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Michelangelo's David

Great works of art, such as Michelangelo's David, can trigger aggression, nausea and a desire to destroy the work, according to Italian researchers.

"It's a range of strong emotions which go from enchantment, through vexation ... a vandalistic impulse, right through to panic attacks," said Graziella Magherini, who has dubbed the new affliction the "David syndrome."

Magherini is the head of Italy's Art and Psychology Association. She reported her preliminary findings after a year-long study with a group of psychiatrists and art historians examining the syndrome.

The condition is similar to the disorientating "Stendhal Syndrome," which Magherini identified in the late 1970s. It's named after the French writer Henri Stendhal who experienced sensations of nausea and temporary panic to bouts of madness after viewing frescoes in Florence's Church of Santa Croce in 1817.

"A work of art is a very powerful stimulus," Magherini told Discovery News. "[It] can stimulate memories in our unconscious, sometimes triggering a crisis."

Magherini's team has spent months at Florence's Galleria dell'Accademia studying how visitors react to the marble nude David, considered to be the perfection of male beauty.

Her interviews reveal the range of emotions visitors feel when they see the 500-year-old masterpiece: rapid heartbeat, stomach pains, dizziness and even hallucinations.

Back in 1991, a deranged artist smashed David's foot with a hammer before being restrained. Magherini says the destructive urge may affect 20 per cent of people, but most manage to control themselves.

"Michelangelo himself destroyed some of his own works or parts of them," points out Magherini, who says the David syndrome is caused by people's deepest fears and desires of sex and death.

"Men of 35 to 40 years of age ... are attracted by the extraordinary masculine beauty and at the same time, are also agitated."

The study is slated to be completed in 2006.