Goya painting
Auto-portrait of Francisco Goya Wiki Commons

Francisco Goya is recognised as one of the most important painters in the late 18th and 19th century finished but his personal life is marred by suffering. The artist finished his life deaf, after contracting a mysterious and debilitating disease at the age of 46.

Now, scientists say they have finally come up with a diagnosis, after examining a range of evidence about Goya's condition. They will now present their conclusions at the 24th annual Historical Clinicopathological Conference held at the University of Maryland School of Medicine.

The conference is dedicated to coming up with diagnoses for significant historical figures, who had been hit by a mysterious affliction during their lifetime. In recent years, scientists have made important discoveries regarding the diseases of Lenin, Darwin, Eleanor Roosevelt and Lincoln.

Francisco Goya was at the height of his artistic career when he fell severely ill, in 1793. The disease was not diagnosed but he suffered for months, struggling with hallucinations and headaches.

Even though the symptoms went away, he lost his hearing for good. These were dark times for him, a mood which is well reflected by some of his later artworks.

Specialist Ronna Hertzano, from the University of Maryland, decided to investigate what caused Goya's deafness. Analysing a range of historical sources depicting the artist's life, she was able to identify his main symptoms.

Goya disease
The 'Black painting series' was created after Goya's disease Wiki Commons

Her work points to the fact that Goya most probably suffered from a condition known as Susac's syndrome. This is a rare autoimmune disease which leads to impaired brain function, to blockage of the arteries that supply blood to the retina and to inner ear disease. Patients thus often suffer from balance and vision problems, and they often lose their hearing.

While most patients are able to recover, some of the symptoms never go away – as might have been the case with Goya's deafness.

Another possibility is that Goya was affected by syphilis. If left untreated, this bacterial infection can lead to similar symptoms. During Goya's lifetime, there would have been no treatment either for syphilis or for Susac's syndrome.

Today however, outcomes would be very different as treatments exist. Furthermore, the scientist not that even if Goya had stayed deaf he would have been able to get hearing aids. "He would not have lived a deaf life after his disease," Dr Hertzano concluded.