Florence is one of the most beautiful cities in the world, but enough to psychologically affect whoever visits it? This is what the Italian psychiatrist Graziella Magherini tried to demonstrate in 1979, when she was surprised by an accumulation of clinical pictures of mental discomfort suffered by patients at the Hospital de Santa Maria Nuova. Although, in reality, he did not try to show that these symptoms could appear when a traveler visits only the Tuscan city in question, but what he wanted to explain was that that excess of artistic or landscape beauty that can befall anyone in many places can have an effect on your psychic state. In conversation with this medium, the clinical psychologist of the Cláritas Psychological Institute from Madrid Josselyn Sevilla defines the syndrome as “a psychosomatic disorder, the start of which is found in the perception of visual information by the subject. The beauty he observes is so overwhelming that the psychological effects he experiences can somatize and transform in physical effects such as dizziness, tachycardia or, in the most extreme cases, fainting. ” But why was the syndrome named ‘Stendhal’? What are your symptoms? And, above all, to what extent is its existence proven?
The first question is the one with the simplest answer. The name has its origin in the French writer Henri Beyle, better known as Stendhal, who in 1817 published Rome, Naples and Florence. It was what the French novelist explained in that volume that constitutes the first written embryo of the syndrome. In the book, a Berlin gentleman visits the main Italian cities. Upon arriving in Florence and, more specifically, at the Cathedral of Santa Croce, he experiences – both for the graves of Machiavelli, Galileo and Michelangelo, as well as for the great beauty of the religious building and the square – a series of even physical sensations that he attributes to the magnificence of the place. Despite the fact that the novel is written in the third person, it has been agreed that Stendhal explained through the Berlin gentleman his own experience and that the exhaustion and tachycardia that he attributed to the character when he saw Santa Croce were, in fact, his own.
However, when Dr. Graziella Magherini observed the symptoms experienced by some of the patients who arrived at the Santa Maria Nuova hospital, she immediately identified them with those described by Stendhal and named the syndrome after him. As explained in AL Guerrero, A. Barceló Roselló, D. Ezpeleta in Stendhal syndrome: origin, nature and presentation in a group of neurologists (a scientific article published in Elsevier), Magherini explained that all the clinical pictures of sick tourists who came to the center were “brief, unexpected and acute onset, related to the visit to an artistic city, although, analyzing in detail the biography of the patient, the trip was integrated as a link in a chain of personal events “.
Clinically accepted, but controversial
Dr. Sevilla points out that, despite the fact that the syndrome is clinically accepted, it has provoked, from the very appearance of the term, a great controversy. There are many studies that have tried to prove the existence or not of the disorder. Without going any further, the work signed by AL Guerrero, A. Barceló Roselló and D. Ezpeleta, previously cited in this article, states, in its conclusions section, that, despite the fact that “there was no case of Stendhal syndrome “Drastic among the participants in the study, yes that” a significant number of them experienced partial alterations of the affect and one of each four recognized to have presented a partial form of the syndrome.
What information, therefore, do the conclusions yield? Magherini, when he coined the term in the late 1970s, distinguished three levels of severity of the syndrome. On the one hand, 66% of the patients that she evaluated presented “predominant thought disorders” (alteration in the perception of colors, feelings of guilt, anxiety, etc.); 29%, predominant affect disorders (depressive anxiety, feelings of inferiority, worthlessness, etc.) and 5% of the patients suffered panic attacks, pain, tachycardia or epigastric discomfort. For their part, one in four of the subjects who participated in the Guerrero, Barceló Roselló and Ezpeleta research suffered some of the symptoms that Magherini spoke of, but none of them declared having suffered the syndrome as such. So, can one be filled with beauty? For the moment, the answer remains somewhat ambiguous and Stendhal syndrome, like so many others related to phobias, will continue to generate controversy.