Is painting the earliest portrayal of Down's syndrome?
- By: Roger Dobson
Psychiatrists have identified what is believed to be one of the earliest paintings of someone with Down's syndrome.
The 1515 Flemish painting (detail right), by an unknown artist, considerably predates John Langdon Down's first description of the condition in 1866. It shows an angel (next to Mary) and possibly one other figure, the shepherd in the centre of the background--with the syndrome.
“If our diagnosis is correct, this implies that Down's syndrome is not a modern disease,” say the psychiatrists (American Journal of Medical Genetics 2003;116:399-405).
The diagnosis of Down's syndrome in the angel was based on a number of features: a flattened mid-face, epicanthal folds, upslanted palpebral fissures, a small and upturned tip of the nose, and downward curving of the corners of the mouth. The hands, crossed over the breast, have short fingers, especially on the left.
The painting, The Adoration of the Christ Child, which is in