How Important Is Lead Poisoning to Becoming a Legendary Artist?

This article originally appeared in “The Atlantic” in November of 2013.

“In 1713, Italian physician Bernardinus Ramazzini described in his De Morbis Artificum Diatriba a mysterious set of symptoms he was noticing among artists:

‘Of the many painters I have known, almost all I found unhealthy … If we search for the cause of the cachectic and colorless appearance of the painters, as well as the melancholy feelings that they are so often victims of, we should look no further than the harmful nature of the pigments…’

He was one of the first to make the connection between paint and artists’ health, but it would take centuries for painters to switch to less-harmful materials, even as medicine gradually clued into the bodily havoc “saturnism” could wreak.”

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