Visual impairment in art Information

From Wikipedia

Visual impairment in art is a limited topic covered by research, with its focus being on how visually impaired people are represented in artwork throughout history. This is commonly portrayed through the inclusion of objects such as canes and dogs to symbolize blindness, [1] which is the most frequently depicted visual impairment in art. Many notable figures in art history, such as Leonardo da Vinci, Claude Monet, and Georgia O'Keeffe, were visually impaired, or theorized to be so.

Representation by era


The Moche culture of ancient Peru depicted the blind in their ceramics. [2]

In 1768, James Bruce discovered the tomb of Ramesses III, whereon its walls depicted images of blind harpists. [3] Their visual impairment was represented by having slits for eyes.

Illustration from a Medieval Christian book featuring a blind man in a brown tunic with a white dog being healed by a priest.
Healing a blind man in the Maastricht Hours.


Representation of blind people in Medieval art often is portrayed with leashed dogs. Some examples include:


Painting of a procession of six blind, disfigured men. The leader of the group has fallen on his back, dragging the other men with him.
Parable of the Blind by Pieter Bruegel the Elder.

Representation of blind people in Renaissance art, similar to Medieval art, was conveyed through symbolic objects. Some examples include:

  • A blind man feels his way with a staff in Piers Plowman. [1]
  • Pilgrimage to the tomb of St Louis in Life and Miracles of Saint Louis, displaying a young blind boy with a cane. [1]

Blindness was portrayed in more literal terms as well, via closed eyes or in text. Some examples include:

Portrait of a brown haired woman looking down with her eyes closed, portraying her blindness.
* Blind Woman by Diego Velázquez.
  • Rembrandt, 17th Century Dutch painter, often depicted scenes from the apocryphal Book of Tobit, which tells the story of a blind patriarch who is healed by his son, Tobias, with the help of the archangel Raphael. [6]
  • Diego Velázquez, 17th Century Spanish painter, created the image of a blind woman and represented her visual impairment by portraying her with her eyes closed.


Most representation found in Romantic art displays portraits of individuals who experience visual impairments.


In Modern art many different mediums have been used to portray visual impairments.

  • A sitting blind beggar sells 'love sonnets' to obtain money with a young boy, in an etching by J.T. Smith in 1816. [8]
  • Oliver Caswell and Laura Bridgman reading embossed letters from a book. A Lithograph made by W Sharp in 1844. [9]
  • Work - School for the Blind, Euston Road. An engraving made by an unknown artist published in Illustrated London News on the 24th of April 1858. [10]
  • Portrait of William Moon, created by an unknown photographer. Published in Light for the Blind: History of the Origin and Success of Moon's System of Reading 1873. [10]
  • Photograph of Ann Whiting taken by an unknown photographer in the 1860s. [10]
  • Oil Canvas of Henry Fawcett and Dame Millicent Garrett Fawcett painted by Ford Madox Brown in 1872. [10] Currently held in the National Portrait Gallery in London, England.
  • A Blind Girl Reading, Oil canvas created by Ejnar Nielson in 1905. [10]

Influence on artists


Leonardo da Vinci was an Italian polymath widely known for his diverse talents including his paintings and drawings. [11] After examining six of Da Vinci's works across three different techniques, researchers noted that the eye of the subject in each of his works turned outward. [12] One of these works included the famous depiction of the Vitruvian Man. The eyes were at an angle consistent with intermittent exotropia (deviated outward) which can alter the perception of people and objects to appear 2D. [12] The researchers theorize this may have contributed to Da Vinci's ability to capture space on a flat canvas. [12]

Guercino was an Italian Baroque painter who developed esotropia (a condition in which the eye turns inward). This affected his work causing his subjects to appear as having unusual facial features. [13]

Francis Bacon was an English Philosopher who dabbled in creating illustrations for his works. His illustrations often depict heavily distorted images that feature abnormalities in faces. This has been theorized to run consistent with dysmorphopsia, a brain condition that affects perception of objects. [14]

Rembrandt was a Dutch painter whose self portraits display an outward turned eye which would have caused a lack of depth perception called stereo blindness. [15] This meant that details were varied in his paintings.

Pablo Picasso was a Spanish printmaker and co-founder of the Cubist Movement. It is believed that he may have experienced strabismus, which is why his work is characterized by a lack of depth perception. [16]

Painting of a japanese-style bridge in Monet's Giverny garden, stretching over a pond of water lilies.
The Japanese Bridge by Claude Monet.


Edgar Degas was a French impressionist artist famous for his pastel drawings and oil paintings. In 1870, he began noticing signs of decreasing vision which is attested to retinal degeneration. [17] The blurriness of his later paintings is usually attributed to his condition.

Claude Monet was a French painter and founder of Impressionism. He is widely known for his Water Lilies series. From 1912 - 1922, his vision declined due to cataracts. This affected the colour perception of his images which makes many of his paintings appear slightly blurry and yellowish in tone. [18]

Pierre-Auguste Renoir was a French Impressionist artist. He is alleged to have had myopia. [19]

Georgia O'Keeffe was an American artist who experienced symptoms of age-related macular degeneration in 1964. In her later works she enlisted assistants to help in painting her work, but kept credit of her works to herself. [20]

See also


  1. ^ a b c d e f "Blindness". Medieval and Renaissance Material Culture. Retrieved 24 February 2021.{{ cite web}}: CS1 maint: url-status ( link)
  2. ^ Berrin, Katherine (1997). The Spirit of Ancient Peru: Treasures from the Museo Arqueológico Rafael Larco Herrera. Thames and Hudson.
  3. ^ Ayliffe, William. "The Iconography of Blindness: How artists have portrayed the blind". Retrieved 17 February 2021.{{ cite web}}: CS1 maint: url-status ( link)
  4. ^ "British Library Manuscripts Add MS 42130". British Library. Retrieved 24 February 2021.{{ cite web}}: CS1 maint: url-status ( link)
  5. ^ "The British Library MS Viewer". Retrieved 2021-03-05.
  6. ^ Held, Julius (1964). Rembrandt and the Book of Tobit. Northhampton MA: Gehenna Press.
  7. ^ a b "Disability In The 18th Century - A National Portrait Gallery Trail | Culture24". Retrieved 2021-03-06.
  8. ^ "A sitting blind beggar sells 'love sonnets' to obtain money with a young boy. Etching by J.T. Smith, 1816". Wellcome Collection. Retrieved 2021-03-06.
  9. ^ "Oliver Caswell and Laura Bridgman reading embossed letters from a book. Lithograph by W. Sharp, 1844, after A. Fisher". Wellcome Collection. Retrieved 2021-03-06.
  10. ^ a b c d e Tilley, Heather (2018-09-04). "Portraying Blindness: Nineteenth-Century Images of Tactile Reading". Disability Studies Quarterly. 38 (3). doi: 10.18061/dsq.v38i3.6475. ISSN  2159-8371.
  11. ^ "Leonardo da Vinci | Biography, Art, Paintings, Mona Lisa, Drawings, Inventions, Achievements, & Facts". Encyclopedia Britannica. Retrieved 2021-03-09.
  12. ^ a b c Tyler, Christopher (January 2019). "Evidence that Leonardo da Vinci had Strabismus". JAMA Ophthalmology. 137.
  13. ^ Damon, Giada. "Guercino Caricatures | Princeton University Art Museum". Retrieved 2021-03-09.{{ cite web}}: CS1 maint: url-status ( link)
  14. ^ Safran, Avinoam B.; Sanda, Nicolae; Sahel, José-Alain (2014-08-29). "A neurological disorder presumably underlies painter Francis Bacon distorted world depiction". Frontiers in Human Neuroscience. 8: 581. doi: 10.3389/fnhum.2014.00581. ISSN  1662-5161. PMC  4148635. PMID  25221491.
  15. ^ Livingstone, Margaret S.; Conway, Bevil R. (2004-09-16). "Was Rembrandt Stereoblind?". The New England Journal of Medicine. 351 (12): 1264–1265. doi: 10.1056/NEJM200409163511224. ISSN  0028-4793. PMC  2634283. PMID  15371590.
  16. ^ "Inside the mind of creative geniuses » the nerve blog | Blog Archive | Boston University". Retrieved 2021-03-09.
  17. ^ Karcioglu, Zeynel (7 March 2007). "Did Edgar Degas have an Inherited Retinal Degeneration?". Ophthalmic Genetics. 28 (2): 51–55. doi: 10.1080/13816810701351313. PMID  17558845. S2CID  33008088.
  18. ^ Marmor, Michael F. (2006-12-01). "Ophthalmology and Art: Simulation of Monet's Cataracts and Degas' Retinal Disease". Archives of Ophthalmology. 124 (12): 1764–9. doi: 10.1001/archopht.124.12.1764. ISSN  0003-9950. PMID  17159037.
  19. ^ Polland, Werner (2004). "Myopic artists". Acta Ophthalmologica Scandinavica. 82 (3p1): 325–326. doi: 10.1111/j.1600-0420.2004.00252.x. ISSN  1600-0420. PMID  15115463.
  20. ^ "Georgia O'Keeffe | The Vision and Art Project". Retrieved 2021-03-09.