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The disease that crippled Leonardo da Vinci uncovered

An ill, bedridden man, who needed the assistance of his servants to get out of bed, is how 16th-century writer Giorgio Vasari depicted the last days of Leonardo da Vinci, whose cause of death has been revealed by Italian researchers.

In the last two years of his life Leonardo da Vinci constantly suffered a series of strokes that significantly curtailed his motor activity and eventually led to his death, researchers suggest in a study published in the June issue of The Lancet Neurology.

The authors, two Italian physicians, have looked through centuries-old documents to map the state of health of the Renaissance genius from the year of 1517 to his death, which took place in 1519. Antonio Perciaccante, at the department of medicine of Gorizia Hospital, told Discovery News that, according to contemporary records “Leonardo had a right hand’s paralysis when he was 65 years old”. Despite the hardship, the artist “continued to paint, draw, and teach,” Perciaccante added.

Perciaccante and co-author of the study Alessia Coralli suggest that Leonardo was crippled by a series of strokes. The first stroke led to a hand’s paralysis, then, in consequence of the following strokes, the artist’s motor activity crumbled.

According to Giorgio Vasari, who recorded the twilight of Leonardo’s life in his 1550 book, “Lives of the Most Excellent Painters, Sculptors, and Architects”, the artist giant breathed his last in the arms of King Francis I of France on May 2, 1519, due to “a paroxysm”. Perciaccante suggests that Vasari’s description refers to a sudden attack or symptoms of a recurrent disease that can be linked to a stroke.

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