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Painters centre one eye in portraits


The importance of the centre of the canvas has long been appreciated in art1, as has the importance of the eyes in revealing the personality of subjects of portraits. The centre of symmetry of the face is often discussed in art analysis1,2,3,4,5, and might be expected to be used as an explicit principle of composition by artists trained according to such analysis. However, I have found that portraits painted throughout the past 600 years adhere to a different compositional principle not discussed in the literature: one eye is consistently centred horizontally in the canvas.

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Figure 1: Eye-centring in classic portraits.
Figure 2: Relation between eye or mouth position and canvas frame in portraits painted over the past 600 years.


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Tyler, C. Painters centre one eye in portraits. Nature 392, 877–878 (1998).

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