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Portraits of European Neuroscientists and Vision Researchers

We cannot clearly be aware of what we possess till we have the means of knowing what others possessed before us. We cannot really and honestly rejoice in the advantages of our own time if we know not how to appreciate the advantages of former periods. (Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, 1749-1832)

'Perceptual portraits' like those below can be seen at a website devoted to the history of neuroscience, with a broad representation of historical figures in vision research. The intention of the website is to stimulate interest in the history of neuroscience visually, and to provide brief descriptions of the contributions of those portrayed. There are also links to web resources regarding texts and illustrations relating to neuroscience and to the individuals depicted. The period covered is from around 1500-1900, and plans are afoot to add portraits of 20th century pioneers. Vision research made particularly large strides in the 19th century, and figures from this period (like Helmholtz and Hering, below) are well represented.

“Token of sensation” © Nicholas Wade
“Colour opponent” © Nicholas Wade

Perceptual portraits represent people in an unconventional style. They generally consist of at least two elements - the portrait and some appropriate motif. The nature of the latter depends upon the endeavours for which the portrayed person was known. In some cases the motif was drawn specifically to display a phenomenon associated with the individual, in others it was derived from a figure or text in one of their books, or apparatus which they invented. The portraits and motifs have themselves been manipulated in a variety of ways, using graphical, photographical, and computer graphical procedures.

The illustrations often require some effort on the part of the viewer to discern the faces embedded in them. The visual intrigue can enhance the viewer's desire to discover why particular motifs have been adopted, and in turn to learn more about the persons portrayed: neuroportraits are intended to be examples of art serving science.

More information on the website