Stendhal syndrome is a psychosomatic illness that occurs as a reaction to art. Also known as hyperkulturemia, this particular condition produces an overwhelming reaction to a large amount of art being gathered in one place or if a work of art is particularly attractive to the viewer. Stendhal syndrome produces actual physical symptoms as the result of the psychological and emotional reaction to art.
Stendhal’s syndrome is named in honor of the famous French writer, Stendhal, who experienced overwhelming symptoms of anxiety and even fainted while viewing art in Italy. It was an Italian psychologist named Graziella Magherini, however, who in the 1970s first began to apply this label to others with symptoms similar to those first described by Stendhal in the 19th century. Symptoms of Stendhal syndrome include anxiety, heart palpitations, dizziness and fainting. Some individuals experiencing this condition have even been noted to experience hallucinations while observing great works of art.
Stendhal syndrome can be experienced by anyone overwhelmed by artistic masterpieces. It most commonly occurs, however, in individuals visiting works of art in Florence, Italy, which is why it is also called Florence syndrome by some. It is such a frequently occurring syndrome in this part of the world that hospital staff workers in that area report that symptoms are commonly recognized when disoriented patients arrive at a hospital soon after admiring nearby works of art.
Travel experts advise tourists to not try to take everything in at one time when visiting Italy in order to avoid developing Stendhal syndrome. Experts further advise that art lovers balance their time between viewing art and doing other activities, such as attending sporting events, shopping or dining out. By doing so, the odds of becoming overwhelmed by too much artistic beauty are reduced, as are the odds of experiencing Stendhal syndrome symptoms.
In her book on the subject, "La syndrome de Stendhal," Dr. Magherini explains that, while Stendhal syndrome is a rare psychosomatic illness, it most commonly occurs in tourists who have created stress symptoms by attempting to see and do too much during a visit to a city famous for its museums, art galleries and historical landmarks. Similar syndromes, such as Paris syndrome and Jerusalem syndrome, have been known to occur in Paris and Jerusalem as individuals become overwhelmed while viewing significant religious and cultural artifacts in each country. For some, symptoms of these syndromes have even led to hospitalization and have required some individuals to undergo antidepressant therapies.