Advances in understanding the initial stages of the visual process have been made over the centuries. This heritage will be reviewed with respect to the passage of light through the eye, as well as its gross anatomy and microscopic structure. The links between image formation in the camera and the eye were integrated with the anatomy of the eye in the seventeenth century. They drew attention to the problem of accommodation and to corrections for errors of refraction. Investigations of the structure of the retina were to await the invention of achromatic microscopes in the early nineteenth century. An armory of devices for examining vision and the eye were to follow later in the century. These transformed the study of vision from an observational to an experimental discipline.