We propose a wide-field schematic eye model, which provides a more realistic description of the optical system of the eye in relation to its anatomical structure. The wide-field model incorporates a gradient-index (GRIN) lens, which enables it to fulfill properties of two well-known schematic eye models, namely, Navarro's model for off-axis aberrations and Thibos's chromatic on-axis model (the Indiana eye). These two models are based on extensive experimental data, which makes the derived wide-field eye model also consistent with that data. A mathematical method to construct a GRIN lens with its iso-indicial contours following the optical surfaces of given asphericity is presented. The efficiency of the method is demonstrated with three variants related to different age groups. The role of the GRIN structure in relation to the lens paradox is analyzed. The wide-field model with a GRIN lens can be used as a starting design for the eye inverse problem, i.e., reconstructing the optical structure of the eye from off-axis wavefront measurements. Anatomically more accurate age-dependent optical models of the eye could ultimately help an optical designer to improve wide-field retinal imaging. (c) 2007 Optical Society of America.