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15C-Eyeglsses-art - 4/14/02


"Eyeglasses and Concave Lenses in Fifteenth-Century Florence and Milan" by Lord Anton de Stoc, mka Ian Whitchurch.


NOTE: See also the files: eyeglasses-msg, disabilities-msg, sign-lang-msg, p-cameras-msg, glasswork-msg, glass-lnks, glass-bib.





This article was submitted to me by the author for inclusion in this set of files, called Stefan's Florilegium.


These files are available on the Internet at: http://www.florilegium.org


Copyright to the contents of this file remains with the author.


While the author will likely give permission for this work to be reprinted in SCA type publications, please check with the author first or check for any permissions granted at the end of this file.


Thank you,

Mark S. Harris...AKA:..Stefan li Rous

stefan at florilegium.org



Eyeglasses and Concave Lenses in Fifteenth-Century Florence and Milan

by Lord Anton de Stoc


One of the great things about libraries is you never know quite what you'll find. I'm in ANU library doing some digging for the Diplomatic Report and the Costs of Soldiers project (both part of my secret long-range plan to bankrupt the Kingdom of Lochac), and I find a book by Illardi "Studies in Italian Renaissence Diplomatic History" (Varorium Reprints, 1986), which looks useful on both counts. I flip it open and to my pleasure find one of the articles in it is about eyeglasses.


To get an idea of the quality of the article, here is part of one of the primary sources it quotes, a letter from Duke Sforza of Milan to his Florentine ambassador, sent on 21 October 1462 "Because there are many who request of us eyeglasses that are made there in Florence, since it is reputed that they are made more perfectly than in any other place in Italy, we wish and charge you to send us three dozens of the aforesaid eyeglasses placed in cases so that they will not break; that is to say, one dozen of those apt and suitable for distant vision, that is for the young; another that are suitable for near vision, that is for the elderly; and the third for normal vision. We inform you that we do not want them for our use because, thank God, we do not need them, but we want them in order to please this one or that one who asks us for them."


The ambassador, Tranchedini then replies to the Duke's secretary on 4 November, announcing he was sending the three dozen pairs of spectacles requested, along with the letter, and that it cost three ducats, as he had requested that they be 'absolutely perfect'. He also advised the Duke secretary to not mention the cost to the Duke, because it's such a small sum. On the other hand, the same letter also mentions that he hasn't actually been technically paid for a while, and that his salary is in arrears for two years


Now, the dates are important, because if the letter was sent on the day it was written, and took a reasonable two days to get to Florence from Milan, then the order for thrity six pairs of glasses was filled in eleven days. This strongly implies that there were a number of skilled craftsmen who made high quality lenses ready for fitting, and kept a stock on hand (recall also that Tranchedini had requested that they be 'almost perfect').


The article also points to a number of artworks that display eyeglasses, such as the Jan van Eyck painting 'Virgin with Canon ver der Paele' (1436) and Dominico Ghirlandajo's 'St Jerome in his Study' (1480).


Finally, it also discusses the issue of eyeglasses and fashion - going back to Duke Sforza's request, note that twelve pairs of glasses are for 'normal' vision. Now, these are either sunglasses (which isnt likely, but I suppose worse things have been read into primary sources), or they are merely for fashion purposes.


Either way, if some metal worker is interested in making a pair, contact me, and I'll have a dig through the history of art, and try to get picture of a painting of a pair that could be used as the model.


A future source of reasearch work could also be another later article by Ilardi "Renaissence Florence : The Optical Capital of the World" (J European Economic History 22(1993):507-541), which I have been unable to review, as ANU doesn't appear to carry that journal. The later article was cited in Crabb's excellent work on 'The Strozzi of Florence" (U Michigan Press, 2000), within the context of the widowed Alessandra Strozzi sending her sons Florentine eyeglasses in the 1440s-1450s.



Copyright 2002, Ian Whitchurch, 27 Atherton St Downer ACT 2602 Australia <Ian.Whitchurch at dewrsb.gov.au>. Permission granted to reproduce for not-for-Profit purposes, provided that the work is properly attributed.


If this article is reprinted in a publication, I would appreciate a notice in

the publication that you found this article in the Florilegium. I would also

appreciate an email to myself, so that I can track which articles are being

reprinted. Thanks. -Stefan.


<the end>

Formatting copyright © Mark S. Harris (THLord Stefan li Rous).
All other copyrights are property of the original article and message authors.

Comments to the Editor: stefan at florilegium.org