A man suffered a heart attack after he became overwhelmed by the beauty of Botticelli’s The Birth of Venus.
The unnamed Italian, 70, was gazing at the 15th century masterpiece in the Uffizi Gallery in Florence on Saturday when he had an intense artistic experience.
Known as Stendhal’s Syndrome, the bizarre condition is defined as dizziness, fainting, hallucinations and even heart palpitations when seeing something of ‘great beauty’.
Luckily, cardiologists who were also visiting the gallery were on hand to treat the retired patient.
The man is recovering in Careggi hospital, Florence, where doctors are said to be used to dealing with Stendhal’s Syndrome.
A man was rushed to hospital after he became overwhelmed by the beauty of Botticelli’s The Birth of Venus (pictured), which depicts the goddess of love and beauty emerging from the sea
Stendhal’s Syndrome is not a recognised medical condition and therefore its prevalence is unknown.
It is named after the 19th century French writer Marie-Henri Beyle, who is better known by his pen name Stendhal.
Stendhal described a ‘kind of ecstasy’ after seeing the ‘sublime beauty’ of the church Basilica di Santa Croce in the same Italian city. ‘I had palpitations; the life went out of me, and I walked in fear of falling,’ he said.
The Italian psychiatrist Graziella Magherini, who worked at the Santa Maria Nuova hospital in Florence, noted 106 cases that were treated as emergencies between 1977 and 1986.
Many of these patients were stretchered out of the city’s galleries and museums after suffering dizzy spells, palpitations, hallucinations, exhaustion and even loss of identity.
Dr Magherini described risk factors for the syndrome as ‘an impressionable personality, the stress of travel and the encounter with a city like Florence haunted by ghosts of the great, death and the perspective of history’.
WHAT IS STENDHAL’S SYNDROME?
Stendhal’s Syndrome describes a bizarre set of symptoms – including dizziness, exhaustion, hallucinations, loss of identity and palpitations – upon seeing art or something of ‘great beauty’.
It is not a recognised medical condition and therefore its prevalence is unknown.
There have been many anecdotal cases, particularly in Florence, where Renaissance art is abundant.
The Italian psychiatrist Graziella Magherini, who worked at the Santa Maria Nuova hospital in the Italian city, noted 106 cases that were treated as emergencies between 1977 and 1986.
Stendhal’s Syndrome is named after the 19th century French writer Marie-Henri Beyle, who is better known by his pen name Stendhal.
He described a ‘kind of ecstasy’ after seeing the ‘sublime beauty’ of the church Basilica di Santa Croce in Florence.
Upon leaving the church, Stendhal said he struggled to walk, had palpitations and the ‘life went out of him’.
But the late journalist Louis Inturrisi lightheartedly dismissed Stendhal’s Syndrome as tourists trying to fit too much into their itinerary.
‘They have to “do” Florence, Rome, and Naples in two days, and it almost kills them,’ he said.
Speaking of the incident, Uffizi’s director Eike Schmidt told Magenta Florence: ‘This is not the first time people have become ill in the Uffizi — it happens, especially in front of major works such as those by Botticelli and Caravaggio’s “Medusa”.
Mr Schmidt claims a visitor fainted in front of Caravaggio’s Medusa earlier this year, while another had an epileptic seizure while looking at Botticelli’s Primavera in 2016.
‘This is the proof: Art influences reality,’ he said, but added he never saw the syndrome while working in the US.
Although Stendhal’s Syndrome has been reported outside of Florence, Dr Magherini believes the Italian city has the most cases due to its copious amounts of Renaissance art, which is both beautiful and disturbing, and can provoke distressing memories.
Doctors at the Kfer Shaul Mental Health Centre in Jerusalem reported ‘Jerusalem syndrome’ in the 1990s, which is defined as patients becoming overwhelmed by the ‘holy, historical and heavenly city’.
Those affected typically have borderline personality disorders or have suffered a psychotic episode in the past.
Once in the Israeli city, they are driven to singing psalms, ‘wrapping themselves in hotel bed linen’ and delivering sermons, the medics claimed.
The doctors estimated this affects around 100 visitors a year, of which 40 require hospitalisation. All seem to recover when they leave Jerusalem, they added.
In a lighthearted piece for the New York Times, the late journalist Louis Inturrisi suggested many come down with Stendhal’s Syndrome simply because they pack too much into their itinerary.
‘They have to “do” Florence, Rome, and Naples in two days, and it almost kills them,’ he wrote. ‘And many of them really just want to be back home with the telly on.’
Another visitor to the Uffizi Gallery, Florence, which displays The Birth Of Venus, fainted while looking at Caravaggio’s Medusa (pictured) earlier this year. It is based on the Greek myth of Medusa – a woman with snakes for hair who turned people to stone by looking at them
A Uffizi visitor had an epileptic seizure while looking at Botticelli’s Primavera (pictured) in 2016
IS ART GOOD FOR YOUR HEART?
From Modigliani to Hockney, art has long been admired for its contribution to culture.
But researchers also claim that it can also be beneficial to our physical and mental health.
Experts in 2016 studied 100 people during a visit to the monumental Basilica of Vicoforte in northern Italy’s Cuneo – with surprising results.
Prior to entering the 18th century church, participants had their saliva tested for presence of the stress hormone cortisol.
The volunteers – men and women of different ages and with varying IQ levels – climbed 200ft (61m) to the apex of the building as part of their two-hour experience. The ascent included more than two-hundred steps.
Then, following their tour of the building – which is famed for its elliptical cupola, the world’s largest – the test was performed again.
The results seemed to substantiate the long-held belief that art can have an ameliorative effect.
Professor Enzo Grossi told La Repubblica newspaper: ‘On average, we found that cortisol levels dropped by 60 per cent.’