Did Caravaggio Die of Lead Poisoning?
The mannerist painter Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio died on July 18 1610 at the age of 39 and the circumstances of his death have been controversial ever since. It has been suggested that he contracted syphilis or even that he was assassinated but anthropologists from the universities of Pisa, Ravenna and Bologna are studying other theories – that he contracted malaria while traveling in Italy or that he suffered from lead poisoning. The anthropologists hope to prove their theory by carrying out DNA tests on bones which they believe are the remains of the Renaissance artist.
Renowned for his hot temper, heavy drinking and violent temperament Caravaggio was forced to go on the run in 1606 after killing a man in a tavern brawl, a crime for which he was condemned to death by Pope Paul V.
“Lead poisoning accentuates traits like aggressive and nervous behaviour, which Caravaggio displayed during his life,” said Silvano Vinceti, the team leader. “Painters in the 15th, 16th and 17th centuries used these paints all the time and often suffered serious health problems as a result.” Francisco de Goya and Vincent van Gogh are both thought to have suffered from lead poisoning.