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Leonardo da Vinci had ADHD

Robert Merki
Robert Merki

Leonardo da Vinci had ADHD

  • He rarely completed projects
  • He never published anything.
  • He was ashamed of his abandoned projects & commissions.
  • He rapidly found new things to hyperfocus on.
  • He considered his life a failure.

Leonardo da Vinci has 24 recognized paintings. Many of his works are unfinished, including The Last Supper, which he considered a failure.

Even the so called "complete" Mona Lisa was never really completed. Leonardo kept coming back to it over 10+ years, making small adjustments, never satisfied. He never published or sold it. It was found in his studio after he died. It was in Napoleon's bedroom for a while.

Leonardo da Vinci had a problem with completing projects & commissions. It was so well known, that his patrons started to implement specific clauses in their contracts to deal with the inevitable delays & incomplete work. EVERYONE knew.

"it is difficult to find among his contemporaries someone who had not commented on his unreliability"
Grey Matter Leonardo da Vinci: a genius driven to distraction

Leonardo da Vinci started his solo career with two failures. He abandoned his first two solo commissions. Instead, he switched focus and tried to market himself to the Duke of Milan as a musician and engineer, only briefly mentioning his painting ability.

Leonardo da Vinci spent 12 years planning The Sforza Horse, the largest bronze cast sculpture ever. Despite expansive preparatory work, he abandoned the project. The one test clay model he made was destroyed.

Leonardo da Vinci was commissioned to paint The Battle of Anghiari,a massive fresco in Florence. Despite massive preparatory work, he abandoned the project within a year, and it was covered up with a wall.

Leonardo da Vinci spent 3 years painting The Last Supper for a monastery. After complaints of delays, Leonardo claimed that he was "still searching" for the perfect model for the face of Judas. An act of Renaissance brilliance or a witty ADHD excuse?

What about all of Leonardo da Vinci's inventions? Didn't he invent the helicopter? He created extensive notes and sketches, but never published any of it. Leonardo da Vinci's engineering brilliance was never put to use because it was all hidden away in his personal notebooks.

Leonardo da Vinci famously dissected corpses to analyze & sketch the human body. He was working with a professor named Marcantonio Della Torre to create a "treatise on anatomy". Della Torre died from The Plague before they finished. Leonardo lost interest & it was abandoned.

But what about The Vitruvian Man? Wasn't that published? It was just a sketch found in one of his notebooks. It was never published.

The Vitruvian Man by Leonardo Da Vinci

Leonardo da Vinci made incredible discoveries about human anatomy, but none of this knowledge was put to use. It was only 500 years after his death, in 1968, that his anatomical notebooks were finally found & published.

Leonardo da Vinci wrote 13,000 pages worth of notes, drawings, art, and plans. They are totally out of order with random switches in topics, categories, and focus. Like his anatomical work, none of this was published or recognized for hundreds of years.

In summary, Leonardo da Vinci was a man who rapidly switched from one hyperfocus to another. He rarely completed any of his grandiose projects and even considered his life a failure. He was a genius artist & inventor who suffered from obvious ADHD symptoms.

To me it's clear his grandiose ideas, genius inventions, difficulties with sleep, insatiable curiosity, and mercurial lifestyle, were moments of extreme ADHD hyperfocus combined with his extreme human intelligence & artistic talent.

Reading his biography made me sad. He lived in a time where his inability to complete projects was labeled as "lazy" or some form for moral failure. By all accounts he was loved and admired by those around him, but he couldn't stop getting in his own way. "He offended God"

I wonder how much more Leonardo da Vinci could have accomplished if he understood his ADHD symptoms and used his own genius to devise a strategy around it. His anatomical work alone would have made him world famous 10 times over.

More quotes:

It is easier to resist at the beginning than at the end"
— Leonardo da Vinci, found in one of his notebooks

"He had offended God and man by not working at his art as he ought" “He set himself to learn many things, and then, after having begun them, abandoned them.”
— Giorgio Vasari, Leonardo da Vinci's first biographer

"Leonardo loved the conception more than he loved the execution."
— Walter Isaacson

"Alas! this man will never do anything, for he begins by thinking of the end of the work, before the beginning"
— Pope Leone X

“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.”
Grey Matter Leonardo da Vinci: a genius driven to distraction

"many of his architectural and engineering ideas were disregarded for being too un-realistic and impractical."
Grey Matter Leonardo da Vinci: a genius driven to distraction

This article was originally published on Twitter.