Stendhal's syndrome, Florence syndrome, or Paris Syndrome, is a psychosomatic condition involving rapid heartbeat, fainting, confusion and even hallucinations, allegedly occurring when individuals become exposed to emotionally charged artworks, or phenomena of great beauty and antiquity.
When I was in my 20’s, I travelled to Paris, France, to visit friends. I was excited to be back in Europe, on my own, as an adult. I had begun my career as an artist, and was thrilled to be staying where much of the world’s great art was housed.
We went to visit the “Musee d’Orsay” one rainy afternoon, and I wandered around the Impressionist Gallery.
I had recently discovered Monet’s paintings at that time, so I wandered over to see them. There was a huge crowd around his “Les Coquelicots” painting, of a poppy field with figures up on the hill. Even though I’d loved it in the books I’d studied, I decided to bypass it since I hate crowds.
Suddenly as I walked past, the crowd around the painting melted away. Then the whole gallery froze, silent, nothing moved.
An older bearded man with a dusty floppy hat moved to stand behind me, and he began to explain the painting, -describing the composition, triangulation, complementary colours, raised horizon-all the successful elements of what made it a great painting.
I watched his gnarled hand as he pointed, and I listened, entranced.
Suddenly I turned to look behind me to see his full face. There was no one there! The spell was broken, and the gallery noise returned, crowds resumed their normal flow. I was more than a little confused by what had just happened, and rushed to find my friends to tell them. They laughed, unable to explain it either, asking if I was drunk.
I researched books on Monet in more detail afterwards.. and one day found a photograph of Monet in his famous garden, with his bushy beard and floppy hat. It was the same man who had stood behind me in the gallery. I thought I was going crazy or at least seeing ghosts.
Intrigued, I started researching if anyone else had ever had an experience like mine. In my research I found an interesting article about ‘Art Swooning’! I remember reading the following details back then:
12% of the population experiences Art Swooning, when in the presence of original works of art, particularly common with famous paintings. The energy that the artist expressed in the painting is still encapsulated in the paint itself, it seems. Those who are sensitive to this are liable to experience ‘swooning’- with responses from hysteria to hallucinations, fainting to tears. Since this most often occurs in art galleries, it has been recorded quite often, particularly in Florence, Italy.
That information was years ago, so I tried searching it again to write this blog post. I found there's actually a term for it, and many articles on ‘Stendhal Syndrome’ have been written - it's most intriguing!
I have always shared with my art buyers that original art contains the energy and emotion of the artist while they were painting it. That emotion is shared with the viewer, in much the same way that we feel the emotions of a singer/writer when we listen to music or read a novel.
With art, this experience only happens with *original* paintings, and seems to only happen when the painting speaks to the viewer with some depth of emotional connection.
Have you ever had any 'art swooning' experience? Share it here if you like! I'm interested to hear more!
I have included a few in-depth articles -scientific and journalistic-, since I’m sure there will be much intrigue amongst artists and art lovers as a new subject for you to delve into!
Being psychologically overcome by the artistic beauty and cultural significance of Florence was first personally reported in 1817 by the French author Stendhal.1 More recently, a Florentine psychiatrist reported a series of 106 visitors admitted to hospital between 1977 and 1986 after experiencing acute transient psychiatric symptoms in response to viewing the art of Florence.”
Hilary Slater: I write in the morning before I get out of bed. I write in the evening when the world is quiet. I write at Starbucks, where I can escape the household interruptions. But most of all I write in November, when NaNoWriMo inspires me!