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Thursday, January 23, 2014

Crazy for art

Did Inge see herself as the serving girl in the upper window of Andrea del Sarto’s Last Supper in Florence?
The wonderful thing about reading on a Kindle is how easy it is look up things you’re not familiar with. Yesterday, I stumbled across hyperkulturemia.

Stendhal's syndrome or hyperkulturemia is a psychosomatic illness that causes fainting, dizziness, rapid heartbeat, confusion and hallucinations when one is exposed to either particularly beautiful art or art in large quantities.

If I were going to have a mental breakdown in front of a Florentine painting, it might be The Last Judgement, by Fra Angelico, since it has better parts for women.
The French author Henri-Marie Beyle, a/k/a Stendhal, described it thus: “I was in a sort of ecstasy, from the idea of being in Florence, close to the great men whose tombs I had seen. Absorbed in the contemplation of sublime beauty... I reached the point where one encounters celestial sensations... Everything spoke so vividly to my soul. Ah, if I could only forget. I had palpitations of the heart, what in Berlin they call 'nerves.' Life was drained from me. I walked with the fear of falling.”

As crazy as this sounds, an Italian psychiatrist working in the 1970s, Graziella Magherini, described more than a hundred cases of it happening in Florence.

Nah, it would be at the statue of Dante Alighieri at the Uffizi. The Divine Comedy gets me where I live.
Magherini outlined the case of one Inge, who arrived in Florence as a visitor. Her trip was her first in many years, her marriage was dismal, and she felt guilty for leaving her ailing father. These combined with culture shock conspired to give her an overwhelming sense of paranoia on her arrival. She visited a cathedral and was drawn to a Last Supper, whereupon she had palpitations and saw flashes of lights. In her mind, she transposed herself into the painting as one of Christ’s servants. The delusion was not transitory; she was admitted to hospital for observation.

Talk about being moved by art.


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