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Arch Kriminol. 2012 Jan-Feb;229(1-2):11-24.

[Illness and death of the violin virtuoso Nicolò Paganini--interpretation based on new hair investigations].

[Article in German]


The violin virtuoso Paganini died at Nice in 1840 after a long, severe illness. It is undisputed that Paganini was treated with mercury for suspected syphilis and lost all his teeth in 1828 because of that treatment. In the comprehensive literature published on this topic, most authors assume that the terminal complaints and his death were caused by tuberculosis. On the other hand, the hypothesis that he may have died from mercury poisoning was rejected, because there was no information available supporting this assumption. The authors performed morphological investigations using light microscopy and raster electron microscopy (REM). The examined hairs corresponded to a growth phase of > 1 year and < 3 years before death. Structural damage to the hairs indicate heavy metal intoxication in that phase of life; compatible results were supplied by the complex investigations using ICP mass spectrometry and TXRF, which revealed high concentrations of mercury. Using ICP-MS, the mean value for mercury found in the hair sample was 15.4 microg/g with a standard deviation of 0.7 microg/g. The values obtained when investigating segments of single hairs showed high dispersion, but overlapped with the values from the area investigated using ICP-MS. Information not yet considered in the literature support the diagnosis of syphilis and provide a complete and unambiguous explanation for Paganini's death on the basis of the mercury concentrations found.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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