New mural pays tribute to ophthalmologist F.C. Donders

Former workplace carries fifth mural in the Utrecht Wall Formulas series

Only those with serious eye problems would overlook Utrecht's newest tribute to ophthalmologist Franciscus Cornelis Donders. From the side wall of his former workplace in the heart of Utrecht, the scientist gazes at you with a critically inquisitive eye. Unveiled today, the mural is the fifth in the Utrecht Wall Formulas series.

Muurschildering FC Donders

The mural is an initiative by Utrecht physicists Ingmar Swart and Sander Kempkes, the artist collective De Strakke Hand and ophthalmologist Arie van Oosterwijk.

Franciscus Cornelis Donders (1818-1889) made a name for himself as a physiologist and pioneer in ophthalmology. In his time, medical science was still a relatively general field with few specialisations. Physicians and scientists studied and treated almost everything, including eye disorders. However, in the nineteenth century, eye disorders became a significant public health issue, increasing the demand for specialized knowledge in this area.

Eye patients

Donders studied various aspects of the eye, such as eye movements and disorders of the vitreous body. He was one of the first Dutch physicians to use an ophthalmoscope to study the interior of the eye. His reputation as an ophthalmologist gradually attracted more and more eye patients to his practice in Utrecht.

Free hospital

In 1858, he opened a hospital dedicated to ophthalmology in Utrecht: the Dutch Gasthuis for Needy and Indigent Eye Patients. The mural now adorns the side of the monumental building where this hospital was located, in honor of Donders.

Patients from all walks of life were welcome to receive free treatment for their eye problems.

The gasthuis grew into a renowned charitable institution. Patients from all walks of life were welcome to receive free treatment for their eye problems. In 1870, Donders described his hospital as follows: "The treatment of all patients, without exception, will be free. (...) We do not require them to prove their poverty status; it is sufficient that they have an eye disease. (...) The institute is entirely based on charity."

"Donders had recruited many donors to make this possible," says Ingmar Swart, one of the initiators of the mural. "In the same spirit, we launched a crowdfunding campaign to make this mural possible."

It's fantastic that we were able to place this mural at the location where Donders had his practice. It's a unique place with a unique history.

Sander Kempkes
Dr. Sander Kempkes

"It's fantastic that we were able to place this mural at the location where Donders had his practice," says Sander Kempkes, one of the driving forces behind the mural. "It's a unique place with a unique history."

Muurschildering FC Donders
The mural features various references to Donders' discoveries.

Reference to eye tests

Noteworthy in the mural are the elements reminiscent of eye tests, to which Donders made significant contributions. For example, the letters EYE are written with openings, as in an eye chart. The surrounding lines allude to a test for astigmatism, an eye disorder that causes optical distortions.

The formula on the mural describes how the eye adapts to light conditions. The formula originates from Donders' influential scientific book "On the Anomalies of Refraction and Accommodation of the Eye", published in 1864.

Nearsightedness and farsightedness

According to Kempkes, Donders deserves the Utrecht mural like no other, even though the focus of the mural series is primarily on physics. "Donders was a well-known scientist in Utrecht," says Kempkes. "Donders conducted experiments on the eye and the brain, which would now fall under the field of biophysics or psychology. His research even gave rise to a psychological discipline. What I find fascinating personally is that terms like nearsightedness and farsightedness were categorized and explained by Donders. I taught physics for years, and this topic was part of the curriculum, but I had no idea it was done in Utrecht!"

Eye hospital continuitation

For many locals in Utrecht, the name Donders is primarily known through the notable street named after him: the F.C. Dondersstraat. This street includes a monumental building that formerly housed an eye hospital, called the Ooglijdersgasthuis. This hospital is a continuation of the gasthuis that Donders previously established in the city center. It was opened in 1895, a few years after Donders' passing.

Locations and contributors

The mural is painted on the side wall of the building currently housing Eye Hotel Utrecht. The building is located at Wijde Begijnestraat 1-3 in Utrecht. The mural is the fifth in the Utrecht Wall Formulas series.

Various partners contributed to the financing of the mural, including the Physica Foundation, University of Applied Sciences Utrecht, Descartes Centre, Donders Institute, Donders Fund, and through crowdfunding.

For future murals, the initiators are open to new sources of funding.