A possible cause of famous artist’s hearing loss

Created date

July 7th, 2017
A pen and ink portrait of Francisco Goya holding a palette for paint colors.

Did Francisco Goya suffer from Susac’s syndrome?

Francisco Goya was a Spanish painter from the late 1700s to early 1800s. He was thought of as the last of the old masters and the first of the modernists. He also suffered from hearing loss following a lengthy illness. 

Experts now think they know why. Researchers investigated and found that when Goya was 46 years old, he contracted an unknown illness. His symptoms included hearing loss, headaches, hallucinations, and profound weakness, all of which kept him bedridden for several months. He eventually pulled out of it, but the hearing loss remained. 

Did he have Susac’s?

Ronna Hertzano, M.D., Ph.D., from the University of Maryland School of Medicine studied the available evidence about Goya’s disease. Hertzano’s research led her to conclude that Goya may have had a disease called Susac’s syndrome, the symptoms of which reflect the impaired brain function that accompanies the disease, including hearing and vision loss and balance deficits. A second possible diagnosis, according to Hertzano, was syphilis. 

Since then, three main forms of Susac’s syndrome have been identified. It is classified as an autoimmune disease in which the body’s immune cells attack healthy tissue—in this case the lining of small blood vessels that feed the eyes, ears, and brain. It is very rare. 

Some people attributed the dark tone of Goya’s post-illness work as related to his hearing impairment. Hertzano says that had he lived today, he could have received cochlear implants, which would have restored his hearing.