to treat this “evil”, psychotherapy would be the most indicated. Moreover, the psychoanalyst and psychotherapist Rodolphe Oppenheimer advises the same treatment to those who would have such an experience in front of a work of art.

Sources: Cairn, Richard Trèves, Geo, Computers in Human Behavior

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