The problem that many professionals encounter in describing Stendhal syndrome as its own psychiatric disorder is that its symptoms are so difficult to distinguish from those of the more general ailments that commonly affect tourists. “Sometimes at the Uffizi some visitors have heart attacks or feel sick,” said Cristina de Loreto, a psychotherapist who lives and works in Florence. “But it could just be being in an enclosed space with hundreds of other people. It could be agoraphobia, not Botticelli.”
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An emotional reaction to art, she said, does not constitute a psychiatric disorder, even if it causes or contributes to distressing or dangerous symptoms. “The moment you observe a work of art, there are specific areas of the brain that activate – it’s like when you see a handsome man or a beautiful woman – but it is not enough to say that it is ‘is a syndrome. It is not yet validated. , and you can’t find it in the DSM-5, our manual on mental disorders. “
Di Loreto believes that something else may be at stake: that tourists’ expectations of Florence are so high, fueled by the ubiquity of her works of art in various media, that everything becomes too difficult when ‘they finally visit her. “Perhaps this is a self-fulfilling prophecy, which makes some tourists feel something in the air in Florence,” she said.
In this regard, Stendhal syndrome may be linked to Jerusalem syndrome, which sees visitors to this holy city sink into psychotic religious or messianic delusions; and Paris syndrome, which causes acute psychiatric symptoms in tourists when they find that the French capital does not meet their unrealistic expectations.
Stendhal’s own words – “a kind of ecstasy of the idea to be in Florence “- seem to give credence to this theory. Perhaps a self-fulfilling prophecy is also at play in the media coverage of suspected cases of Stendhal syndrome, like that of Olmastroni – reporters, enchanted by the romantic idea of becoming “sick art”, diagnose people from afar.