Lead poisoning (saturnism) has been present throughout the history of mankind. In addition to possible ingestion from contaminated food, one of the most important ways in which poisoning caused morbid processes was by occupational exposure. This exposition was pandemic in the Roman Empire, and it has been claimed that it contributed to its fall, but it also caused numerous epidemics in Western countries until the nineteenth century. In the case of artists, and since the Renaissance period, this toxicity has been called painter's colic or painter's madness. The latter term is partly due to the mental disorders displayed by some of the great masters, including Michelangelo and Caravaggio, although it was long recognized that even house and industrial painters were prone to the disorder. This chapter examines the historical evidence of recognition of such toxicity and discusses the controversies raised by the possibility of professional lead poisoning in great artists. In addition to those mentioned above, many other artists across several centuries will be discussed, some being Rubens, Goya, Fortuny, Van Gogh, Renoir, Dufy, Klee, Frida Kahlo, and Portinari. This chapter also briefly mentions the possibility of lead poisoning in two famous composers: Beethoven and Handel. Whether suffering from lead poisoning or not, about which we cannot always be sure, we should still highlight and admire such geniuses fighting their disorders to bequeath us their immortals works.
[Show abstract][Hide abstract] ABSTRACT: Vincent van Gogh (1853-1890) had an eccentric personality and unstable moods, suffered from recurrent psychotic episodes during the last 2 years of his extraordinary life, and committed suicide at the age of 37. Despite limited evidence, well over 150 physicians have ventured a perplexing variety of diagnoses of his illness. Henri Gastaut, in a study of the artist's life and medical history published in 1956, identified van Gogh's major illness during the last 2 years of his life as temporal lobe epilepsy precipitated by the use of absinthe in the presence of an early limbic lesion. In essence, Gastaut confirmed the diagnosis originally made by the French physicians who had treated van Gogh. However, van Gogh had earlier suffered two distinct episodes of reactive depression, and there are clearly bipolar aspects to his history. Both episodes of depression were followed by sustained periods of increasingly high energy and enthusiasm, first as an evangelist and then as an artist. The highlights of van Gogh's life and letters are reviewed and discussed in an effort toward better understanding of the complexity of his illness.
American Journal of Psychiatry 05/2002; 159(4):519-26. DOI:10.1176/appi.ajp.159.4.519 · 12.30 Impact Factor
[Show abstract][Hide abstract] ABSTRACT: Humans have had a long and tumultuous relationship with heavy metals. Their ubiquitous nature and our reliance on them for manufacturing have resulted at times in exposures sufficient to cause systemic toxicity. Their easy acquisition and potent toxicity have also made them popular choices for criminal poisonings. This article examines the clinical manifestation and pathophysiology of poisoning from lead, mercury, arsenic, and thallium.
Clinics in Laboratory Medicine 04/2006; 26(1):67-97, viii. DOI:10.1016/j.cll.2006.02.003 · 1.37 Impact Factor
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