Glasses: a medieval invention

If we are to believe historians, spectacles first appeared in Italy during the 1280s and 1300s. The origin of these first spectacles remains largely unknown today: there were three of them, two Italians -Alexandro Spina, Salvino d’Armato- and an Englishman -Roger Bacon-, to claim paternity of the invention.

One thing is certain: glasses appear in the monastic environment, the monks being then the only ones to know how to read and write. Until the 16th century, they only had one type of spectacle at their disposal, convex mineral glasses for seeing up close and copying their sacred manuscripts. Short-sighted people will wait for the Renaissance to be compensated…

A few models of these early spectacles are exhibited at the Spectacle Museum: roughly cut in a one-piece frame or made of encased lenses connected by a central axis, some are made of boiled leather, tortoiseshell or even brass and copper.

If for 500 years, the shape of spectacles hardly changed, glasses underwent a major change in the 18th century with the appearance of small branches, holding on the temples. The Essilor – Pierre Marly collection, kept in Morez, includes several of these models, including all-silver temple glasses that belonged to one of Louis XV’s daughters, Victoire de France.

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