New Research Suggests Leonardo da Vinci’s Artistic Genius May Have Been Aided by Eye Disorder

For centuries, people have theorized about the source of Leonardo da Vinci’s artistic genius. Just how was he able to so accurately capture depth and perspective on a flat canvas?

New research suggests da Vinci’s unmatched talent may in part be the result of his ability to see the world differently — literally.

There is now evidence that da Vinci’s renowned capacity to reproduce the three-dimensional world in paintings may have been aided by an eye disorder that allowed him to see in both 2-D and 3-D, according to a study published Thursday in JAMA Ophthalmology, a peer-reviewed journal.

Da Vinci is believed to have had a condition called intermittent exotropia — commonly referred to as being “walleyed” — a form of strabismus, eye misalignment that affects about 4 percent of the U.S. population. Those with exotropia usually end up favoring one eye over the other, which means they are more likely to see the world as if it were, say, painted on a flat canvas.

“When they’re in that condition . . . they’re only seeing the world monocularly, with much reduced depth cues,” the study’s author, Christopher Tyler, a professor at City University of London and researcher at the Smith-Kettlewell Eye Research Institute in San Francisco, told The Washington Post. “The image they’re seeing is much closer to what they want to paint on the canvas.”

But in da Vinci’s case, the painter was, at times, able to control his wandering eye, which in turn provided him with an artistic advantage, Tyler said, noting that the ability to switch between the two perspectives meant that da Vinci would “be very aware of the 3-D and 2-D depth cues and the difference between them.”

Tyler, who has studied da Vinci’s life for more than 20 years, said he started noticing the disorder’s telltale sign while examining works by the artist and those done of him.

In many cases, “they had the eyes diverted,” he said.

“This is something I would notice, what I’m attuned to notice,” said Tyler, who specializes in studying binocular vision.

Tyler set out to support his theory by conducting mathematical analyses on six works — two sculptures, two oil paintings and two drawings — believed to reflect da Vinci’s appearance. The pieces included Andrea del Verrocchio’s “David,” a bronze sculpture said to be a depiction of da Vinci as a youth, as well as da Vinci’s “Salvator Mundi,” which recently became the most expensive painting ever auctioned, selling for more than $450 million last year.

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SOURCE: The Washington Post, Allyson Chiu