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Early Pictorial Representations of Visual Migraine Aura Early Pictorial Representations of Visual Migraine Aura
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Author: Klaus Podoll 14. November 2004
Edited by: Klaus Podoll

Early Pictorial Representations of Visual Migraine Aura

Migraine sufferers have long since used paintings and drawings to represent and communicate various symptoms of a common disorder which has afflicted mankind since the beginning of history.

Cover image of "Hildegard Von Bingen, In Portrait" Label - BBC Opus Arte, 2003.

The miniatures of the medieval illuminated manuscript entitled 'Scivias', depicting the visions of the 12th century abbess and mystic Hildegard of Bingen, were probably the first representations of the visual migraine aura, about 700 years before the first medical illustration of migrainous scintillating scotomas published in 1845 in the ophthalmological textbook by Christian Georg Theodor Ruete.

Christian Georg Theodor Ruete, Illustration of scintillating scotoma from "Textbook of Ophthalmology", 1845.

In the second half of the 19th century, world-famous neurologists such as Charcot, Babinski and Gowers published illustrations of the typical zigzagged visual migraine aura which has been described under the synonymous designations of scintillating scototomas, teichopsia and fortification spectra, respectively, including a number of medical illustrations which had been produced, upon request, by professional artists.

Jean Marie Charcot, Illustration of scintillating scotoma, 1888.

Joseph Jules François Félix Babinski, Illustration of scintillating scotoma drawn by an artist, 1890.

Sir William Richard Gowers, Illustration of fortification spectrum drawn by Mr. Beck, 1895.


Babinski J. De la migraine ophthalmique hystérique. Arch Neurol (Paris) 1890; 20: 305-335.
Charcot JM. Leçons du Mardi à la Salpêtrière. Policlinique 1887-1888. Tome I. Policlinique du Mardi 22 Novembre 1887 et du 10 Janvier 1888. Babé et Cie, Paris 1888.
Gowers WR. Subjective visual sensations. Trans Ophthalmol Soc UK 1895; 15: 1-38.
Podoll K, Robinson D. Migraine Art - The Migraine Experience from Within. North Atlantic Books, Berkeley, California 2009, p. 18-32.
Ruete CGT. Lehrbuch der Ophthalmologie für Aerzte und Studirende. Vieweg, Braunschweig 1845.
Singer C. Studies in the history and method of science, First series. Clarendon Press, Oxford 1917.
Singer C. From magic to science. Essays on the scientific twilight. Dover Edition. Dover, New York 1958.

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