By Yabroff, Jennie
Newsweek , Vol. 155, No. 10
Byline: Jennie Yabroff
We had spent the day at the Vatican, eavesdropping as tour guides explained how Michelangelo fudged the proportions on the Pieta, and were heading out for dinner when I started feeling sick. Had we been anywhere else, I would have chalked it up to too much pizza for lunch. But I was in Italy, and I'd been looking at art. Clearly I had Stendhal syndrome.
Stendhal syndrome isn't included in the draft version of the new Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, released last month, but with proposed additions including "apathy syndrome" and Internet addiction, it's probably only a matter of time. The affliction takes its name from the 19th-century French writer, who was overcome after visiting Florence's Basilica di Santa Croce. In 1989 an Italian psychiatrist named Graziella Magherini published La Sindrome di Stendhal, describing more than 100 tourists who suffered dizziness and heart palpitations (some requiring hospitalization) after seeing the Florentine sights. According to Magherini, great art can make you sick.
Maybe I wasn't suffering a textbook case of Stendhal syndrome: I was in Rome, not Florence, and instead of swooning dramatically, I just had a stomachache. But I wanted to have Stendhal syndrome. The idea that one can be incapacitated by beauty is irresistible. In Chuck Palahniuk's novel Diary, a group of people paralyzed by paintings are killed by a fire at the exhibition. In the movie The Stendhal Syndrome, the hero pursues a serial rapist into Florence's Uffizi Gallery and promptly collapses, overwhelmed by the Caravaggios. …