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Strabismus: Did Leonardo da Vinci Turn An Eye Condition Into An Artistic Asset?

December 20, 2018

Could the greatest artistic genius of all time have been aided by an eye condition? That’s the intriguing premise of an analysis of some of Leonardo da Vinci’s most famous works.

Christopher Tyler, a visual neuroscientist at the City University of London, subjected the eyes of the human figures in six of da Vinci’s most well-known works to a detailed analysis. Among these works were Salvator Mundi and Vitruvian Man. Tyler conducted his research in much the same way an optometrist does in determining the lens parameters for a patient’s glasses. Specifically, Tyler examined the pupil placement and gaze angle.

Tyler’s research discovered, with the exception of the figure in Vitruvian Man, all of the analyzed figures displayed pupil placement and gaze angle consistent with an eye condition called exotropia where one eye is rotated slightly outward. Depending on the severity of the condition, those with exotropia experience impairment to their depth perception since optimal 3D vision depends on both eyes being aligned. Because da Vinci scholars are generally of the opinion that da Vinci used himself as a model for the six works Tyler analyzed, his research suggests the artist himself had this condition.

Interestingly, the absence of exotropia in da Vinci’s work, Vitruvian Man, further suggested to Tyler that da Vinci may have had intermittent exotropia, a variant of the condition where with a deliberate effort the afflicted eye can be brought into alignment. This means if Tyler’s speculations are correct, da Vinci could have switched back and forth between 2D and 3D vision at will.

Tyler’s theory has led to speculation among experts that the condition may have affected da Vinci’s art since painting relies on a heightened ability to render 3-dimensional imagery onto a 2-dimensional surface. In fact, it is common practice for painters to close one eye when studying a subject. They do this to reduce their depth perception to better approximate the appearance they are seeking to reproduce on canvas.

Da Vinci may have realized the intermittent impairment of his 3D vision could be turned into an artistic asset. Given that da Vinci was one of the most richly gifted geniuses to have ever lived (he was not only a brilliant artist but an engineer, astronomer, architect, inventor, and botanist), it would not be at all surprising if this were the case.

Extropia is just one example of strabismus, the name given to a cluster of conditions characterized by eye misalignment. In the U.S., 4 percent of the population exhibit some form of strabismus, which can generally be successfully treated with eye patching, special glasses, or surgery. 

Whether you need strabismus treatment, dry-eye relief, LASIK permanent vision correction, state-of-the-art cataract surgery, or even just a simple vision exam, at OCLI, we have a solution for all of your eye care needs. Da Vinci may have been able to turn an eye condition into an asset, but the rest of us could use a little help, and we’re here for you with the friendliest, advanced eye care available! We’d love to hear from you, and we invite you to give us a call today.

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