Highly Toxic Pigments

  • antimony white (antimony trioxide)
  • barium yellow (barium chromate)
  • burnt or raw umber (iron oxides, manganese silicates or dioxide)
  • cadmium red, orange or yellow (cadmium sulfide, cadmium selenide)
  • chrome green (Prussian blue, lead chromate)
  • chrome orange (lead carbonate)
  • chrome yellow (lead chromate)
  • cobalt violet (cobalt arsenate or cobalt phosphate)
  • cobalt yellow (potassium cobalt nitrate)
  • lead or flake white (lead carbonate)
  • lithol red (sodium, barium and calcium salts of azo pigments)
  • manganese violet (manganese ammonium pyrophosphate)
  • molybdate orange (lead chromate, lead molybdate, lead sulfate)
  • naples yellow (lead antimonate)
  • strontium yellow (strontium chromate)
  • vermilion (mercuric sulfide)
  • zinc sulfide
  • zinc yellow (zinc chromate)

Moderately Toxic Pigments

  • alizarin crimson
  • carbon black
  • cerulean blue (cobalt stannate)
  • cobalt blue (cobalt stannate)
  • cobalt green (calcined cobalt, zinc and aluminum oxides)
  • chromium oxide green (chromic oxide)
  • Phthalo blue and greens (copper phthalocyanine)
  • manganese blue (barium manganate, barium sulfate)
  • Prussian blue (ferric ferrocyanide)
  • toluidine red and yellow (insoluble azo pigment)
  • viridian (hydrated chromic oxide)
  • zinc white (zinc oxide)

“The Feast of the Rose Garlands-the painting that won the paint-off in 1506 between the Italian painters and Duerer. Duerer won”

by Dr. Elizabeth Garner and Joe Kiernan  /  January 2014


“Oil painting was an extremely dangerous occupation. All pigments were hand made using various extremely toxic materials, that if not handled with extreme caution AND CORRECTLY, could kill.

The process to develop the medium was usually made from a linseed oil base and or a variety of other similar oils as an additive.  Olive oil was a popular oil base mixture of the time, until it was discovered olive oil works it’s way through the paint and “drips out.”  This happens because the olive oil virtually never dried fully, and in time, with the added help of moisture in the patron’s home or church, it comes to the surface. It is known Leonardo da Vinci was adding wax to his paints to thicken them for better working because of this problem with olive oil.  Another trick Renaissance painters discovered was adding 5-10% honey to the mixture to preserve discoloration, especially in darker colors.

When producing pigments for colors a chemical changing process, known back then as alchemy, was needed in order to attain the copper sulfate necessary.  The more arsenious oxide used to do this, the deadlier the fumes produced and the more concentrated was the toxicity of the pigment powders. Apprentices were the ones usually assigned this mixing tasks.  The Masters knew this and had to teach them to be very very careful.

The colors of Green, Yellow, Red and Blue as being toxic in preparation and application and without a sealing coat to lock in fumes these would all continue to release poisonous fumes for its lifetime.  Even with a clear coat, in , as it cracks and chips, it releases toxic fumes again.  It’s really good that all of Dürer’s paintings are in museums now, where only the staff could be getting poisoned.


“Emperor Maximillian, the guy who didn’t pay Duerer for a year. Notice how Green the background is”

Greens pigments used in the Renaissance included Verdegreen, Malachite, Emerald Green, and Paris green. If green pigments are not sealed by a clear binding coat, this pigment will deliver a slow dose of concentrated arsenic gasses. The greens produced this way today are just as deadly. Mercury is a biproduct of creating green pigments. Green was deadly, the greener the color, the deadlier it was!


“Two of the apostles for the City Council Chambers”

Lighter colors used as in the whites and soft yellows were created using “white lead”.  White lead was a favorite choice of many for its consistancy and pliability to create an image over a few days.  It was highly toxic during production and application. We must also know that all these paintings including whites or flesh tones have had white lead added to the mixtures, palatte or surface of these works. If not sealed by a protective sealing top coat when applied, it will release poisonous lead gasses throughout its lifetime.


“The Haller Madonna. Notice it has red, blue, green and white”

For the pigments of blue, it was known that lapis lazuli was the prime choice, as was aquamarine.  These two pigments were very expensive and usually only ended up on the dress of royalty until the end of the 15th century.  Azurite was another excellent option for making a strong blue pigment in the 14-16th centuries.  It was acquired in deposits in silver veins and also through copper ore.  The mines that produced these minerals during the Renassaince time were in central Europe, mostly owned by the Nuremberg Patricians, and in France.

Azurite, on many paintings of the day, was often mislabled as lapis lazuli to cheat customers.  No matter how one worked with this product, the production and application of this color created many noxious fumes from arsenic sulphate. Another manufacturing process produced a highly toxic gas known as mercury cyanide.  Both byproducts were deadly.


“Realgar crystals”

Making red paint was a hugely sought out color by customers in their paintings during this time.  Realgar is the most likely choice of pigments in Germany.  This mineral was produced in Hungary, Bohemia, and Saxony, from mines once again owned by Nuremberg Patrician corporations and syndicates.  It can be found in the mines along veins of lead, silver and gold.

“Two of the four Apostle paintings”

Realgar was known at the time as “Ruby of arsenic” or “Ruby of Sulpher”.  It has wonderful qualities and is brilliant red, after a mining brutal production which spewed arsenic gasses into the air. Mining was very dangerous.  The powder was then collected and ground into the pigment powder.  If this powder were left in the sunlight, it would turn a shade of yellow.  This yellow is known as Orpiment another highly valued color in paintings.

“Orpiment pigment from realgar”

Mercury was a strong bi-product of producing the reds, especially Realgar and Vermillion when making copper sulphate.  The mercury is what was used to make the copper suphates.  For copper engraved metal plates because they have copper, using mercury to speed up the chemical reaction to polish the plate would be used, because they could.  These chemicals were always on hand. This mercury is a bi-product of producing the powder for the reds and the greens.

In the 15th-16th centuries, Spain was using Realgar to kill rats, some nations still use it for the same purpose today.  Even today Realgar and Orpiment are 2 of the 3 top elements used in the production of arsenic. Deadly stuff.


“Burkhard von Speyer”

Black at the time was made using the same toxic mediums, however the pigment itself was acquired mostly by scrapping the soot from lamps and or grinding up burnt bones and horns.  The process wasnt toxic, it was the oil base it was added to that was fatal.  It was to this mixture that Renaissance artists perfected the 5-10% honey addition to avoid color fading to a grey.


“The Borgias, the original crime family”

Arsenic is colorless and odorless. Arsenic poisoning was the choice of poisons of the period ala the Borgias.   Symptoms of arsenic poisoning begin with headaches, confusion, severe diarrhea, and drowsiness. As the poisoning develops, convulsions and changes in fingernail pigmentation called leukonychia striata  occurred. When the poisoning became acute, symptoms included diarrhea, vomiting, blood in the urine, cramping muscles, hair loss, stomach pain, and more convulsions. The organs of the body that are usually affected by arsenic poisoning are the lungs, skin, kidneys, and liver. The final result of arsenic poisoning is coma and death.  Arsenic is related to heart disease (hypertension related cardiovascular), cancer, stroke (cerebrovascular diseases), chronic lower respiratory diseases, and diabetes.

Mercury poisoning – Let’s remember also that in the Renaissance people with depression and syphilis were being treated with mercury, it was commonly available. They were all adding mercury to wine and it was known but not controlled that mercury made the wine taste a bit sweeter, so bad wine usually got more mercury added, although most of Nuremberg was consuming beer because the water was so polluted. A law was passed in late 16th century banning any land to add mercury to the wine.

Common symptoms of mercury poisoning include peripheral neuropathy (presenting as paresthesia or itching, burning or pain), skin discoloration (pink cheeks, fingertips and toes), swelling, and desquamation (shedding of skin), profuse sweating, tachycardia (persistently faster-than-normal heart beat), increased salivation, and hypertension (high blood pressure).

Affected children may show red cheeks, nose and lips, loss of hair, teeth, and nails, transient rashes, hypotonia (muscle weakness), and increased sensitivity to light. Other symptoms may include kidney dysfunction (e.g. Fanconi syndrome) or neuropsychiatric symptoms such as emotional lability, memory impairment, and / or insomnia.

Lead posioning – Symptoms may be different in adults and children; the main symptoms in adults are headache, abdominal pain, memory loss, kidney failure, male reproductive problems, and weakness, pain, or tingling in the extremities. Early symptoms of lead poisoning in adults are commonly nonspecific and include depression, loss of appetite, intermittent abdominal pain, nausea, diarrhea, constipation, and muscle pain. Other early signs in adults include malaise, fatigue, decreased libido, and problems with sleep. An unusual taste in the mouth and personality changes are also early signs.

All of these above said pigments are created, applied and continue to be deadly toxins until they are sealed within a clear coat of lacquer to seal in these toxins.  If they are left unsealed, or begin to flake or turn to a dust, it becomes a deadly painting of toxins. Deteriorating lead paint can produce dangerous lead levels in household dust and soil. Deteriorating lead paint and lead-containing household dust are the main causes of chronic lead poisoning.”


“In Part I of this series you were informed about how poisonous the pigments were that Albrecht or Margret Durer used in paintings, especially the reds, the greens, the blues, the whites, the yellows and the blacks. And we learned that German curators have already established that many of the paintings are overpainted, thus not sealing off the poison pigment(s) by either those who were jealous, understood the Cipher and wished to cover it up, or were bad restorers.

Even if a Dürer sealed a painting, all they would have to do is overpaint on the sealed coat to poison clients, just even a little bit.  Or if any paintings were covered with new pigments to conceal any trace of the Cipher by others who realized there were clues or were doing restoration, the new paint would be sitting on the surface in brilliant fashion, poisoning by the day.


You are now going to see who the Durers hated as obviously shown by the colors he selected, starting from the end of his life.  There are too many paintings that the Durers made sure were poisonous, but there are so many paintings, we will only be giving some of the top most obvious examples in this second part and continue in PART III.


Dürer did not paint these four paintings on commission. It was he who wanted to donate them to Nuremberg, his native city. On 6 October 1526 the artist offered The Four Holy Men to the city fathers of Nuremberg: `I have been intending, for a long time past, to show my respect for your excellencies by the presentation of some humble picture of mine as a remembrance; but I have been prevented from so doing by the imperfection and insignificance of my works… Now, however, that I have just painted a panel upon which I have bestowed more trouble than on any other painting, I considered none more worthy to keep it as a memorial than your excellencies.’ As it was common in many cities in Italy to bestow the town hall with a work of art that would serve as an example of buon governo, so did Dürer want to provide his native city with a work of his that had been purposefully made to this end.

The council gratefully accepted the gift, hanging the two works in the upper government chamber of the city hall. Dürer was awarded an honorarium of 100 florins. The four monumental figures remained in the municipality of Nuremberg until 1627, when, following threats of repression, they had to be sold to the elector of Bavaria, Maximilian I, a great enthusiast of Dürer’s work. On that occasion, however, the prince had the inscriptions, at the bottom of the paintings, sawed off and sent back to Nuremberg, as they were considered heretical and injurious to his position as the sovereign Catholic. The city handed them over to the museum in Munich in 1922, where they were rejoined with their respective panels.

“The Four Apostles”

Notice that these paintings are almost all lead white, vermillions, green, orpiment, and black.  Albrecht really wanted to take revenge on the whole government, the CITY COUNCIL, where every day they would be inhaling the noxious fumes. He even donated them! and got paid for his work!

“Way to Calvary made for the Holy Roman Emperor, Charles V, the son of Maximillian”

WAY to CALVARY, 1527

Made for EMPEROR CHARLES V, 1527, the boy king from whom Albrecht had to beg for his pension back. I don’t think you can find a blacker black painting with white lead poison than this.  It speaks for itself.  The Black pigments were DEADLY.


“Portrait of Hieronymous Holzschuher”

One of the top Nuremberg Patricians.  Lead White, Black, some orpiment


“Jacob Fugger, the Wealthy”

The presence of this portrait is documented, in the eighteenth century, in the gallery of the elector of Bavaria. Because of successive restorations, the top layer of colour is missing.

During the Diet of Augsburg, in 1518, Dürer portrayed Jakob Fugger in a charcoal drawing. The final painting, on canvas, differs from the drawing in the wealthier clothing of the subject, and, above all, in the framing: a half-bust in the drawing, a half-length in the painting.

Everybody hated the Fuggers in Nuremberg.  Blues, Lead white, black



Look at how green the background is, with reds, orpiment, white lead and black. Albrecht really hated his patron, two prints tell of his biggest humiliations and the Emperor didn’t even pay Albrecht for one year.


The man in the portrait holds a message on which the first few letters of his name can be read `P[or B]ernh’, the rest being hidden by the fingers of his left hand. This is almost certainly the painting to which Dürer refers in his Antwerp diary in late March 1521, recording that he had `made a portrait of Bernhart von Resten in oils’ for which he had been paid eight florins. Dürer’s reference is probably to Bernhard von Reesen (1491-1521), a Danzig merchant whose family had important business links with Antwerp. His name suggests that his family originated from Rees, a town on the Lower Rhine 100 miles east of Antwerp.


Look at how much red, black and lead white is in this painting

the 1521 ST. JEROME

Dürer painted St Jerome in Antwerp in March 1521 and presented the panel to his friend Rodrigo Fernandez d’Almada. He wrote in his diary: `I painted a Jerome carefully in oils and gave it to Rodrigo of Portugal.’ The panel was displayed in the merchant’s private chapel in Antwerp and was later taken back to Portugal. It is the only religious picture that Dürer painted in the Netherlands.

The figure of the saint is based on a drawing of an old bearded man. On the drawing, Dürer inscribed: `The man was 93 years old and yet healthy and strong in Antwerp.’

“The 1521 St Jerome painting”

This is an extremely encoded painting, with many nasty messages. Look at the green, the red, the orpiment


“The apostles James and Philippe”

Could we get any more white lead than in these paintings?  and Black and red? EVEN WHITE LEAD LETTERING


After he had achieved great fame, Dürer depicted the master who had taught him to paint. On it he inscribed: `This portrait was done by Albrecht Dürer of his teacher, Michael Wolgemut, in 1516′, to which he later added, `and he was 82 years old, and he lived until 1519, when he departed this life on St Andrew’s Day morning before sunrise.’ It is unclear from the inscription whether Wolgemut was 82 when he died or when the portrait had been painted three years earlier.

The fact that curators clearly say that Albrecht overpainted this painting with an additional inscription would have been enough to activate all the poisons.  Look at how green the deadly green background is, all the black, the inscription in orpiment.



There is an inscription near his head, monogrammed and dated 152(?). The last digit of the date is not clearly legible (1 or 4?), but the fact that the panel is oak indicates that the painting must have been carried out during Dürer’s trip to the Netherlands. The hypotheses regarding the name of the subject are various. The most frequent are: the one of Lorenz Sterck, an administrator and financial curator of the Brabant and of Antwerp, WHO WAS INVOLVED IN GETTING ALBRECHT’S PENSION BACK, and that of Jobst Plankfelt, Dürer’s innkeeper in Antwerp. These names are frequently suggested since Dürer writes in his diary that he had done oil portraits of them.

It is difficult to imagine an innkeeper who made himself depicted with a scroll in his hand. Whereas it seems much more plausible that the imposing subject characterized by a severe and scrutinizing gaze – clad in a silk shirt, a cloak with a fur collar, and a large beret – corresponds to a tax collector



This panel is mentioned in the inventory, dated 1598, of the Kunstkammer of Munich. The cloth around the hips was presumably expanded upward around 1600. The opinion that the Lucretia, all things considered, was “Dürer’s most unpopular work,” is undoubtedly widely shared.  THAT’S BECAUSE IT’S AN ENCODED PAINTING.


Lots of lead white, red, greenish-grey”



“We don’t know for whom these paintings were commissioned but we do know they were acquired by the Bishop of Breslau, Johan V Thurzo, a distant relation to the Fugger Family and then ended up in the collection of the Emperor Rudolf II in Prague. It’s clearly obvious by the  use of poisonous colors, it wasn’t someone the Dürers liked

“The 1507 Adam and Eva paintings”

Look at Eva’s flesh, it’s described as “whiter than white” than Adam’s skin-white lead everywhere, with the poisonous green right at the genitals, with the killer black paint in extraordinary amounts.


The Heller Altar was an oil on panel triptych by German Renaissance artists Dürer  and Mathhias Grünwald, executed between 1507 and 1509. In 1615, Dürer copyist Jakob Harrich painted a duplicate, which is now at the Staedel Museum of Franfurt. In 1615, the central panel, the only one by Dürer alone, was sold to Maximilian of Bavaria; a copy was ordered to replace the original in its location at the church’s high altar. The central panel was destroyed by a fire in Munich in 1729. The side panels, executed by Dürer’s assistants, were completed by four others commissioned to Matthias Grünewald in 1510. The side shutters were detached in the 18th century, and each of the two panels composing them were separated in 1804.

This altarpiece was commissioned by Jakob Heller (1460-1522), a wealthy merchant, member of the town council, and mayor of Frankfurt, either before or after Dürer’s second trip to Italy. Only the central element depicting the Assumption and Coronation of the Virgin was executed by Dürer himself. The altarpiece was destroyed by a fire in the residence of Duke Maximilian of Bavaria in Munich. Fortunately, a copy of the work, executed c. 1614 by Jobst Harrich of Nuremberg (c. 1580-1617) survived.  Albrecht was receiving many commissions after having won the “paint-off” with the Italians in Venice in 1506, especially from his old patron the Elector, Duke Friedrich of Saxony.  Albrecht wrote to Heller (of course the originals were lost but there were copies paid for by the Archduke Maximillian of Bavaria who acquired the paintings and wanted the provenance and documentation as well-those German scribe copyists were very busy).

He tells us that he was sick returning from Venice (all that partying) and he had to finish The Elector’s altarpiece first-The Martyrdom of the 10,000, and then he would start on Heller’s altarpiece. The outcome of the whole situation was that Heller misunderstood all of Albrecht’s intentions, almost sued him for breach of contract, trashed Albrecht’s reputation to everyone in town and pissed off Albrecht beyond comprehension.  In his last letter to Heller, Albrecht makes the following remarks: “I have painted it with great care, as you will see, using none but the best colors. It is painted with good ultramarine under and over about 5 or 6 times. And then after it was finished I OVERPAINTED IT TWICE MORE so that it may last a long time, for it is NOT MADE AS ONE USUALLY PAINTS. So don’t let it be touched or sprinkled with holy water…….And place the painting so that it hangs forward two or three finger-breadths, so it can be seen without glare.  And when I come to you in a year or two, or three, IF THE PICTURE IS PROPERLY DRY, it must be taken down and I will varnish it again with some excellent varnish THAT NO ONE ELSE CAN MAKE…”

“What the original painting of the Heller altarpiece is believed to have looked like”

Do we see enough blues and reds, and greens, and orpiment, and lead white to kill a horse, especially if the painting wouldn’t be dry for possibly three years?


The altarpiece depicts the legend of the ten thousand Christians who were martyred on Mount Ararat, in a massacre perpetrated by the Persian King Saporat on the command of the Roman Emperors Hadrian and Antonius. Dürer had depicted this massacre a decade earlier in a woodcut. The painting was commissioned by Frederick the Wise, who owned relics from the massacre, and it was placed in the relic chamber of his palace church in Wittenberg (ie. at home). Although Dürer had never before tackled a painting with so many figures, he succeeded in integrating them into a flowing composition using vibrant colour. Dürer’s gruesome scene depicts scores of Christians meeting a violent death in a rocky landscape, providing a veritable compendium of tortures and killings. The oriental potentate in the blue cloak and turban who is directing the action in the lower right corner of the picture, would in Dürer’s time have been perceived as a reference to the threat of Turkish invasion, because of the seizure of Constantinople in 1453. In the centre of the painting is the rather incongruous figure of the artist, holding a staff with the inscription: `This work was done in the year 1508 by Albrecht Dürer, German.’ The man walking with him through this scene of carnage is probably the scholar Konrad Celtis, a friend of Dürer’s who had died just before the painting was completed.

“The Marytrdom of the Ten Thousand made for the Elector, Duke Friedrich of Saxony, probably the 5th most powerful person in Germany. The duke later became protector of Martin Luther; without the Duke’s protection, Luther would never have survived”

I think you can see enough poisonous paints in this  painting to realize the Dürers also hated the Duke. 


“Unknown man”

Blacks, lead white, reds.  This striking portrait, painted in Venice, shows a thoughtful young man, richly dressed and dramatically set against a black background. His thick ginger hair, partly hidden by his dark hat, frames his face. The small part of his red shirt showing adds a dramatic touch of colour. Charles I acquired this work for the Royal Collection.


“Portrait of Burkhard von Speyer”

The sitter was identified as Burkard von Speyer after it was realized that he looks just like the man in a miniature in Weimar by an unknown artist, also dated 1506 and inscribed with his name. Nothing more is known about him, although presumably he originally came from Speyer, a town on the Rhine near Heidelberg. Burkard von Speyer also appears in The Altarpiece of the Rose Garlands. Wearing the same clothing, he is on the left side of the picture, just to the right of the first kneeling cardinal. You can’t get a blacker portrait with the reds, and the lead white than the one Albrecht made for Charles V


This is the painting that won the “paint-off” between the Venetian Italians and Dürer in 1506. This panel was painted for an altar for the German community in Venice, in the church of S. Bartolomeo near the Fondaco dei Tedeschi, the social and commercial centre of the German colony, where it remained until 1606. It was then acquired, after many negotiations, for 900 ducats by Emperor Rudolph II. According to Sandrart (1675), four men were hired to bring the packaged painting to the emperor’s residence in Prague. Stationed elsewhere during the invasion of the Swedish troops, the painting, already very damaged, returned to its place in 1635. It underwent a first restoration in 1662. In 1782, it was sold in an auction for one florin. After having passed through the hands of various collectors, it was acquired by the Czechoslovakian state in 1930. The painting, severely damaged chiefly in the centre portion, from the head of the Madonna and continuing downward to the bottom, was clumsily restored in the nineteenth century; in this restoration, the upper side portion, left of the canopy and to Saint Dominic’s head, was also included. Three copies of the work are known: one – considered the most important and which now belongs to a private collection – is attributed to Hans Rottenhamer, who sojourned in Venice from 1596 to 1606, where he took care of many acquisitions on behalf of Rudolph II; another is in Vienna; and the third, a rather modified version of the original, is in Lyon.

“Feast of the Rose Garlands”

Enough toxic paint to kill all the Italians and the Germans too.


The portrait is one of the first works of the artist during his second sojourn in Venice. It was painted in the autumn or in the winter of 1506.With reference to some of the details, it has been repeatedly made known that the portrait is unfinished.

“Portrait of an unknown Venetian Woman”

Reds, Lead white and black added for extra danger, left unfinished.


The Elector, Frederick the Wise of Saxony ordered this painting for the Schlosskirche (the church in the castle) in Wittenberg. It was once believed to be the central part of a polyptych, with, on the side wings, the story of Job, in Frankfurt and Cologne. However, this hypothesis has already been called into question. The Elector of Saxony then donated the painting to Emperor Rudolph II in 1603. An exchange with the Presentation at the Temple by Fra Bartolomeo brought it in 1793 from the gallery in Vienna to the Uffizi. Dürer framed and delimited a large space by an architecture composed of arches of a very refined perspective. The three kings arrived at this slightly elevated space from the back and after having climbed two steps. A single figure, sharply foreshortened, followed in their footsteps from the distant background. Only the upper half of his body is shown where he now stands at the bottom of the two steps. He is Oriental and wearing a turban. The heavy traveling bag he holds probably contains precious gifts for the infant Jesus. The Madonna is clad in azure clothes and cape, a white veil covering her head. She is holding out the infant, who is wrapped in her white veil, to the eldest king (who wears deadly GREEN clothing). He is offering the infant a gold casket with the image of Saint George, which the infant has already taken with his right hand. This is the only action that unfolds in the principal scene, except for the Oriental servant’s gesture of putting his hand in his bag. All the other characters are motionless; immersed in thought, they look straight ahead or sideways, creating the effect of a staged spectacle set with immobile characters.

Every color in this painting is horrendously toxic and right in the viewer’s face and nostrils.

“Adoration of the Magi made for The Elector, Duke Friedrich of Saxony”


“The Paumgartner Altar”

This triptych was commissioned by the brothers Stephan and Lukas Paumgartner for St Catherine’s Church in Nuremberg. The main panel depicts the Nativity, set in an architectural ruin. The left wing shows St George with a fearsome dragon and the right wing St Eustace, with both saints dressed as knights and holding identifying banners. A seventeenth-century manuscript records that the side panels were painted in 1498 and that the two saints were given the features of the Paumgartner brothers (with Stephan on the left and Lukas on the right). This is the earliest occasion on which an artist is known to have used the facial features of a donor in depicting a saint. But of course, Stephan was Albrecht’s lover.

The small figures at the bottom corners of the central panel are the Paumgartner family with their coats of arms. They were painted over in the seventeenth century, when donor portraits went out of favour, and were only uncovered during restoration in 1903. On the left behind Joseph are the male members of the family, Martin Paumgartner, followed by his two sons Lukas and Stephan and an elderly bearded figure who may be Hans Schönbach, second husband of Barbara Paumgartner. On the far right is Barbara Paumgartner (née Volckamer), with her daughters Maria and Barbara. Every color in this altarpiece is toxic and especially with the restoration could still be.


This panel is a large picture depicting Mary as the Mother of Sorrows. It was severely damaged in an attack when acid was thrown at it in 1988, and ten years have been spent restoring it. It is the central picture of the seven scenes from the Passion which are in the Gemäldegalerie in Dresden. The work was presumably ordered by Elector Frederick the Wise for the Wittenberg university chapel.

“The Virgin of the Seven Sorrows made for the Elector, Duke Friedrich of Saxony”

Black, lead white, Orpiment and blue (which doesn’t show in this picture well but I just saw the painting at the Staedel)-a deadly toxic painting for all to look at, worship, and inhale. And this brings us to the end of the examples of deadly toxic paintings the Dürers made for their “patrons.”  Thank goodness these are all in Museums where only the staff are still exposed to such dangers. We will discuss the family portraits, which are also made with deadly pigments in a future article.”

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