A Tourist Suffered a Heart Attack After Gazing at Botticelli’s Venus. Was It a Case of ‘Stendhal Syndrome’?

The medical condition is said to affect people overwhelmed by looking at great works of art, particularly in Florence.

Botticelli The Birth of Venus (ca 1480). Photo: Alberto Pizzoli/AFP/Getty Images.

An Italian man broke down and suffered a heart attack after gazing at Botticelli’s Venus (ca. 1485) at the Uffizi Galleries in Florence over the weekend. The unnamed man was treated by a group of four visiting doctors with a defibrillator and was rushed to a hospital where he is currently recovering.

There has been some speculation that the tourist was taken ill by a mysterious affliction known as Stendhal syndrome, a disorder causing individuals to feel overwhelmed when looking at great works of art.

“I’m not a doctor,” Uffizi director Eike Schmidt the Italian newspaper Corriere della Sera, “all I know is that visiting a museum like ours, which is full of masterpieces, can certainly cause emotional, psychological, and even physical stress,” adding that “somebody recently fainted in front of Caravaggio’s Medusa.

Symptoms of the disorder, which is also known as hyperkulturemia, or Florence syndrome, include rapid heartbeat, dizziness, fainting, confusion, and even hallucinations, according to a 2009 study published in the BMJ medical journal.

The illness is thought to be specific to the city of Florence and is named after patient zero, the 19th-century French writer Stendhal (aka Marie-Henri Beyle), who was taken ill after being exposed to too many beautiful works of art during a trip to the Tuscan city in 1817.

The BMJ study notes that a Florentine psychiatrist recorded 106 incidents of patients being admitted to the hospital between 1977 and 1986 after experiencing “acute transient psychiatric symptoms in response to viewing the art of Florence.”

Other incidents include another tourist who suffered an epileptic fit in 2016, also in front of Botticelli’s magnificent allegorical depiction of Venus ascending from the ocean.

“There is substantial evidence that Stendhal syndrome is real and unique to Florence,” wrote Guardian art critic Jonathan Jones, who speculated that it’s “the sheer concentration of great art in Florence that causes such issues.”

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