Two years ago, strange news was all over the media when a man in Italy got a heart attack while admiring “The Birth of Venus,” by the famous Renaissance painter, Sandro Botticelli. At first, this heart attack was considered a coincidence but it was later declared as a unique medical condition called Stendhal syndrome, where beautiful art can cause physical and mental loss.
It sounds bizarre but interestingly, it has a long history implying it is a possibility. This term Stendhal syndrome was used by an Italian psychiatrist back in 1989. There is data referring to damage to health while absorbing a beautiful art piece. To determine, what may cause this effect involves cultural history, beauty, significance, and philosophy.
Dr. Graziella Magherini explained this unique phenomenon in her book La sindrome di Stendhal ( translation: The Stendhal Syndrome) published in 1989. This name Stendhal has been taken from a French writer of the same name, who penned down his Italy travelogue in 1817, named Naples and Florence: A Journey from Milan to Reggio.
Stendhal syndrome can affect anyone but it is more likely to hit the tourists as they experience an esthetic beauty, way above the ordinary standards. Dr. Magherini pointed out three major symptoms that hit people suffering from this unique syndrome.
These symptoms are;
- Chanced perception of voice, vision, or senses while feeling deep guilt, stress, or even persecution
- A depressive episode along with a feeling of inadequacy, euphoria and also, authoritative feeling
- Frequent panic attacks and physical symptoms i.e. increased heartbeat, palpitations, etc
While many psychologists believe it to be an infatuation, some believe it is a real disease. Some of the reviews of research it reveal that there is no strong evidence that it is a disorder. It is not listed in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5) as a clinical disorder, nor it lists its symptoms affecting a person’s mental health. Still, many cases of this syndrome are often reported exhibiting physical and mental symptoms.
One of the previous case studies which were published in the BMJ Case Reports revealed the case of a creative artist who experienced insomnia and was under a suspicion that someone is continuously monitoring this artist. All these symptoms started when he visited Florence, nearly 8 years ago where he was standing at the Ponte Vecchio bridge and experienced a panic attack. As to this patient, his symptoms quickly healed on their own, without any medical treatment but it reveals the increased risk of damage in people with existing health issues.
Some health experts believe it is triggered by an overreaction from a specific part of the human brain. People who are already at a high risk of mental health disorders are more susceptible to issues like Stendhal syndrome.
It is also closely related to a similar condition called, Jerusalem syndrome in which people get too excited while they visit religious places, especially in Jerusalem. But most researchers agree that it is probably an aggravated form of an already existing mental health issue which is showing up as a random psychotic event.