Top 10 Medical Drawings of the Eye or Visual Pathway

About the Photo

Sagittal and Horizontal Sections of the Human Head by Leonardo da Vinci, ca. 1490
The Herbert Wertheim School of Optometry & Vision Science turned a glorious one hundred years old in 2023, but doctors, artists, and philosophers have been drawing, illustrating, and painting eyes and the visual system for centuries in a quest to understand and explain how human vision works. The results can be beautiful, and amazingly accurate—but not always! The following list of images is not a ranking, but is instead a list of favorites submitted by our alumni, faculty, and students.

1. Cells in the Retina of the Eye

Santiago Ramón y Cajal, 1904

“Cajal’s drawings of the retina are as beautiful as they are anatomically accurate. Of course, at that time, photography had not matured and renderings were the best way for scientists like Cajal to share their observations.” – Austin Roorda, PhD

Photo Credit: Courtesy of El Instituto Cajal, Madrid, Spain.


2. Sagittal and Horizontal Sections of the Human Head

Leonardo da Vinci, ca. 1490

“Leonardo had some of the early ideas about how the eye connected to the brain— although they were a little bit off!” – Dennis Levi, OD, PhD


3. Visual System

Greg Dunn, PhD, 2022

“I particularly like this piece because it is detailed, colorful, and abstract, while representative of ‘how the brain weaves visual data into and out of our attentional networks, emotional and mnemonic systems, and other senses to create our visual experience.’ I also like the golden light, which looks like it could actually be coming from the eyes. – Emily Ward, PhD student

Photo Credit: Courtesy of Greg Dunn: 22K gold, ink, marker, and pencil on paper, 24” X 32” – prints available at


4. Schema Optic System Retinogeniculostriate Visual Pathway

Frank Netter, 1953

“Very simplified, but so elegant, and a frequent reference check for me during grad school.” – Gary Walker, PhD ’98


5. Monkey Visual System

Felleman & Van Essen, 1991

"The visual anatomical hierarchy in the macaque monkey described by Felleman and Van Essen “shows the incomprehensible complexity of the visual system.” – Gary Walker, PhD ’98


6. Tarsal Plates and Lacrimal System from “The Human Eye”

Gladys McHugh, 1943

“The stereographic paintings in this book, a favorite of mine, are amazingly well done and innovative for the time—each image has eight transparencies that can be layered over the illustration to give focus on specific functions of the eye.” – John Flanagan, PhD, DSc, FCOptom


7. Theory of Vision, from “Opera Philosophica”
René Descartes, ca. 1692

“Descartes argued that we see singly because there is a specialized ‘fusion center’ in the brain that combines the information from the two eyes (although he had it in the pineal gland!).” – Dennis Levi, OD, PhD


8. Structure of the Eye and Optic Nerves

Peter Degravers, ca. 1780

“I love the way this cutaway image of the eye and optic nerves, which is actually an engraving, reveals a stylized, fantasy-like view of the visual system’s mechanics.” – Anonymous


9. Eye Anatomy, from “Astronomiae Pars Optica”

Johannes Kepler, ca. 1604

“I like that Kepler shows the anatomy of the eye across different stages of dissection.” – Reem Almagati, OD, MS and VS Student


10. Diagram of the Eyes, from the “Book of Optics”

Ibn al-Haytham, ca. 1200

“I like the simplicity of the drawing yet there’s attention to detail like the fibers from the nasal retina crossing to the opposite side of the brain.”– Reem Almagati, OD, MS and VS Student


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Top 10 Drawings

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Fall 2023 Magazine Berkeley Optometry Magazine