Venetian ceruse, also known as blanc de ceruse de Venise and Spirits of Saturn, was a 16th-century cosmetic used as a skin whitener. It was in great demand and considered the best available at that time. It is similar to the regular ceruse, although it was marketed as better, more exclusive and expensive than the regular ceruse variant.
The cosmetic's use of white lead as a pigment caused lead poisoning, damaging the skin and causing hair loss. A 1688 record detailed a recipe, which described the cosmetics as a mixture of water, vinegar, and lead. Usage over an extended period could cause death.
Elizabeth I of England is popularly imagined to have been a notable user. An account stated that after she died and her mask removed, the cosmetics used were revealed. Critics such as Anna Riehl and Kate Maltby have argued that little historical evidence exists to support this claim.
Ceruse was also blamed for the death of Maria Coventry, Countess of Coventry, aged 27, in 1760. Ceruse caused blemishes, upon which she applied more of the substance, causing even more blemishes. Eventually she died of lead poisoning. Another devout user of the cosmetic was Isabella d'Este and her appearance demonstrated how ceruse caused permanent damage and premature aging. In 1534, an account by Pietro Aretino described her "smeared face" as "dishonestly ugly and even more dishonestly made up".
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