Goya's deafness  

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"the beautiful young Duchess of Alba [...] was banished from court. Goya immediately obtained leave of absence, and escorted his inamorata to her residence at San Lucar. During the journey the axle-iron broke, and the artist, in default of a blacksmith, lit a fire and mended it. In the process, however, he caught a chill, which brought on the first symptoms of deafness that in the course of time deprived him entirely of his hearing."[1]

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Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.
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Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.

In late 1792 or early 1793 the Spanish painter Francisco Goya became deaf. He was 46. The deafness was the result of severe chills and fevers, so much is true. But that these fevers broke out while accompanying Duchess of Alba and trying to singlehandedly mend a broken axle, is apocryphal.

A retrospective diagnosis of Goya's deafness indicates a prolonged viral encephalitis, or possibly a series of miniature strokes resulting from high blood pressure and affecting the hearing and balance centers of the brain. The triad of tinnitus, episodes of imbalance, and progressive deafness are also typical of Ménière's disease.

He recovered while staying at his patron Sebastian Martinez but his hearing would never return and leave Goya withdrawn and introspective.

During his recuperation, he undertook a series of cabinet paintings, among which Yard with Lunatics (1793–94), during which Goya was undergoing a physical and mental breakdown. It happened a few weeks after the French declaration of war on Spain.

A contemporary reported, "The noises in his head and the deafness have not improved, but his vision is much better and he is no longer suffering from the disorders which made him lose his balance." [source].

Some have even held that it is even possible that Goya suffered from cumulative lead poisoning, as he used massive amounts of lead white in his paintings, both as a canvas primer and as a primary color. Other postmortem diagnostic assessments point toward paranoid dementia due to an unknown brain trauma (perhaps resulting from the unknown illness which he reported). If this is the case, from here on we see an insidious assault on his faculties manifesting as paranoid features in his paintings, and culminating in his Black Paintings, especially Saturn Devouring His Son.

The episode of the night that left him deaf, is described in Goya and the Duchess of Alba by Luis Buñuel.





Unless indicated otherwise, the text in this article is either based on Wikipedia article "Goya's deafness" or another language Wikipedia page thereof used under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License; or on original research by Jahsonic and friends. See Art and Popular Culture's copyright notice.

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