Leonardo da Vinci is renowned as a “Renaissance man” for his mastery in art, science, architecture, music, mathematics, engineering and cartography, but he was no master at completing his efforts.
Five hundred years after his death, a professor of psychiatry in Britain has suggested that the reason da Vinci left behind so many unfinished works, including the iconic Mona Lisa, is that he may have had attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).
“I am confident ADHD is the most convincing and scientifically plausible hypothesis to explain Leonardo’s difficulty in finishing his works,” Marco Catani of King’s College in London argues in a paper published Friday in the neurological journal Brain.
Catani said historical records show da Vinci’s struggles with finishing tasks were pervasive from childhood.
On the go
Accounts from biographers and contemporaries show he was constantly on the go, Catani said, often jumping from task to task. And like many people with ADHD, da Vinci got very little sleep and often worked continuously, night and day.
“Historical records show Leonardo spent excessive time planning projects but lacked perseverance. ADHD could explain aspects of Leonardo’s temperament and his strange mercurial genius,” the professor said.
ADHD is a behavioral disorder most commonly identified with inability to complete tasks and mental and physical restlessness. It is most commonly recognized in children but is increasingly being diagnosed among adults, including those with successful careers.
“There is a prevailing misconception that ADHD is typical of misbehaving children with low intelligence, destined for a troubled life,” Catani said. He said he hoped that “that the case of Leonardo shows that ADHD is not linked to low IQ or lack of creativity but rather the difficulty of capitalizing on natural talents. I hope that Leonardo’s legacy can help us to change some of the stigma around ADHD.”