Hektoen International

A Journal of Medical Humanities

Down syndrome through the centuries in art

Bojana Cokić
Zajecar, Serbia 


Though fully described by John Langdon Down in 1862, this syndrome of delayed growth, characteristic facial features, and intellectual impairment has been featured in numerous works of art since antiquity.

Ancient Egyptian figure, published by
Kunze and Nippert in 1986 (1)


Clay figure from Mexico from
about AD 500.


Adoration of the Christ Child by unknown Flemish painter (1515)
showing typical characteristics of Down syndrome in the angel
next to Mary and also in one of the shepherds
(Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York). (3)


Adoration of the Christchild  (unknown author, c.1515) (3,4).



  1. John M. Starbuck. On the Antiquity of Trisomy 21: Moving Towards a Quantitative Diagnosis of Down Syndrome in Historic Material Culture. Journal of Contemporary  Anthropology, Vol. II, 2011, Issue 1: 29
  2. Martinez-Frias, M. L. The real earliest historical evidence of Down syndrome. American Journal of Medical Genetics, 2005. 132A (2):231.
  3. Levitas AS1, Reid CS. An angel with Down syndrome in a sixteenth century Flemish Nativity painting. American Journal of Medical Genetics, 2003 Feb 1;116A(4):399-405.
  4. Dobson, R. Painting is earliest example of portrayal of Down s syndrome. British Medical Journal, 2003, 326(7381):126.



BOJANA COKIĆ, MD, is a pediatrician specialized in clinical genetics at the Children’s Hospital in Zajecar, Serbia, where she was been Head of Department Pediatrics from 1986 to 2004 and Head of the Neonatology Service since 2007. In 1992 she introduced a registry for congenital anomalies and in 2009 she established the Association for Down Syndrome in Zajecar.


Summer 2015  |  Sections  |  Art Flashes

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