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'Making the Body Beautiful’
“The eyes have it: a short history of the artificial eye in Europe”
A small case of false eyes. Made by W. Halford of London.
The human face is key to human interactions and our eyes are not merely, as the familiar clichés say, windows on the world, but are equally mirrors of the soul. It is significant that only human beings and primates are able to use their eyes to communicate through threatening or affectionate looks, glances and gazes. As such, the loss of an eye causes more suffering than the partial blindness it causes: it disfigures our means of interacting socially with the world. Perhaps this is why so much effort has gone into creating false eyes that resemble real ones. The false eye offers no curative advantage or efficacy – it does not restore sight or even improve it in the way that eyeglasses do. Its value is therefore primarily social and decorative in that it restores the features to some semblance of normality. In this sense, the false eye has a psychological function, namely, to instil in the wearer a reassurance that, although they are disfigured, they are not visibly so, and can continue to ‘face’ the world with confidence. The eyes are the organs through which we see, they provide us with our sense of vision, but they are the features that we look into when we talk to another person. We look into the eyes of another to connect with them, to judge their affability, their honesty, their attractiveness. The wearing of sunglasses can be seen as hiding
something, being unable to make eye contact is seen as a lack of ability to connect with other people, and is a common symptom of asocial conditions such as Asperger’s Syndrome. In his introduction to Downcast Eyes, Martin Jay notes that, “there can be few human interactions as subtle the dialectic of the mutual gaze…” (Jay:10) Artificial eyes have been used for millennia to decorate statues and mummies, notable examples being the enamel and glass eyes used in Egyptian mummies, although Aztec and Inca mummies had similar eyes of stone or mother-of-pearl. In fact by the time of the Romans, the making of artificial eyes for statuary had become a profession. In his essay on the ancient origins of artificial eyes, Gordon Bruce states that “…we cannot prove that the artificial eye was worn for cosmetic purposes before the time of Paré” (Bruce:1940:14) Ambroise Paré (1510-1590) was the first to describe the use of artificial eyes to fit an eye socket, although Albert and Edwards (1996:44) point out that, “…the practice was already established by the time Paré mentioned it in 1561.” These early prostheses were made of gold and silver. There were two types, intended to be worn either in front of or under the eyelid, namely ekblephara and hypoblephara respectively. A
An ekblepharon by Ambroise Paré, from 'A short history of the artificial eye', Henkes and Van Leersum 1991 Artificial eyes from Egyptian mummies. Rijksmuseum voor Oudheden, Leiden, The Netherlands
although he concedes “…on the other hand, we cannot prove the contrary.”
designed to be used under the eyelid, but over an atrophic
eye, as enucleation, or the surgical removal of the diseased or damaged eyeball, was not a common practice until the mid-1800s.
In 1818 Hazard-Mirault (1755-1822) wrote that the trauma of removing the damaged eye was greater that the pain of having lost the sight in it in the first place: “ ‘Nous ne conseillerons jamais une opération aussi cruelle pour une aussi faible avantage.’ “ (cited in Henkes and Van Leersum:1991:351) The first account of using an implant in the socket, following enucleation, was in 1841. Implants have been made of many different materials, shapes, and types throughout the years. As gold and silver eyes were doubtless very expensive, and thereby available only to the very wealthy, new materials began to come into play. In 1854 Albert Boissonneau filed a patent for artificial eyes, made of “enamel and crystal”. These were of the hypoblephara type, and he begins “…my first improvement has reference to the adaptation of artificial eyes upon shrunken globes more or less atrophied” (Boissonneau 1854)
Boissonneau, Auguste. Provisional Specification, Commissioners of Patents: No. 1715: Artificial Eyes (1854)
By 1862, Boissonneau had a stand at the Great Exhibition in London, offering his eyes by mail order, or by appointment at his hotel. In an advertising pamphlet of the time, he describes himself as “Ocularist to the French Army”. This pamphlet is decorated with two charming images of a man a woman wearing eye patches: the man stares confidently out of the page, his ‘male gaze’ apparently undiminished by his disability. The woman throws us a shy glance over her shoulder, her head slightly bowed as if to apologise or diminish the effect of her missing eye, coyly hidden by
her patch as if behind a fan. His eyes were offered “at a very moderate cost” and therefore affordable by domestic servants: which improved their chances of getting employment: “…it has become a great boon to those whose prospects in life had been injured by the loss of an eye, as the defect can in no manner be detected.” (Boissonneau, 1854)
During this time prostheses of enamel and of glass were used side by side, and the Boissonneau family dominated the European market for several generations. However, enamel prostheses were still expensive and didn’t last: in fact, after several months they became dull and had to be replaced. “Glass shell prostheses were considerably cheaper and consequently superseded the enamel prostheses in the course of the 19th century.” (Henkes and Leersum, 1991) The art of working with glass continued to develop, particularly in France and Germany where techniques were jealously guarded and passed on from father to son.1
A case filled with a selection of 50 glass eyes. Possibly made by E. Muller of Liverpool.²
In 1835, German artificial eye makers, or ‘ocularists’, finally created a lightweight, hollow glass eye following the invention of a “vaguely eyeball-coloured form of glass” called cryolite. (Rosenhek, 2009) In 1899, German brothers Friedrich and Albert Muller filed a patent for an improved artificial eye, which had a back and therefore fitted better into the empty socket. It was a double walled, hollow and light prosthesis, which meant that there was no cavity behind the artificial eye. In their patent specification they write “the improvement in the new eye is that it is closed at the back, that it therefore rests on the whole interior surface of the eye socket and… will not so quickly tire the wearer”. This new eye was made to fit the socket exactly, and had no edges to cause tearing, scars, or “overmuch mucous stimulation.” (Muller. 1899)
Muller, Friedrich Anton and Muller, Albert Carl. Provisional Specification, Commissioners of Patents: No. 3779: Improvements in Artificial Eyes (1899)
In his short history of the artificial eye, Hughes describes early 19th century developments thus: Enamel prostheses (1820s-1890s) were attractive but were expensive and not very durable. The introduction of cryolite glass, made of arsenic oxide and cyolite from sodium-aluminium fluoride (Na6A2F12), produced a grayish-white color suitable for a prosthetic eye. German craftsmen are credited with this invention in 1835. To make these glass eyes, a tube of glass was heated on one end until the form of a ball was obtained. Various colors of glass were used like paintbrushes to imitate the natural color of the eye. (http://artificialeyeclinic.com/history.html)
In the 19th century, German ocularists began to travel to the United States and other parts of the world, setting up for several days at a time in one city after another where they fabricated eyes and fit them to patients. Eyes were also fitted by mail order. Stock or pre-made eyes continued to be used: an ocularist might keep hundreds of glass stock eyes in cabinets, and would be able to fit patients with the most appropriate eye, right out of the drawer: prêt-a-porter, if not prêt-a-voir! Glass prostheses were eventually replaced in their turn by more modern materials such as types of plastics, acrylics and resins. These stock glass eyes can now be found mainly in medical museums and collections worldwide. They have an aesthetic beauty of their own, and appear now to be seen as objets d’art rather than clinical prostheses. In his essay on the origins of artificial eyes, Bruce (1940) begins: As the merely decorative becomes utilitarian it often loses some of its beauty in the process of adaptation. The evolution of the artificial eye offers an interesting deviation from the rule. Originally designed to be ornamental it has now become useful, and in so doing has acquired an elegance and beauty unparalleled in modern prosthesis. The rewards of art, like those of religion, are often delayed. Having come full circle from this statement it would now appear that the glass eye, an object designed to restore the face to the appearance of normality without having a therapeutic or curative function, has become an object of beauty in its own right.
I find it interesting that I should have chosen to write about eyes. In my art practice, I mould representations of human heads that are eyeless…of necessity, due to the casting process – yet even the macquettes that I made by hand, which weren’t cast, all had their eyes closed.… it seemed somehow appropriate that they should have their eyes closed, especially as they are half-submerged in liquids. Even though the liquids only come up to the nose, the eyes may be closed in preparation for an imagined submersion. Perhaps I close the eyes so that I can gaze upon these bodiless heads without the uncanny effect of having them look back at me. Perhaps they are actually more uncanny, more lifelike, with their eyes closed – it makes them look merely asleep,
whereas if the eyes were open it would be immediately obvious that they were fake, false – impossible to foster that illusion of life, because the eyes would have no life. In that case, it’s the eyes, more than any other part of the body, that make a person appear alive and real compared to a mannequin or a marionette. If the eyes are closed, the person could be perhaps dead, or merely asleep. If the eyes are open, it is immediately obvious which of these states they are in: dead eyes are very different from live eyes.
19th March 2010: Word count: 1,648
 The town of Lauscha in Thuringia, Germany, started working with glass in 1597, having a cottage industry making glass beads. This developed, naturally, into the prosthetic arts, as well as doll's eyes and Christmas bauble making. Once renowned for producing the finest glass eyes, it is for these Christmas baubles that the town is still famous today.  There is a large case of glass eyes in the Wellcome collection which are attributed to one E. Muller of Liverpool: it is possible that this is a relative of the aforementioned family of artificial eye makers.
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Albert, Daniel M. and Edwards, Diane D. (eds.) (1996) The History of Ophthalmology. Blackwell Science, Inc. Boissonneau, Auguste. Pamphlet (1862) Boissonneau, Auguste. Provisional Specification, Commissioners of Patents: No. 1715: Artificial Eyes (1854) Bruce, Gordon M. ‘The ancient origins of artificial eyes’, (1940) Annals of Medical History Vol.2 Henkes, H.E. and Van Leersum, G.K. ‘Herman Snellen (1834-1908) and Muller’s ‘Reform-Auge’: a short history of the artificial eye’, History of Ophthalmology Vol. 4 (1991) Kluwer Academic Publishers Hughes, O. History of Artificial Eyes [online] available from: www.artificialeyeclinic.com/history.html [accessed 25 February 2010] Jay, Martin. Downcast eyes: the denigration of vision in 20C French thought (1994) University of California Press. Muller, Friedrich Anton and Muller, Albert Carl. Provisional Specification, Commissioners of Patents: No. 3779: Improvements in Artificial Eyes (1899) Rosenhek, Jackie. An eye for an eye (2009) [online] available from: http://www.doctorsreview.com/history/an-eye-for-an-eye/ [accessed 18 March 2010]
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