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early History of spectacles

Spectacles have been nominated as one of the most important inventions in the last two thousand years effectively ‘doubling the active life of everyone who reads or does fine work- and prevented the world being ruled by people under 40’. They seemed to have been invented by a craftsman living at or near Pisa, and consisted of two convex glass discs enclosed in metal or bone rims with handles centrally connected and were either made to sit clamped on the nostrils or held before the eyes. The actual date of construction seems to have been around 1286, however first inventor’s name is not known. A dominican friar, Giordano da Pisa, seems to have met the person, stating in a sermon in February 1306 that  “It is not yet twenty years since there was found the art of making eyeglasses, which make for good vision … And it is so short a time that this new art, never before extant, was discovered. … I saw the one who first discovered and practiced it, and I talked to him.” It seems that the inventor of the eyeglasses did not want to share his new found technology. It took an enterprising friar friend of Friar da Pisa to develop this technology. Friar Alessandro della Spina also got to see the first eyeglasses and, being a real renaaisance man and artisan, was able to apply his great skills to making eyeglasses for himself and others and also spread this information to interested artisans. Very quickly it seemed Venice became a major area for making eyeglasses. Probably because the area was famous for glass making and possessed artisans who could apply their skills to creating the required lenses for spectacles. Initailly spectacles were probably made by goldsmiths using precious metals. As such spectacles would have been initially a feature of the well to do. Spectacles are still manufacutured in Itay to this day varying from artisans, manufacturing luxury eyewear in various cities around Italy to the largest spectacle company in the world, Luxottica, being based in Milan.

  • Reference: Ilardi. V. 2007. Renaissance Vision. From spectacles to telescopes. American Philosophical Society


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