The Stendhal Syndrome

Stendhal’s Effect or The Stendhal Syndrome can happen to the unaware particularly when travelling in Italy, when viewing beautiful art and palaces filled with stunning frescos and their sheer beauty becomes overwhelming and one wants to fall on the floor and die in ecstasy!

It was named after Stendhal the penname for Marie Henri Beyle 1783-1842. He describes his 1817 visit to Florence in his book “Naples and Florence: A Journey from Milan to Reggio.”

When he visited the Basilica of Santa Croce in Florence he saw Giotto’s frescos or the first time and was overcome. 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.”

Dr. Graziella Magherini, chief of psychiatry at the Santa Maria Nuova Hospital in Florence, named the effect in 1979 after studying many patients and tourists who come into the hospital suffering dizziness and rapid heart beat.

I personally suffer Stendhal’s effect often when visiting the magnificent palaces in Italy and particularly in the Vatican museum. I feel dizzy from overwhelming beauty and want to go and lie down and often think – oh if I could just fall on the floor for a while and just rest lying with Michelangelo, (shame about the other 1 million tourists with me – I would get trampled on!).

I used to think it was just me.. but I was overjoyed when I found that Stendhal too, suffered the same symptoms when he saw such genius! One wants to bow down to the amazing artist who designed and made such beauty and honour them for their incredible talent.