16 September 2004

--- Doesn't Matter. I Still Love His Works!

This is one post I am sure Tito Rolly and most of you will find equally interesting and amusing.

Two Ph.D professors from Harvard Medical School are suggesting that master Rembrandt Harmenszoon van Rijn might have been cross-eyed or stereoblind.

Can you believe that?


Professors Margaret S. Livingstone and Bevil R. Conway, wrote in a correspondence in today's issue of the New England Journal of Medicine (NEJM) that master Rembrandt might have been "banlag" (Pilipino term for stereoblind) all the time he was painting his masterpieces. Excerpts from the journal:
"We examined high-resolution images of the oil paintings and etchings listed in a comprehensive catalogue of self-portraits spanning Rembrandt's career. Most show one eye gazing directly at the viewer and the other eye deviating laterally. We quantified this pattern in all the Rembrandt self-portraits in which both eyes can be seen well enough to estimate the position of the pupil (or the center of the iris) within the opening between the eyelids (24 oil paintings and 12 etchings).

For each portrait, we aligned an ellipse with the eye contour, then aligned a circle with the circumference of the iris, and then measured the horizontal position of the circle along the eye contour. We found that Rembrandt portrayed his eyes as EXOTROPIC in 35 of the 36 self-portraits. In 23 of the 24 paintings, the eye on the right side of the painting tends to look straight ahead and the other eye deviates outward, whereas in all 12 etchings, this asymmetry is reversed.

"Because an etching is made by scratching lines on a metal plate that is used to make a print, what you see in the print is reversed, left to right, from what the artist drew on the plate. The fact that the eye that deviates outward in the etchings is the opposite eye from the one that deviates outward in most of the paintings suggests that Rembrandt actually did have a UNILATERAL STRABISMUS --- otherwise, the deviating eye would be random.
" [NEJM, Volume 351:1264-1265, Number 12, September 16, 2004. Bold letters mine - Dr. Emer]
I think the two Harvard professors have done a pretty good research here and this is really a food for thought. In retrospect, I think their research wouldn't have been possible if Rembrandt didn't do a lot of self-portraits, which is the basis of their study.

In painting --- and I do hope Tito Rolly corrects me if I err --- budding artists and painters most of the time are required to bring forth three-dimensional images or subjects on a flat canvas.

Most people generally use the term cross-eyed or "duling" in Pilipino, when they mean when both eyes look inwards, towards the nose. But in Medicine and ophthalmology in particular, 'cross-eyed' can have other meanings. While Rembrandt was cross-eyed, the two professors made it clear that what he had was a unilateral strabismus, a condition described as one eye looking straight ahead while the other deviates sideways, or exotropic.

A normal person is stereoptic, and in Medicine, we say they have stereovision, or having a good depth perception because both eyes are able to be precisely aligned when looking at an object.

So, a normal painter with normal vision sometimes closes one eye to in order to flatten what they see, and hence, bring their 3-D subjects to the canvas as they paint.

Therefore, this means --- and this is one of the points raised by the two Harvard professors --- that a stereoblind painter might have advantages not enjoyed by normal painters.

Rembrandt's supposed handicap was actually an asset for him, and his chosen profession.

Other people who read the journal article are suggesting that being stereoblind was probably what made him a Master painter, by saying that "a vision problem just might explain the rich talent of one of history's greatest painters." [Forbes article]

I say, stereoblind or not, Rembrandt was an excellent painter.

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