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  • Writer's pictureVan Weyenbergh Fine Art

Leonardo da Vinci claw hand explains Mona Lisa mystery?

Updated: Jul 21, 2019

New research suggests that Leonardo da Vinci suffered severe nerve damage to his right hand after fainting and falling at some point late in his life. The injury may have impacted the famous artist’s painting skills and could explain why the Mona Lisa is unfinished, experts say.

A red chalk portrait of an elderly da Vinci attributed to 16th-century artist Giovan Ambrogio Figino offers vital clues of the Renaissance master’s injury, according to Dr Davide Lazzeri, a specialist in plastic reconstructive and aesthetic surgery at the Villa Salaria Clinic in Rome, and Dr Carlo Rossi, a specialist in neurology at the Hospital of Pontedera.

In the drawing, da Vinci’s right arm is pictured in folds of clothing “as if it was a bandage, with his right hand suspended in a stiff, contracted position,” they explain in a statement.

The research challenges the widely held theory that da Vinci had suffered a stroke, hence the depiction of his “contracted” right hand in Figino’s work.

In the study, the doctors note that the ambidextrous artist used his left hand to draw and write, but painted with his right hand. The injury, they say, could be the reason why da Vinci never completed the Mona Lisa.

Arguably the world’s most famous artwork, the Mona Lisa hangs in the Louvre Museum in Paris. The portrait of Lisa Gherardini, wife of Florentine cloth merchant Francesco del Giocondo, was started around 1503, according to the Louvre. However, the iconic painting was in da Vinci’s studio when he died in 1519, according to Encyclopedia Britannica, and is regarded by many as unfinished.

In a paper published in the Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine, Lazzeri and Rossi say that, while da Vinci was still able to teach and draw with his left hand following the injury, it impacted his ability to hold palettes and brushes with his right hand.

"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,” said Dr. Lazzeri in the statement.

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