Why looking at fine art is good for your health

MOST of us may not know much about art, but what we like is apparently good for us – physically as well as intellectually.

According to a study carried out amid some of Italian art’s greatest creations, looking at brilliant works can lower stress levels, leaving us healthier in body as well as mind.

The research was done at the magnificent church known as the Basilica of Vicoforte in Cuneo, Italy –– which has the largest elliptical domed ceiling in the world.

With a spectacular fresco painted by Rococo artist Mattia Bortoloni and Felice Biella of Milan in 1752, the cupola is admired by Roman Catholic pilgrims from across the world.

Professor Enzo Grossi, the researcher behind the study, told Italy’s La Repubblica newspaper that he assembled 100 male and female volunteers aged 19 to 81.

They were told to climb 240 steps up to the cupola to examine the celebrated images of cherubs, prophets and angels.

Measurements taken before, then after, their art appreciation, checked the level of the hormone cortisol – a key indicator of stress – in their saliva. In the study, cortisol levels were seen to fall significantly.

‘On average, we found that cortisol levels dropped by 60 per cent and that more than 90 per cent of the participants said they felt much better at the end of the experience,’ said Professor Grossi, who teaches at the University of Milan. ‘The idea of art as therapy is not new. But this is the first time that the beneficial effect of art on health has been measured.’

However, critics of the study pointed out that cortisol levels vary anyway through the day, with a drop likely during the three hours it took to study the fresco.