LEAD Action News
LEAD Action News vol 9 no 1, August, 2008, Revised Version February, 2012, ISSN 1324-6011
Incorporating Lead Aware Times ( ISSN 1440-4966) and Lead Advisory Service News ( ISSN 1440-0561)
The Journal of The LEAD (Lead Education and Abatement Design) Group Inc.
Editor-in-Chief: Tony Lennon

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Saturnine Goya

Saturnine adj.

1. a. of a sluggish gloomy temperament. b. (of looks etc.) dark and brooding.
2. archaic a. of the metal lead. b. Med. Of or affected by lead-poisoning.’

[Source: The Concise Oxford Dictionary 1990]

Goya’s painting Saturn devouring one of his Children
Image: Francisco Goya’s painting ‘Saturn devouring one of his Children’.

Francisco Goya (1746-1828), the great Spanish painter, made his own pigments by heating and mixing lead ores.

S Colum Gilfillan (1889-1987), in his book, published posthumously in 1990, Rome’s Ruin By Lead Poison, (Wenzel Press), speculates as to the effect on painters of mixing their lead based paints. He argues that Goya, who went through many mental and physical breakdowns, may have been poisoned by his paints.

In Goya’s painting Saturn devouring one of his Children, 1820-1823, which was painted on a wall of the artist’s house, one is struck by the colours. The greys, yellows, whites and reds were probably all mixed from lead ores. He could have obtained the red pigments from litharge (PbO), a yellowish-red ore which changes to red lead, minium, by heating it in air. Litharge also makes a yellow pigment by using a different process. Another yellow pigment is made from lead white paint. White lead mixed with lead acetate and heated produces a grey paint.

It is indeed astounding, if the above is the case, that Goya lived to the age of 82 albeit deaf and deranged.

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Last Updated 15 February 2012
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