PARIS – Leonardo da Vinci may have suffered traumatic nerve damage that left him with a “claw hand,” impairing his ability to paint in later life, a new study says.
The damage could have been the result of a fainting episode, according to Italian research published in the British Royal Society of Medicine journal.
Reconstructive surgeon David Lazzeri and neurologist Carlo Rossi said the handicap prevented the Renaissance artist from even holding his palette in his right hand, though he continued to draw with his left.
Many researchers have assumed that the palsy of his right hand stemmed from a stroke or Dupuytren’s contracture, a condition that causes fingers to become permanently bent.
The two scientists reached their finding by studying a chalk drawing of Leonardo attributed to the 16th-century Lombard artist Giovanni Ambrogio Figino.
The picture shows the great Italian polymath with his right hand emerging from his clothing, as if he were wearing a sling, with the fingers 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,” Lazzeri said in the report.
For the Italian experts, Leonardo’s physical weakness was not accompanied by any cognitive decline.
But according to Lazzeri, it may explain “why he left numerous paintings incomplete” even including his most famous, the “Mona Lisa,” during the last five years of his career as a painter “while he continued teaching and drawing.”
According to another study, carried out by Florence Museum researchers and published last month, Leonardo was completely ambidextrous — capable of writing, drawing and painting as well with his left hand as his right.
The findings were based on analysis of his earliest work.
French President Emmanuel Macron and Italian counterpart Sergio Mattarella on Thursday kicked off commemorations to mark 500 years since Leonardo died in France.
“The bond between our countries and our citizens is indestructible,” Macron said after the two men lunched at the Clos Luce, the sumptuous manor house where Leonardo spent the last three years of his life.
Mattarella and Macron began their visit at the royal chateau in Amboise, where the heads of state laid wreaths at Leonardo’s grave.
The joint celebrations come after months of mounting diplomatic tensions between Paris and Rome over the hard-line policies of Italy’s populist government and its support for France’s anti-government yellow vest protesters. In the worst diplomatic crisis between the two countries since World War II, Paris briefly recalled its ambassador.
Amboise, a sleepy town on the Loire River where Leonardo died in 1519 at age 67, was in virtual lockdown because of fears of yellow vest protests.
The entire Loire Valley has seized on Leonardo’s quincentenary as that of the Renaissance in general, planning more than 500 events across the region, with Bern as the figurehead.
Francis I, known as the “Sun King of the 16th century,” is widely credited with bringing the Renaissance to France, even if his predecessor, Louis XII, had begun the process by bringing in architects and artisans from Florence, Milan and Rome.
Leonardo was 64 when he accepted the young Francis I’s invitation to Amboise, at a time when rivals Michelangelo and Raphael were rising stars.
With Leonardo’s commissions drying up, it came as a great relief and no small vindication for the Tuscan artist, who received a handsome stipend as the “first painter, engineer and architect of the king.”
At the time, Francis I was barely 23, and his ambitious mother, Louise of Savoy, “knew that Leonardo would be the man who would allow her son to flourish,” said Catherine Simon Marion, managing director of the Clos Luce.
Leonardo brought with him three of his favorite paintings: the “Mona Lisa,” the “Virgin and Child with St. Anne” and “St. John the Baptist” — all of which today hang in the Louvre museum in Paris.
Italy and France have also sparred over an accord under which Italy will lend several Leonardos to the Louvre in October. With fewer than 20 Leonardo paintings still in existence, many Italians are resentful that the Louvre possesses five, as well as 22 drawings.
During his three years in Amboise, Leonardo organized lavish parties for the court and worked to design an ideal city for Francis at nearby Romorantin — one of the polymath’s many unrealized projects — all while continuing his research.
IN FIVE EASY PIECES WITH TAKE 5