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Payment of the Labourers
Medical Aspect of a Fresco Painting

: Dr. Amnon Talitman

Photos by: Jacob Klar

Girolamo di Romano, known as Romanino

b. Brescia, ca 1485 d. Brescia ca 1560 (Italy)

Between 1531 and 1532, Romanino created a series of secular murals in the Castello del Buonconsiglio in Trento, which are among the most original works of the first half of 16th century Italy.

The castle was the seat of the german cardinal Bernardo Clesio, a true broad minded European of his time. He encouraged artists to come and work in all parts of the hugh castle. 

castel buonconsiglio

Romanino was renowned for his nonconformist style and daring innovativeness, which heralded modern realism which was later surpassed only by Caravaggio.

This is a series of secular paintings of classic-humanistic inspiration, depicting biblical, historical, allegorical and mythological themes and scenes.

Some of them depict just daily life in the palace. One of them is titled 'payment of the Labourers' named in Italian: 'La Paga dei Lavoranti', reported in the past in the medical literature by Prof. Enio Martino: Two labourers are meekly waiting to receive their wages in a balcony at the castle. 

La Paga dei Lavoranti

The patron, domineering in appearance and elegant in dress, is holding a purse; he is of normal height and shows no signs of illness.

The labourers are wearing simple clothing and their bodies are disfigured with disease.

Romanino grew up and created most of his paintings in regions of Trentino and Lombardy in northern Italy. Those regions were well known from ancient times to these days, as regions plagued by a severe lack of iodine in the soil, in the water and in the food, cause of thyroid gland disfunction and enlargement called goiter. It is a clear case of endemic goiter.

The two labourers plainly show various signs of congenital iodine deficiency, that is, deficiency right from birth.

They are both short and evidently suffer from dwarfism. The labourer furthest from the patron, who also appears in the series as a fool playing with a monkey, has the features of a cretin.

The labourer standing nearer the patron has an enlarged and diffused goiter.

In the Italian Renaissance paintings an enlarged thyroid often appears, either as a realistic description of figures, or as a thick neck, as a means of highlighting feminine beauty.

At times one finds a particularly repulsive goiter - a sign of the moral ugliness of a sinner.

In Romaninos painting, the goiter and other physical flaws characterize not only the labourer's physical condition but also their lowly status and occupation.

The disfigurements are designed to concretize as a kind if stigma and define the lowly, even contemptible, status of the two labourers receiving their payment.