Sunday, 10 March 2013

Salad poisoning

Federico Barocci, subject of a current exhibition at the National Gallery, is said to have suffered illness for much of his life from eating a salad poisoned by jealous rivals.  This confirms all of my suspicions about salad.  It's a nice anecdote, and the exhibition catalogue makes a meal* out of explaining the cause of his illness.  But I'm reminded that psychologists warn us of a 'cognitive bias' towards perceiving agency behind events, even where there is none (imagining that the computer has it in for me and the rain is deliberately spoiling the barbecue).  The frequent references to poisoning in historical literature may reflect poor hygiene and bad food, rather than easy availability of effective poisons.
Another explanation discussed in the catalogue is that he was poisoned by lead in the paints he used.  This strikes me as pure speculation.  It begs the question of why Barocci got lead poisoning (which I understand to be a cumulative process) early in his life, whereas other artists continued to use lead paints to a ripe old age without succumbing.  I doubt we'll ever have a good explanation of Barocci's illness, not that it matters for appreciating his art.  I'm just glad to have a nice anecdote to back up my salad-phobia.  In restaurants now I'll look in horror at any dining companion considering a salad, and say, "do you know what that stuff did to Federico Barocci?"

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