Recently a listener described rushing through the Louvre to meet a friend, when out of the corner of her eye, she caught sight of a painting. She stopped dead in her tracks, slowly turned to face it, and promptly burst into tears. Thirty years later, she was wondering if there’s a term for that. So we discussed the Stendhal syndrome, an intense physical and psychological response to art.
Many of you have since have since asked about that painting. It’s “The Burial of Atala” by French painter Anne-Louis Girodet de Roussy-Trioson (1767-1824). The Art Institute of Chicago, which is exhibiting the painting through April, says Girodet based it on a popular 19th century novel about an American Indian woman, Atala, who converts to Christianity. Later, she:
frees the Indian brave Chactas from his enemies and finds refuge with him in the cave of the religious hermit Father Aubry. Having consecrated herself to God, Atala takes poison when she fears that she is falling in love with Chactas. After her death, the brave vows to become Christian himself.
Wow. Well, have a closer look, and tell me what you think.