While the fame of Leonardo da Vinci needs no re-telling, Italian doctors suggest that the multi-hyphenate artist might have had experienced nerve damage in a fall. This, they say, hindered his ability to paint later in life. The way his right hand was depicted in two artworks have been analysed and it was deduced that he suffered from ‘Ulnar palsy, or “claw hand”.
Although it was earlier believed that stroke caused the hand impairment, doctors in the Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine have concluded that it was caused by a nerve damage. This made it difficult for the artist to hold a palette and brush.
In order to arrive at this, two artworks showing the artist in latter stages of his life were examined. One of them was his portrait drawn with red chalk by 16th-century Lombard artist Giovanni Ambrogio Figino. His right arm in the painting has been partially hidden underneath folds of clothing, and can be seen at right-angle to his body. His thumb, first and second fingers are extended, while his fourth and fifth fingers are contracted.
“Rather than depicting the typical clenched hand seen in post-stroke muscular spasticity, the picture suggests an alternative diagnosis such as ulnar palsy, commonly known as ‘claw hand,” Dr Davide Lazzeri, who led the analysis, was quoted as saying in a report in BBC.
Lazzeri further added that the result of the analysis holds true since there are no reports of any cognitive decline or other motor impairment. “This may explain why he left numerous paintings incomplete, including the Mona Lisa, during the last five years of his career as a painter, while he continued teaching and drawing,” he further added.
Another image of the artist playing a string instrument was analysed. Similar inference was drawn, that his right hand was crippled by a certain paralysis.
Even after his injury, Da Vinci created artworks like The Virgin and Child with St Anne, and St George and the Dragon. which are commendable.