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The Life of Painters…and Other Hazards

By on Wednesday, Apr 20, 2011 in History | 0 comments

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Don’t you love learning things you never intended to find? 

I’m doing some research into medicine as it was practiced in the Regency period, and I had to chuckle when I came across this, which was written way earlier, around 1700:

“We read that Raphael of Urbino, the famous painter, was snatched from life in the very flower of his youth; Baldassarre Castiglione lamented his untimely death in an elegant poem.  Their sedentary life and melancholic temperment may be partly to blame, for they are almost entirely cut off from intercourse wtih other men and constantly absorbed in the creations of their imagination.” 

No, he is not talking about writers!

Bernardino Ramazzini, an Italian physician (1633-1714) is discussing the diseases of painters in his famous treatise Diseases of Workers, in which he astutely categorized the hazards workers are exposed to in 52 professions. 

“Painters…are attacked by various ailments such as palsy of the limbs, cachexy, blackened teeth, unhealthy complexions, melancholia, and loss of the sense of smell.” 

Ramazzini documented the hazards of mercury, lead, copper, and silver in paint pigments, as well as varnish and linseed oil.  “Moreover, painters when at work wear dirty clothes smeared with paint, so that their mouths and noses inevitably breathe tainted air; this penetrates to the seat of the animal spirits, enters by the breathing passages the abode of the blood, disturbs the econnomy of the natural functions, and excites the disorders mentioned above.”

In the 1500’s, a French physician named Fernel discribed violent stomach pains suffered by a painter that required 3 or 4 men to press their entire body weight on his abdomen to help them abate.  This particular painter unfortunately had the habit of squeezing the color from his brush with his fingers and then sucking it off.

These observations make me realize that people used their intelligence brilliantly during all ages; it is just that technology limits how close we can get to the truth.  The truth is different for different ages.

Okay, back to creating!  (And no sucking on your pens!)

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