Leonardo da Vinci may have suffered from ADHD, expert claims 

Leonardo's behaviour was erratic but brilliant 
Leonardo's behaviour was erratic but brilliant  Credit: Getty Images Contributor 

Leonardo da Vinci may have struggled to complete masterpieces like the Mona Lisa and Adoration of the Magi because he suffered from Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), a brain expert has claimed.

Marco Catani, Professor of Neuroanatomy & Psychiatry at King’s College London, has spent his career studying the condition and treating people with ADHD, and believes the symptoms fit historic accounts of da Vinci's erratic behaviour.

The renaissance polymath was notorious for chronic procrastination, often leaving work unfinished so he could move on to his next project.

Accounts from biographers and contemporaries paint da Vinci as an easily distracted daydreamer who rarely finished a commission on time if at all. He began the Mona Lisa around 1503 and had not completed the work by his death in 1519.

In 1481, da Vinci was also commissioned to paint a panel for the high altar for the church of San Donato outside Florence, but within six months had abandoned the work. The unfinished Adoration of the Magi is now in the Uffizi Gallery in Florence.

The Mona Lisa was never finished  Credit: Alamy Stock Photo

Professor Catani, from the Institute of Psychiatry, Psychology & Neuroscience at King’s, said: “While impossible to make a post-mortem diagnosis for someone who lived 500 years ago, I am confident that ADHD is the most convincing and scientifically plausible hypothesis to explain Leonardo’s difficulty in finishing his works.

“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.”

Like many people who suffer from ADHD, da Vinci also slept very little and worked continuously night and day fuelled by short naps.

Records show he was left-handed and likely to be dyslexic, both of which are common among people with ADHD.

Adoration of the Magi  Credit: Uffizi Gallery in Florence 

ADHD is a behavioural disorder characterised by continuous procrastination, the inability to complete tasks, mind-wandering and a restlessness of the body and mind. While most commonly recognised in childhood, ADHD is increasingly being diagnosed among adults including university students and people with successful careers.

However such a diagnosis may also explain his astonishing creativity and quickness of thought.

Professor Catani said ADHD can have positive effects, for example mind-wandering can fuel creativity and originality.  Albert Einstein, Thomas Edison, Nikola Tesla and Galileo all also displayed symptoms of the condition.

“There is a prevailing misconception that ADHD is typical of misbehaving children with low intelligence, destined for a troubled life,” he added.

“On the contrary, most of the adults I see in my clinic report having been bright, intuitive children but develop symptoms of anxiety and depression later in life for having failed to achieve 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 low IQ or lack of creativity but rather the difficulty of capitalising on natural talents. I hope that Leonardo’s legacy can help us to change some of the stigma around ADHD.”

The paper was published in the journal Brain.