Did Rembrandt have strabismus?

Rembrandt self-portrait in 1669

An article entitled Was Rembrandt stereoblind?, outlining research by Professor Margaret Livingstone and colleagues, was published in the September 14, 2004, issue of New England Journal of Medicine. After studying 36 of Rembrandt’s self-portraits, and noting that the left eye showed exotropia in all but one of them, researchers concluded that this may have contributed to his ability to translate a 3-dimentional world to a 2-dimentional canvas. You can click Rembrandt’s self-portrait on the right for a larger view.

Livingstone said: “Art teachers often instruct students to close one eye in order to flatten what they see.”

Not all agree with the theory that Rembrandt was cross-eyed or stereoblind. But their counter arguments seem lame to me, especially in the light of my own experiences with art as an exotrope. (I shared more about my own art experiences in a later post. Update: Rembrandt is our Featured Photo for October 9, page includes vital statistics.)

I tend to agree with Professor Livingstone who observed after her research that, “It illustrates that disabilities are not always disabilities. They may be assets in another realm.”

Here’s a link from an Almost MD who validates that the medical concept behind the Rembrant research is accurate. He ends with a good-natured teaser: “Just my luck, the secret to creativity is revealed and my artistic journey has already come to an end.”

These links share more details about the Rembrandt research:
Wall-Eye May Have Helped Rembrandt’s Vision
from Reuters.

Rembrandt was cross-eyed
from ABC.net.au.

Imperfect sight helped Rembrandt’s art
from BBC News.

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