Summary: Researchers report the reason for da Vinci’s artistic genius may be the result of an eye condition that gave him an unusual ability to recreate 3D shapes. The study reports a number of other great masters may also have suffered from the same condition.
Source: City University London.
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 strabismus.
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.
Funding: Funding for this study was provided by the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute contract (N01-HC-25195) and by grants from the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, NS-17950 and from the National Institute on Aging AG-008122, AG-16495; AG-022476.
Source: City University London
Publisher: Organized by NeuroscienceNews.com.
Image Source: NeuroscienceNews.com image is adapted from the City University London news release.
Original Research: Abstract for “Evidence That Leonardo da Vinci Had Strabismus” by Christopher W. Tyler, PhD, DSc in JAMA Opthalmology. Published October 18 2018.
Evidence That Leonardo da Vinci Had Strabismuss
Strabismus is a binocular vision disorder characterized by the partial or complete inability to maintain eye alignment on the object that is the target of fixation, usually accompanied by suppression of the deviating eye and consequent 2-dimensional monocular vision. This cue has been used to infer the presence of strabismus in a substantial number of famous artists.
To provide evidence that Leonardo da Vinci had strabismus.
Design, Setting, and Participants
In exotropia, the divergent eye alignment is typically manifested as an outward shift in the locations of the pupils within the eyelid aperture. The condition was assessed by fitting circles and ellipses to the pupils, irises, and eyelid apertures images identified as portraits of Leonardo da Vinci and measuring their relative positions.
Main Outcomes and Measures
Geometric angle of alignment of depicted eyes.
This study assesses 6 candidate images, including 2 sculptures, 2 oil paintings, and 2 drawings. The mean relative alignments of the pupils in the eyelid apertures (where divergence is indicated by negative numbers) showed estimates of −13.2° in David, −8.6° in Salvator Mundi, −9.1° in Young John the Baptist, −12.5° in Young Warrior, 5.9° in Vitruvian Man, and −8.3° in an elderly self-portrait. These findings are consistent with exotropia (t5 = 2.69; P = .04, 2-tailed).
Conclusions and Relevance
The weight of converging evidence leads to the suggestion that da Vinci had intermittent exotropia with the resulting ability to switch to monocular vision, which would perhaps explain his great facility for depicting the 3-dimensional solidity of faces and objects in the world and the distant depth-recession of mountainous scenes.