Sandro Botticelli’s The Birth of Venus, a tempera painting thought to have been commissioned by the Medici family, has been practically omnipresent since the Italian Renaissance painter first unveiled his masterpiece, all the way back in the 15th century. Beyoncé, Lady Gaga, Reebok, Adobe Illustrator, and the photographer David LaChapelle are just some of those who’ve recently ensured that the painting’s reach has continued to stretch far beyond the Uffizi Gallery in Florence, where it currently resides—and where it apparently had such an impact on an Italian museumgoer that he suffered a heart attack.
We can’t exactly blame the man, who, by the way, was reportedly rushed to the hospital, where he’s now in recovery after receiving treatment from four visiting doctors and a defibrillator. It was, after all, the goddess of love and beauty whom Botticelli sought to depict, which he did in the mid-1480s during her arrival to the island of Cyprus immediately after emerging from the sea fully grown, with a nude body to prove it. (While fully on display atop a giant scallop shell, in front of a welcome crew including the wind god, Zephyr, she admittedly makes some use of her nearly knee-length golden hair to maintain a degree of modesty.)
The incident this past week, however, wasn’t the first testament to Botticelli’s success in illustrating—and even creating—a beauty standard; another museumgoer reportedly suffered an epileptic fit when facing Venus in all of her splendor, contributing to the theory that both were victims of what’s been known as Stendhal syndrome, since its namesake patient zero reported experiencing palpitations after taking in the Basilica di Santa Croce and more “sublime beauty” to be found throughout Florence.
In addition to being known as hyperkulturemia, the condition has in fact also adopted the name Florence syndrome, as some believe the city’s artistic beauty and cultural significance to be the most culpable in leaving viewers of artistic masterpieces overwhelmed enough for their feelings to reach a visceral, physical level. (Symptoms, according to a study that the medical journal BMJ published in 2009, include dizziness, confusion, fainting, increased heart rate, and, yes, even hallucinations.)
Rather than avoiding the blame, the Uffizi seems to be embracing the incident as good press. Indeed, even though the museum’s director, Eike Schmidt, made it clear to the the Italian newspaper Corriere della Sera that he is “not a doctor,” he still took it upon himself to offer his medical opinion on the matter. “All I know is that visiting a museum like ours, which is full of masterpieces, can certainly cause emotional, psychological, and even physical stress,” he said. He also appeared to venture forth the idea that in such scenarios, beauty is most definitely in the eye of the beholder—otherwise there isn’t much weight to his example that another museumgoer recently fainted in front of Caravaggio’s Medusa.
A Look at Every W Magazine Art Issue Cover, From Kim Kardashian to Cardi B
The first W Art Issue cover, from November 2006, was a collaboration between the artist Richard Tuttle and the photographer Mario Sorrenti.
In 2007, Richard Prince took celebrity stock photos and, in a sly commentary on pre–social media celeb culture, scribbled an autograph dedicated to himself on each one of the covers, featuring Jennifer Aniston, Cameron Diaz, Angelina Jolie, Nicole Kidman, Lindsay Lohan, Julia Roberts, Jessica Simpson, and Britney Spears.
Richard Prince’s Lindsay Lohan on W’s November 2007 cover.
Richard Prince’s Jennifer Aniston on W’s November 2007 cover.
Richard Prince’s Britney Spears on W’s November 2007 cover.
Richard Prince’s Nicole Kidman on W’s November 2007 cover.
Richard Prince’s Julia Roberts on W’s November 2007 cover.
Richard Prince’s Jessica Simpson on W’s November 2007 cover.
Richard Prince’s Cameron Diaz on W’s November 2007 cover.
Brad Pitt got behind the camera himself to take intimate portraits of Angelina Jolie and their kids exclusively for W’s Art Issue in 2008.
In this provocative 2009 Art Issue cover, the artist Maurizio Cattelan cast the supermodel Linda Evangelista as both saint and sinner.
Barbara Kruger’s 2010 Art Issue cover says everything we ever needed to know about Kim Kardashian West—then, of course, just Kim Kardashian.
Untitled, 2010, by Barbara Kruger for W’s November 2010 cover, courtesy of Mary Boone Gallery.
For this 2011 Art Issue alternate cover, the artist Francesco Vezzoli reimagines Nicki Minaj as an 18th-century courtesan.
Also in 2011, the first new work that the artist Ai Weiwei made after being released from government custody in China was W’s Art Issue cover, which he made—via Skype—while under house arrest.
In 2013, four artists—George Condo, Rineke Dijkstra, Mickalene Thomas, and Chantal Joffe—reimagined the actress Jessica Chastain for the Art Issue.
Jessica Chastain, W, January 2013.
The artist Yayoi Kusama put George Clooney in her trademark polka dots in December 2013/January 2014.
In 2014, five leading artists used Pharrell Williams as muse, among them Urs Fischer, JR, Rob Pruitt, Mr., and Alex Katz, who painted Pharrell from life during a private sitting.
For the 2015 Art Issue cover, the video artist Bill Viola put Margot Robbie and Jake Gyllenhaal underwater.
Margot Robbie, W, December 2015.
Also in 2015, Yoko Ono revisited her famous “Cut Piece” in an exclusive work for W Art, only this time Ono was doing the cutting.
Meanwhile, five artists reimagined Drake (Katherine Bernhardt, Mark Flood, JIMJOE, KAWS, and Henry Taylor) for the 2015 W Art supplement.
On the 2016 Art Issue cover, Kendall Jenner and Gigi Hadid became “humanoid pets,” thanks to the artists Lizzie Fitch and Ryan Trecartin.
In 2017, the artist Cindy Sherman shot her own kind of self-portrait via phone for the Art Issue.
And on a split 2017 Art Issue cover, Mary J. Blige was photographed by Carrie Mae Weems.
And in November 2018, Cardi B was photographed by the artist Mickalene Thomas for the Art Issue.