Turns out Leonardo da Vinci likely had ADHD according to a professor

According to his first biographer, da Vinci died regretting that “he had offended God and mankind in not having worked at his art as he should have done.”

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Hero of the Italian Renaissance  Leonardo da Vinci is famous for his depiction of the Last Supper and the Mona Lisa, possibly one of the most well-known paintings in the world. But he was also a procrastinator who had trouble completing projects and left unfinished works behind.

According to his first biographer Giorgio Vasari, da Vinci died in 1519 regretting that “he had offended God and mankind in not having worked at his art as he should have done.” (The Mona Lisa, which he worked on for 16 years, is considered unfinished.)

“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,” the author of the paper, Professor Marco Catani, said in a release. Catani is an expert in treating conditions like ADHD and autism from King’s College London’s Institute of Psychiatry, Psychology, and Neuroscience.

In his paper, Catani focuses on historical accounts of da Vinci’s work practices and performance. Incomplete projects followed him wherever he went, and his work could be inconsistent.


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His brain was also unusual in other ways: he was left-handed and probably dyslexic.

“Historical records show Leonardo spent excessive time planning projects but lacked perseverance,” Catani added. “ADHD could explain aspects of Leonardo’s temperament and his strange mercurial genius.”

No follow-through

Although he was driven by “excessive planning,” even geniuses can lack follow-through – which led to the connection with ADHD. In adults, the disorder is characterized by procrastination, the inability to focus, and the inability to complete tasks, among other things.

ADHD isn’t just an illness that befalls children. It often manifests in adults who have trouble with focus and follow-through and often don’t reach their full potential. Catani says just knowing that da Vinci may have had ADHD could help break the stigma for other adults struggling with the disorder.

“It is incredible that Leonardo considered himself as someone who had failed in life,” said Catani. “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 capitalizing on natural talents. I hope that [his] legacy can help us to change some of the stigmas around ADHD.”

Catani’s paper was published in BRAIN: a Journal of Neurology.


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Sheila McClear|is a reporter for Ladders and can be reached at smcclear@theladders.com.