Research reveals da Vinci's genius may have been partly due to eye condition

October 19, 2018 by Ed Grover, City University London
Credit: Creative Commons

Leonardo da Vinci may have had an eye condition that gave him an unusual ability to recreate three-dimensional shapes in his sculptures and paintings, according to new research.

Professor Christopher Tyler, of City, University of London, has discovered evidence that the great Italian artist had a vision disorder known as .

With this condition, a person's eyes appear to be pointing in different directions, with only one eye being used to process the visual scene at any one time.

Professor Tyler made his discovery by measuring eyes in six masterpieces thought to be portraits or self-portraits of da Vinci, including his works Vitruvian Man and Salvator Mundi, the most expensive painting of all time.

These measurement suggest that da Vinci had an intermittent version of the condition, which allowed him to switch between using two eyes (stereoscopic vision) to give him depth perception, and using just one eye (monocular vision) when he wanted to interpret a three-dimensional image on a flat, two-dimensional canvas.

Professor Tyler said: "Several great artists, from Rembrandt to Picasso, are thought to have had strabismus, and it seems that da Vinci had it too.

"The weight of converging evidence suggests that da Vinci had intermittent exotropia – where an eye turns outwards – with a resulting ability to switch to monocular vision, using just one eye.

"The condition is rather convenient for a painter, since viewing the world with one eye allows direct comparison with the flat image being drawn or painted

"Having strabismus would perhaps explain da Vinci's great facility for depicting the three-dimensional solidity of faces and objects in the world and the distant depth recession of mountainous scenes."

The City researcher analysed eyes in six pieces of art thought to be based on da Vinci: David (Andrea del Verrocchio); Young Warrior (Andrea del Verrocchio); Salvator Mundi (da Vinci); Young John the Baptist (da Vinci); Vitruvian Man (da Vinci) and another possible da Vinci self-portrait.

Professor Tyler fitted circles and ellipses to the pupils, irises, and eyelid apertures on the artwork and then measured the relative positions of these features.

He found that there was evidence of strabismus in all six pieces of work.

The study, Evidence That Leonardo da Vinci Had Strabismus, has been published in the journal JAMA Ophthalmology.

Explore further: Cracking the da vinci DNA code

More information: Evidence That Leonardo da Vinci Had Strabismus. JAMA Ophthalmol. October 18, 2018. DOI: 10.1001/jamaophthalmol.2018.3833 , https://jamanetwork.com/journals/jamaophthalmology/article-abstract/2707245

Related Stories

Cracking the da vinci DNA code

May 11, 2016
(HealthDay)—It is called the "Leonardo Project," and its primary aim is to reconstruct the genetic makeup of one of the greatest minds in history.

Recommended for you

Scientists combine technologies to view the retina in unprecedented detail

November 14, 2018
By combining two imaging modalities—adaptive optics and angiography—investigators at the National Eye Institute (NEI) can see live neurons, epithelial cells, and blood vessels deep in the eye's light-sensing retina. Resolving ...

Eyepatch with dissolvable needles used to treat eye disease

November 12, 2018
A team of researchers affiliated with several institutions in Singapore has developed an eyepatch with dissolvable needles for use in treating eye diseases. In their paper published in the journal Nature Communications, the ...

Calcifications in the eye increase risk for progression to advanced AMD by more than six times

November 8, 2018
Calcified nodules in the retina are associated with progression to late stages of age-related macular degeneration (AMD). Experts from Queen's University Belfast, working in partnership with the University of Alabama of Birmingham ...

Traditional glaucoma test can miss severity of disease

November 8, 2018
The most common tests for glaucoma can underestimate the severity of the condition by not detecting the presence of central vision loss, according to a new Columbia University study.

New contact lens to treat eye injuries

November 5, 2018
A new therapeutic contact lens that acts as a bandage for eye surface injuries being developed by QUT researchers could soon fast track the healing of previously difficult to treat corneal wounds.

New study offers hope for patients suffering from a rare form of blindness

November 1, 2018
A new form of therapy may halt or even reverse a form of progressive vision loss that, until now, has inevitably led to blindness. This hyper-targeted approach offers hope to individuals living with spinocerebellar ataxia ...

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.