Stendhal Syndrome: When Art Literally Takes One’s Breath Away

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Stendhal Syndrome: When Art Literally Takes One’s Breath Away

Stendhal syndrome is the extreme art admiration that causes someone to pass out / Photo by Abusafy via 123RF


Art lovers would often feel intense emotions when faced with beautiful works of art. Sometimes, it can be a little too intense. Being flooded by these works of beauty can make it hard for them to take it all in. Consequently, their extreme admiration can make it difficult for them to breathe, cause them to become dizzy and become more likely to pass out. This is how Stendhal Syndrome manifests itself. This syndrome is also known as the Florence Syndrome, museum’s disease, and traveler’s stress.

According to PsycholoGenie, Dr. Graziella Margherini, the Chief of Psychiatry at Florence’s Santa Maria Nuova Hospital, started monitoring tourists who visited Florence who displayed symptoms of Stendhal Syndrome in 1979. Years later, she had recorded 107 cases. She discovered that the majority of patients who acquired the syndrome were single males or females who were around 26 to 40. She also noted that most of them go on trips by themselves or small groups, and had consulted a psychologist or psychiatrist before.

Dr. Margherini warns, “Beneath these splendid forms are extremely powerful nuclei of communication, which can cause conflicts and disturbances in the psyche of the sensitive observer.”

History of Stendhal Syndrome

It was the year 1817 when the French writer Henri Mari-Belle, who had the pen name Stendhal, toured Italy in his search for inspiration for his book. He surveyed every part of Florence, visiting various tourist destinations such as churches, museums, landscapes, and domes. He was awestruck by the overflowing art within the city. He wanted to internalize the beauty of it all.

When he set foot on the Basilica of the Holy Cross that was when all his emotions reached their peak. As a result of his eagerness, along with the thrill and intrigue that he felt, he began to display physical symptoms. Suddenly, his heartbeat was faster than normal and he began sweating. He felt his head spin and he was in agony. To get a hold of himself and contemplate on the experience, he sat down, states

In Belle’s book, Naples and Florence: A Journey from Milan to Reggio, he writes, “I had reached that level of emotion in which the fine arts cause celestial sensations and passionate feelings. Leaving Santa Croce, my heart was beating. Life was exhausted in me. I was afraid to fall.”

Since Belle was the first to make a detailed record of its symptoms, the Stendhal Syndrome was named after his pseudonym.  


Stendhal Syndrome is considered both as a psychosomatic disease and a psychic phenomenon. When it is viewed in the context of being a psychosomatic disease, emotional arousal is identified as the one that induced the physical symptoms. As a psychic phenomenon, it is said to be a type of artistic shock or an art attack prompted by seeing several works of art in a short duration.

Lifepersona says that the syndrome often affects foreigners who view a particular type of art or artist. The symptoms of Stendhal Syndrome are usually triggered when someone goes to a place that is known for its beauty. These symptoms are categorized into three: mood disorders, perceptual disorders anxiety states.

A person who is suffering from Stendhal syndrome may sweat, go into states of euphoria, feel confused, experience tachycardia, become depressed, experience a shortness of breath, hallucinate, feel disoriented, become dizzy, feel guilty or persecuted, disassociate, be afraid of losing control and destroying artworks and experience temporary amnesia.

Similar Conditions to Stendhal Syndrome

There are two syndromes which are similar to the nature of Stendhal Syndrome which is also caused by famous tourist destinations. Tourists and travelers who have exceedingly high expectations in visiting Paris and Jerusalem may experience these syndromes:

Paris Syndrome

This syndrome is said to usually be specifically experienced by Japanese tourists who feel let down by their romantic expectations when they visit Paris. When they confront the reality that Paris also has negative features, this causes them to go into some kind of frenzy. This sends them into a shocked state, may cause them to feel severely depressed, experience delusions, have anxiety attacks and have violent outbursts, The Point explains.

Jerusalem Syndrome

People who are intensely attached to their religions may exhibit symptoms similar to that of Stendhal Syndrome when they go to Jerusalem. They may have obsessive religious thoughts, delusions, and experience other mental issues.

Prevention and Treatment

For those who are prone to experiencing this syndrome, it is suggested that they should not take several works of art in a short time. Mental Floss advises that the tourist view them a little at a time, at a slow pace.

They should also get enough rest between observing great works of art in Italy. A person who sees someone affected by the syndrome is instructed to keep the individual away from art and to give them water. If the case is too severe, it may require them to call an ambulance. To be able to address some of the symptoms, says that the doctor may prescribe antipsychotics and tranquilizers to patients.


Antipsychopatics and tranquilizers were prescribed to patients with Stendhal syndrome / Photo by Wrangel via 123RF




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