Stendhal Syndrome: An Art Attack?

Zuzanna Stańska 3 April 2017 min Read

If you’ve witnessed someone fainting in front of great masterpieces, it could have been Stendhal Syndrome—an art lover’s sickness.

Stendhal Syndrome, also known as hyperkulturemia or Florence syndrome, is a psychosomatic disorder characterized by rapid heartbeat, dizziness, fainting, confusion, and even hallucinations when an individual is exposed to a collection of artworks perceived as exceptionally beautiful, often encountered in settings like art galleries or museums.

stendhal syndrome
One of the most perpetrators of the Stendhal Syndrome

While not officially recognized in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Stendhal Syndrome profoundly affects individuals. Some sufferers experience symptoms severe enough to necessitate hospitalization and even antidepressant medication. Florence’s Santa Maria Nuova Hospital often attends to tourists who feel dizzy or disoriented after admiring renowned works like Michelangelo’s David or the masterpieces of the Uffizi Gallery.

The syndrome gained its name in 1979 from Italian psychiatrist Graziella Magherini, who documented over 100 similar cases among visitors in Florence. It pays homage to the 19th-century French author Stendhal, who recounted his own encounter with the phenomenon during his 1817 journey to Florence in his book Naples and Florence: A Journey from Milan to Reggio.

Stendhal visited the Basilica of Santa Croce, where Niccolò Machiavelli, Michelangelo, and Galileo Galilei were buried. He also saw Giotto’s frescoes for the first time and was overwhelmed with emotion. He wrote:

I was in a sort of ecstasy, from the idea of being in Florence, close to the great men whose tombs I had seen. Absorbed in the contemplation of sublime beauty… I reached the point where one encounters celestial sensations… Everything spoke so vividly to my soul. Ah, if I could only forget. I had palpitations of the heart, what in Berlin they call ‘nerves.’ Life was drained from me. I walked with the fear of falling.

Ecstasy, sublime beauty, celestial sensations… Have you ever experienced the Stendhal Syndrome?

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