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Scientists believe Leonardo da Vinci might not have been able to finish the Mona Lisa after a severe fainting episode left him with a ‘claw’ hand, stopping him from holding a paintbrush.
A portrait of the Italian Renaissance artist shows his right hand, wrapped in clothes like a bandage and ‘suspended in a stiff, contracted position’, according to research in the Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine.
Although da Vinci drew with his left hand, researchers said he painted with his right and believe the injury could have forced him to leave many of his masterpieces incomplete.
It has previously been thought the artist suffered a stroke later in his career, which caused weakness in the right side of his body.
But researchers now believe the stroke was probably not the cause.
Co-author Dr Davide Lazzeri, a specialist plastic reconstructive and aesthetic surgeon at the Villa Salaria Clinic in Rome, said: ‘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.’
He suggested a syncope, or fainting episode, could have caused trauma to da Vinci’s right upper arm.
The ulnar nerve runs from the shoulder to the finger and manages intricate movements of the hand.
The Mona Lisa was painted between 1503 and 1519, the year of da Vinci’s death.
‘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,’ Dr Lazzeri said.
They still look pretty good to us.