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Da Vinci may have had ADHD, startling study claims

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Perhaps the most famous painter, inventor, sculptor, ever, Leonardo da Vinci’s name resonates in the annals of history.

But a new study suggests that the typical Renaissance Man had trouble finishing some of his projects of more than 500 years ago as a result of a disability that has become quite common today, the day – ADHD.

Published in the scientific journal BRAIN, Professor Marco Catani of King’s College in London, writes the Italian mathematician and physicist, who had considered himself a failure later in life, he had a real reason for his inability to complete some of his work.

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“Although it is impossible to make a post-mortem diagnosis for someone who lived 500 years ago, and I’m convinced that ADHD is the most convincing and scientifically plausible hypothesis to explain Leonardo’s difficulties in the finishing of his work,” Catani said in a statement. “Historical records show Leonardo spent a lot of time by the planning of projects, but lacked perseverance. ADHD could explain aspects of Leonardo’s temper and his strange mercurial genius.”

Sketch of the Italian polymath Leonardo da Vinci (1452 – 1519).
(Photo by Mansell/The LIFE Picture Collection)

Attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder, or ADHD, is very common today, with more than 3 million cases diagnosed annually. Beginning in childhood and lasting a lifetime, the condition can be treated with medication, but the patient is never fully cured.

According to the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), it is believed that ADHD is caused by interactions between genes and environmental or non-genetic factors.” Some factors include:

  • Genes
  • Cigarette smoking, use of alcohol or drugs use during pregnancy
  • Exposure to toxic substances, such as high levels of lead, at a young age
  • Low birth weight
  • Brain injury

Symptoms associated with ADHD include procrastination, inability to complete tasks and unrest in body and mind.

Da Vinci, who died on May 2, 1519, at age 67, was considered to have many of these cases, according to a number of his biographers and contemporaries. He was “constantly on the go, often jumping from task to task,” and like many with the affliction, he slept little and worked tirelessly.

There is also “indirect evidence to suggest that Leonardo’s brain are organized differently, compared with the average,” the statement added.

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ADHD is associated with a negative stigma, but there are benefits, Catani wrote in the study, including creativity, in particular, illustrated by da Vinci. “Perhaps, if positively channeled, a number of characteristics of ADHD may carry a benefit: mind wandering may be the fuel of creativity and originality; restlessness can go searching for renewal and action for change,” the researcher wrote.

A 2017 NIMH study showed that people who are left-handed had a greater chance of suffering ADHD than right-handed people.

It is often thought that da Vinci was left-handed, but a recent study completed by the experts of the art conservation and research institution Opificio delle Pietre Dure, shows that he is equally adept at painting and writing with his right hand. This includes one of his more well known work, “Landscape,” made when he was just 21 years of age.

Catani, who specializes in neurological disorders such as autism, as well as ADHD, said that he hopes that by linking da Vinci to the disorder, it will remove the negativity associated with it.

“There is a prevailing misconception that ADHD is a typical example of poorly functioning children with a low intelligence, destined for a troubled life,” Catani said in the statement, adding that many of the adults he sees are “bright, intuitive children.” Later in life, they developed problems with depression and anxiety that lead to them feeling as if they don’t reach their potential.

“It is incredible that Leonardo considered himself as someone who had failed in life. I hope that the case of Leonardo, shows that ADHD is not linked to a low IQ or a lack of creativity, but rather the effort to capitalize on the natural talents. I hope that Leonardo’s legacy can help us to be the stigma around ADHD.”

More than 500 years after his death, da Vinci continues to be a source of amazement and wonder for the modern world.

In January, da Vinci’s fingerprint was discovered in a drawing by the Renaissance Master, which is the property of Queen Elizabeth II. The hidden detail, revealed in a new book titled ” Leonard da Vinci: A closer Look,” analyzes 80 of Leonardo’s drawings from the Royal Collection, shedding new light on the famous artist and the craft.

The fingerprint is found on “the cardiovascular system and principal organs of a woman,” is an anatomical drawing by Leonardo, dating back to around 1509 and 1510.

This past summer, experts in Italy said that they had found the oldest surviving work of da Vinci. The small glazed terracotta tile, which bears the date “1471” is described as a self-portrait of the artist as the Archangel Gabriel.

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