Ancient and contemporary history of artificial eyes

Adv Ophthalmic Plast Reconstr Surg. 1990:8:1-10.


Throughout history, the human eye has been mentioned by authors as the most precious of gifts. It unveils the entire outer world to our consciousness, gives life expression and dignity to the face. The loss of an eye must therefore have always been regarded as the greatest misfortune. The ancient cultures of Babylon, Jericho, and Egypt used "art-eyes" in mummies, sarcophagus lids, and statues; they were made from precious stones, silver, gold, and copper as a symbol of light and life in their religious beliefs. Most of the recorded sources concerning the ancient practice of medicine were among the scrolls contained in the library of Alexandria. In the period between the Roman Colonial wars, the rise of Christianity and the fall of Alexandria to Arabs in 642 A.D., almost all of these sources, including those concerning the practice of Ophthalmology were lost. The largest collection of antiquity "art-eyes" and artificial eyes, mentioned in this paper, are found in the collection of the firm of Mueller and Sohne, Wiesbaden, Germany. They include the progress made in human artificial eyes to modern times. Historically, man has tried to alleviate the psychological suffering incurred by the loss of an eye, by hiding or covering the defacement with a patch. Of greater significance are the efforts made by the ophthalmologist and the ocularist (past and present) to restore functionally and cosmetically the natural facial appearance by means of an ocular prosthesis that corresponds to the remaining natural eye. Associated problems frequently concern both the reconstructive surgeon, who must be informed of the ocular prosthetic possibilities that are within the capacity of the ocularist, and the ocularist, who must create the prosthesis.

Publication types

  • Historical Article
  • Portrait
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Eye, Artificial / history*
  • History, 18th Century
  • History, 19th Century
  • History, 20th Century
  • History, Ancient
  • History, Medieval
  • Humans
  • Prosthesis Design
  • Societies