I vividly remember my first visit to the Musée d’Orsay in Paris, that cavernous museum lodged in a Beaux-Arts former railway station. After floating, enraptured, from one Impressionist gallery to the next, I turned a corner and suddenly found myself facing one of Monet’s famous series of water lily paintings. I’d seen pictures of this in Janson’s 1962 History of Art, and in slide shows back in art college classes, but here I was, actually standing in front of the massive original.
I burst into tears.
This spontaneous reaction was utterly surprising to me – but it might not be for those who study such reactions. This was likely, as Italian psychiatrist Dr. Graziella Magherini first described it in 1979, just a simple case of “La Sindrome di Stendhal” or Florence Syndrome. Looking at great art, she maintained, just might be hard on your mental health. Continue reading