05.05.2019
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Why didn’t Leonardo da Vinci finish the Mona Lisa?

Scientists have found the cause of the damage to the artist's hand

Леонардо да Винчи
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Leonardo da Vinci could damage the nerve in the fall, which prevented him from drawing in the last years of life, suggest Italian doctors. They diagnosed the artist with elbow paralysis, analyzing the image of his right hand in two works.

Previously, it was assumed that the damage to Leonardo’s hand caused a stroke. But in the study published in the journal of the Royal medical society, doctors made an alternative assumption. The researchers believe that one of the hands of da Vinci began to function poorly due to nerve damage. This meant that he could no longer hold the palette and brush in his right hand.

Leonardo da Vinci, who lived from 1452-1519, was an artist and inventor whose talents spanned architecture, anatomy, engineering and sculpture, as well as painting. But experts have long argued to what extent Leonardo was Ambidextrous. And, although he was more skilled in drawing with his left hand, it is believed that he drew only with his right. A separate study published last month confirmed this theory.

Experts have confirmed that the 500-year-old engraving – a rare image of Leonardo da Vinci

To learn more about what caused Leonardo’s injury, the authors of the research published in the journal of the Royal medical society studied a number of historical artifacts. Among them was an engraving by Marcantonio Raimondi in 1505 depicting a man playing the lyre da braccio – a stringed instrument of The Renaissance. The man in the print was recently identified as Leonardo da Vinci. This suggests that at this time he made good use of both hands, the researchers said.

Scientists have analyzed and portrait of an elderly Leonardo, written by Giovanni Ambrogio Figino, an artist who worked in Milan. According to the analysis, the picture of the Renaissance man held his right hand in a «hard, compressed position».

Sketch of Leonardo da Vinci with the image of his «clawed hand»

Dr. Davide Lazzeri, a specialist in plastic reconstructive and aesthetic surgery at the Villa Salaria clinic in Rome, who led the analysis, said: «Instead of portraying the typical clenched arm observed in post-stroke muscle spasticity (a state of increased muscle tone), the picture offers an alternative diagnosis, such as elbow paralysis, commonly known as clawed arm».

The ulnar nerve passes from the shoulder to the little finger and controls almost all of the internal muscles of the arm, which allow fine motor skills to work, so, a fall could cause shoulder injury, leading to paralysis or weakness.

Dr. Lazzery added that there are no reports of other motor disorders, which further confirms that it is unlikely that the stroke was the cause of damage to Leonardo’s hand.

Another evidence confirming the alternative version is a diary entry of one of Leonardo’s students about a visit to the artist’s house in 1517. The disciple Antonio de Beatis wrote: «you can Not expect better work from him, since his right hand is paralyzed. And although Messer Leonardo can no longer draw with his inherent sweetness, he can still create and teach others».

Experts believe that Leonardo da Vinci could leave the «Mona Lisa» unfinished due to injury of his right hand

«It would be interesting to examine Leonardo’s skeleton to verify at least the presence of fractures or injuries», – said Lazzeri.

The study may continue work on why Leonardo did not finish a number of paintings, including his portrait of the Mona Lisa.

«Five centuries after his death, during which thousands of scientists read his works, discussed his discoveries and explored his life from all points of view, there is still a lot that we need to learn about Leonardo da Vinci, a man of the Renaissance», – said Lazzery.

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