The On-Line Museum and Encyclopedia of Vision Aids.
Christuskind mit Brille in der Hand, private Collection
First Four Articles of the Apostles Creed tapestry, photo copyright Museum of Fine Arts, Boston
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CREDITS: Special thanks to Vincent Ilardi (deceased), Dr. Ernest Kahn, Dr. Charles Letocha, Dr. Michele Shedlin, Jean-Paul Wayenborgh, and also Marta Fodor, Coordinator of Image Licensing and Curator Lauren Whitley and Jennifer Riley, Rights and Reproductions at the MFA Boston.
Recognition to Director Antonio Paolucci of the Vatican Museum. Also to Professor Nicola Spinosa in Naples; Simon Franses, Lillian Billing and David Franses from S. Francis, Ltd. London; Tom Campbell, Ashley Williams, Dr. Keith Christiansen, Elizabeth H. Cleland, and Emma Wegner at the MMA; Barbara Bernard and Julia Burke at the National Gallery of Art, and Susan Grinols from the FAMSF; and finally Christopher T. Apostle, Senior Vice President, Director, Old Master Paintings, Sotheby’s New York. These individuals were wonderfully supportive regarding some of the information and additional images presented below. Select portions of the material presented below has also been extracted from Wikipedia. Finally, the book "Tapestries of Europe and of Colonial Peru in the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston" 1967 by Adolph S. Cavallo provided a wide range of useful details related to tapestries in general.
The definition of the word "Anachronism" as provided by Wikipedia is "anything that is temporally incongruous-that is, it appears in the temporal context in which it seems sufficiently OUT of PLACE as to be peculiar, incomprehensible or impossible." It derives from the Greek terms meaning "against" and "time". The item is often an object, but may instead be a verbal expression, a technology, a philosophical idea, a musical style, a custom, or anything else closely enough bound to a particular period as to seem odd outside of it.
Imagine George Washington using an Apple iPhone 4 to contact members of his army staff at Valley Forge in 1778. Imagine Napoleon using an Android electronic device to wirelessly email messages ahead to his commanders on the battlefield at Waterloo in 1815. These would each be considered obvious examples of a modernistic anachronism of sorts.
When we refer to anachronisms on this website these are works of art typically from the time period of the 14th - 17th century known as the Renaissance. They are out of time representations showing people from an earlier period who did not have or did not wear spectacles during the actual years of their lives. By the beginning of the 18th century the naivety of all artists disappeared and there were no more errors since, by then, spectacles had become commonplace. Books and newspapers had also become widespread, appearing everywhere.
Per Vincent Ilardi in his Renaissance Vision from Spectacles to the Telescope “Anachronism… [has been] the most frequent and pervasive element in artistic representations of eyeglasses…." in manuscripts, altarpieces, frescos, canvases and panels. (Ilardi, 2007).
Artists created their pictures on canvas as though they had occurred in the present time. This did not always reflect true history. Therefore painters, printers and even sculptors sometimes represented saints from the 1st century Christian times (New Testament) wearing spectacles on their noses. They occasionally also represented other famous people wearing or holding glasses; however non-religious representations including mythological figures seem to be much rarer, from experience. (See section 4 below)
All this brought attention and notoriety to glasses (nose spectacles). In general early style glasses, which made their first appearance in the late 13th century near Pisa, were relatively uncommon considering the size of the general population. Glasses were new and rare back during those times. Prior to the invention of the printing press glasses were expensive and were highly valued by their wealthy possessors. People spared no expense in order to acquire a pair because they worked such magical wonders. At the same time they became important. Thus the appearance of spectacles in artwork provided attention to intelligence and learning . Nearly all scholars, especially philosophers and holy people, were illustrated with them. Glasses indicated one’s respected position as a scholar. Older scholars would almost always have spectacles, as a symbol, to show their age and also their knowledge and wisdom. Spectacles became the emblem of an educated and erudite person. Nose spectacles were the ones depicted (rivet spectacles – the earliest style) and also bow or arch spectacles (especially leather-framed).
St. Jerome (347–420) is especially seen with eyeglasses some 800 hundred years after he lived. He was even falsely thought to have been the inventor of eyeglasses. He is the patron saint of the spectacle-maker, especially in France. They are shown on his nose although more frequently they are located on some table or even hanging nearby. He is often depicted near a lion (representing strength) and a skull (representing healing).
There were several reasons artists have associated spectacles with Jerome: glasses were symbols for (a) old age; (b) wisdom and learning; and finally (c) authorship demonstrating illuminated or sharpened sight, i.e., Jerome's translation of the Bible, thus clarifying the word of God. All this helped acknowledge Saint Jerome as the quintessential scholar of the Catholic Church.
There are many hundreds and hundreds of original paintings, and then copies of those paintings by other artists, which are anachronisms showing glasses. All these were created in the Renaissance Period. By the early 1720s glasses were in widespread use and therefore to embody them into a work of art would not produce an anachronism. So glasses as an anachronism quickly disappeared from artwork.
Holy Family painting Christuskind mit Brille in der Hand has the infant Jesus holding nose spectacles (as if he is playing with a toy). This painting owes its uniqueness solely to the subject matter of the work. There is no allegory or depth, only the Holy Family is presented.
Ophthalmologist Dr. A. Bourgeois of Reims, France was considered the world’s first enthusiastic collector of anachronisms depicting spectacles. He assembled an extensive collection which he presented at the 1909 International Congress of Ophthalmology. In his private collection there were no fewer than forty examples of the anachronistic representation of eyeglasses, not all of which were paintings. He announced that he assumed there were hundreds more. At the 13th International Congress in 1920, Professor Dr. Henricus Weve of Utrecht, Holland then presented 216 examples of anachronisms related to the old and new testaments. Mostly the Prophets, the Apostles, and other Fathers of the Church were shown in religious art. Then in a 1923 publication a few weeks before his death, Dr. Bourgeois again wrote about sixty-five examples just in ophthalmic history.
One particular oil painting was believed to be a unique example and therefore
considered the greatest anachronism of all. It showed the Holy Family and the
child Jesus holding eyeglasses in his hand; Christuskind mitt Brille in der
Hand, (1913). In a German article by Professor Dr. Richard Greeff of Berlin, it
was thought to be of the 16th century Milan School, in the style of Leonardo Da
Vinci. The current family owners have focused more on the early 17th century and
the possible attribution to Massimo Stanzione (Naples) as the artist.
The artist’s true identity remains uncertain however Professor Antonio
Paolucci of the Vatican Museum is a world-renowned art historian who was head of
Academy of the Fine Arts in Florence. He believes this painting “surely belongs
to the Neapolitan School and is approximately of the year 1630”. David Brown
from the National Gallery of Art, Washington “agrees with Paolucci”. Dr. Keith
Christiansen of the Metropolitan Museum of Art “would guess that the painting is
Neapolitan, 17th century, maybe around 1630-50” and “an artist in the circle of
Stanzione”. Christopher T. Apostle of Sotheby’s New York felt that the artist
was “someone close to Pacecco da Rosa”. Christopher learned that a painting by
the same name and description was part of the 1743 Roman inventory of Francesco
Recalcati who lived at the Palazzo del Console before 1743. It was item #16 in
that inventory and listed as “Quadro di quattro, e cinque e mezzo incirca con
cornice piana filettata d'oro rapp.te la Madonna con il Bambino, che tiene
L'occhiali in mano, con S. Giuseppe. Unfortunately the artist’s name was not
given and No further information has become available on further research after
those years. Finally Nicola Spinosa of Naples who is another great world expert
has suggested Francesco Guarino as the likely artist due to, among other
factors, the “strong vitality “ of the painting. Hopefully in the future,
further analysis can be performed and one of these experts will be given the
special opportunity to actually examine this cherished work in person.
In other paintings the child Christ has been seen occasionally with an apple or a bird or a flower in hand, to play with. In this unique painting Jesus is seen with nose spectacles and no other similar example is known to have ever existed.
This specific unique artwork became the subject of an article written by Professor Greeff. His four page paper "Ein interessanter Anachronismus, das Jesuskind mit der Brille" appeared in the 1913-14 Zeitschrifrt fur Ophthalmologische Optik on pages 73-76. Glasses had been placed in the painting like a toy for the child Jesus to play with. Maybe he had just taken them off someone’s face? These were painted to show leather round-framed bow spectacles which first appeared back in the late 15th century. The glasses in the painting might have belonged to the child’s father Joseph who stands in the background and to the left of the Jesus. The playful child is being held in the arms of his mother the Madonna Mary.
SYMBOLISM - Are the glasses a symbol of Joseph's age or of his education? He was older than Mary and maybe the artist was trying to depict that fact. Was Joseph weak and perhaps just very modest? The typical carpenter of that time was likely not well educated. Perhaps Joseph was illiterate. Instead of this way of thinking, maybe the glasses attribute great intelligence to Joseph and also to Mary. Or could they have even represented the great wisdom of the future Jesus, when he would grow into an adult? Perhaps the child has taken his father's eyeglasses in order to offer them to his mother to read from the prayer book. Unfortunately we will never know for certain what the artist was trying to symbolize with these glasses!
So this was presented at the 1909 International Congress and then through some auction around 1910 the painting’s ownership transferred into the small private art collection of Dr. Wilhelm Goldzieher. He was a renowned Jewish ophthalmologist from Budapest and also a friend of Professor Greeff. The topic of anachronisms was discussed in a full chapter of the famous Madame Heymann book Lunettes et Lorgnettes de Jadis", J. Leroy, Paris, 1911. After the single 1913 German article mentioned above it was described in the 1915 American Encyclopedia and Dictionary of Ophthalmology. This tome of information was published in 18 volumes between 1913 and 1921 and it encompassed the whole field of ophthalmology with contributions by more than one hundred ophthalmologists. It is believed that Thomas Shastid, MD wrote the majority of the historical information. In the history of eyeglasses section it states on page 4901 “a beautiful painting, whose style suggests Leonardo Da Vinci, shows the infant Jesus in his mother’s arms holding a pair of glasses, which may be supposed to belong to his father, Joseph, the elderly man in the background”.
During the few years leading up to World War 1 this piece of art faded from public awareness and then it seemed to totally disappear. It was presumed lost forever, having been either stolen or destroyed. This was considered a loss of monumental proportion so the artwork became the target of numerous searches by art historians ever since.
Evidently the painting was never stolen or destroyed: instead it was safely protected and privately inherited, then handed down in the same family for four generations. It had fortunately been secreted out of Hungary in the very early 1920s and was brought to the United States. Because of this optical research it re-surfaced here in 2007 and then finally was brought to its present secure location.
Eventually this world treasure as an art object, the only painting showing Jesus along with eyeglasses, may become the centerpiece as part of a major art exhibition of anachronisms at a few prominent art institutions here in the United States.
(A) VILMOS GOLDZIEHER (1849-1916) was a renowned ophthalmologist. His family originated in Toledo, Spain in the 15th century. They were Sephardic Jews called Tiradoro, who made gold filaments for jewelers and artisans. When the inquisition started they migrated to Germany, settled in Hamburg and translated their name into the German form of Tiradoro: Goldzieher.
In the 18th century one branch of the family settled in Kopcseny (Kitsee), Hungary. Vilmos (Wilhelm) was born on New Year's Eve 1849 in Kopiseing, the son of Izak and Julia Strasser and he was the oldest of five siblings. Following his pre-medical studies he attended the universities of Vienna and Heidelberg and earned his medical diploma on Dec. 25, 1871. While at Heidelberg he volunteered to serve as an assistant medic during the Franco-Prussian War. For his outstanding service he was awarded the war medal by the German Emperor. In 1874 he settled in Budapest and began his practice of ophthalmology. Around that time he was also awarded a scholarship to study in Berlin, Prague, and Leipzig. While still a student he published an article written by him in Hermann von Helmholtz's laboratory. He went on to write many monographs and articles for medical periodicals. By 1877 Vilmos had received an assistant professorship in the field of the anatomy of the eye, and in 1895 he became an associate professor. Vilmos was one of the first patrons of the education and sponsorship of blind persons, as well as initiating efforts for the education of vision-impaired children. In April 1903 he was decorated by the Austrian emperor with the officer's cross of the Order of Franz Joseph.
Vilmos married Berta Toszeghi Freund, the daughter of a wealthy landowner. Then after the outbreak of the First World War, he tended to soldiers who had lost their sight.
Vilmos and Berta had two children, Klara, the famous graphologist, and Miksa Sandor, called Max, a professor of Pathology, who later moved to the USA where he gained prominence as a clinical researcher and practicing endocrinologist.
In 1898 Vilmos had been appointed special Professor of Ophthalmology at the Pazmany Peter University and also the chief of the eye clinic at the Rokus Hospital. Finally he was also known for championing women's rights in the medical profession and for his impressive knowledge of a wide range of cultural subjects. He died on July 15, 1916.
Vilmos Goldzieher’s name appears in the Jewish Encyclopedia in an article by Isidore Singer and Wilhelm Bacher.
B) MASSIMO STANZIONE (born 1585, Orta di Antilla, died 1656, Naples) was one of the leading Neapolitan painters of the Caravaggio School. He was working in Rome by 1617 where he would have seen the Farnese Gallery of Annibale Carraci. His style is similar to that of Saraceni in that it is a more graceful and elegant form of Caravaggism than that practiced by his fellow Neapolitan Ribera although Ribera did exert some influence on him. Stanzione has been called the Neopolitan Guido Reni which aptly summarizes his semi-Bolognese classicism. His art pieces are scattered in private collections and at prominent museums around the world. This may be a work of Stanzione based on the information passed down in the family over generations. However a few art experts have recently expressed their doubts it was Stanzione. Director Antonio Paolucci of the Vatican Museum has the impression this painting “surely belongs to the Neapolitan School and is approximately of the year 1630”. However the 1913 German article states this is 16th century and the Milan School “in the style of Leonardo Da Vinci”.
The exact identification of the artist has yet to be proven conclusively.
(C) CONDITION REPORT OF THE PAINTING - This piece of art used to have a simple black frame. A professional conservator of paintings has performed “stabilization of lifting paint, surface cleaning and corrective retouching,” which significantly improved the overall appearance of the painting”. No information was provided regarding the 18th century signature and date “1795” that appears on the back. Further research will evaluate that piece of the puzzle also.
I believe this painting rightfully deserves the title of Greatest Anachronism in History because of its unique subject matter. It was regarded already with that supreme stature back in the early 20th century. We are pleased to be able to present the story of this painting to the general public after nearly 90 years of absence.
The current owner states “I am delighted that a lost treasure can be restored to people who realize not only the artistic beauty but the historical importance” as well. Hopefully, it will eventually undergo technical evaluation and analysis by a group of leading American and European paintings experts. Following that we hope it might become the centerpiece for some well-publicized and planned exhibition that will bring public attention to a wonderful group of artwork where many thousands of visitors can appreciate the anachronistic representation of antique spectacles and other vision aids.
Buried in storage at the Museum of Fine Arts Boston is a significant and magnificent First Four Articles of the Apostle's Creed tapestry where an apostle is seen wearing glasses on his nose. Its historical importance as the 2nd greatest anachronism in existence will now be presented.
Photos copyright Museum of Fine Arts Boston
My very good friend and renowned optical researcher Dr. Charles Letocha has the entire series of books - the American Encyclopedia and Dictionary of Ophthalmology (1915). A number of years ago he studied the history of eyeglasses section in Volume 7. On page 4901 he learned “even so far back as the Garden of Eden do we find these aids to vision, as shown in the Spanish tapestry called the Creation of Eve, in which an aged priest sits reading with eyeglasses on his nose.” Dr. Letocha pursed this further and eventually discovered this tapestry resided in the collection of the MFA Boston. He “probably spent more time and stamps on that particular search than any other search” he did back in those days. Chuck has earned my sincerest appreciation for his great help regarding a number of key areas of this online resource. Once Chuck had shared with me the above information I researched it further and to the current level.
From 1914 to 1920, Casey Wood wrote the impressive series of books mentioned in the last paragraph. That was the only edition of this massive 18 volume work. The reader should recall the Christ Child painting is described here too. Volume 7 is where Madame Heymann’s collection of eyeglasses cases first appeared as a tantalizing black and white group image (hover over the hyperlink to see the image) of her collection. That photo is what led to the discovery of all the eyeglass cases and glasses (hover over the hyperlink to see the image) and then nearly the full Madame Heymann Collection all stored in museums around Paris.
Further research reveals that the MFA tapestry (08.441) may have been designed by Justus Von Gent. Other famous designer’s names proposed from the 15th century include Jan van Roome, Colijn de Coter, and Jacques le Faire. The weavers are unknown; however, it has been deemed Flemish (probably Brussels). Its subject matter is the First Four Articles of the Apostles Creed. Its size is 168 1/8 x 327 15/16 inches (equals 14’ x 27 1/3 feet). The materials: warp: undyed wool and the wefts: dyed wool with touches of dyed silk.
Provenance: it is said to have come from a cathedral in Spain, purchased in Madrid in 1893 by Eben Wright. In November 1908, Mrs. John Harvey Wright gifted this tapestry to the MFA Boston in memory of her son Eben Wright and her father Lyman Nichols. It was exhibited in Brussels 1935, No. 604, from the catalogue by Crick-Kuntziger, 1936a, 3, plate 138. Currently this art object (08.441) is stored at a secure facility distant from the museum.
This tapestry was described in The Burlington Magazine for Connoisseurs, Volume 24, No. 131 (Feb 1914). “Credo” Tapestries by D.T.B. Wood, pages 247-249 and 252-254.The nose spectacles are mentioned. An entry describing this tapestry also appears in the 1967 catalogue of the MFA’s tapestries written by then curator Adolf Cavallo: Adolf S. Cavallo, Tapestries of Europe and Colonial Peru in the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. Volume 1 Text (Boston: MFA, 1967). However, in this catalogue there is no mention of any eyeglasses.
DESCRIPTION: Jeweled columns divide the tapestry into four sections. Each of these sections shows a scene illustrating significant text from the Old or New Testament. Running through all four scenes is the theme of the divine harmony between the prophet's promises and the fulfillment of them as presented in the Apostle's Creed.
Section 1: God, the Father, in resplendent vestments and crown raises his hand in benediction before Eve who rises from the side of Adam who is asleep. There is a group of angels behind these three figures. Down in front are two seated figures, each identified by the inscribed scroll in his hand. To the left sits the Prophet Jeremiah and to the right sits the Apostle Peter. Peter is wearing RIVET SPECTACLES. Clearly there can be no earlier representation of eyeglasses than in the Garden of Eden.
Section 2: John the Baptist is in the act of baptizing Christ. The upper half of the figure of God appears between a group of men on the left and a pair of angels on the right. In the lower left sits King David while Saint Andrew sits in the lower right.
Section 3: This shows the Nativity with Joseph and Mary kneeling on either side of the child Christ. Three angels and also a group of shepherds are also present. Below and to the left is the Prophet Isaiah while the Apostle James the Elder is in the right lower corner.
Section 4: This final section shows the crucifixion. Christ is seen between the two robbers hanging on their crosses. Joseph of Arimathea covers Christ's body with a cloth. Mary Magdalene, John the Evangelist and the Virgin are to the left. In the lower left is the Prophet Hosea. Finally a youthful John is seated to the lower right.
Once I realized that the MFA tapestry showed antique eyeglasses as an anachronism it became a natural step to evaluate other Credo tapestries. Only three other similar large panel masterpieces of religion and art have survived over the past 550 years, each comprising three or four clauses of the Credo.
Sets of Creed tapestries showing the Twelve Prophets and the Twelve Apostles have been woven since as early as 1395, more than one hundred years after the creation of eyeglasses near Pisa, Italy. The MFA tapestry was presumed to be part of a series of three, each showing four articles. Those other two tapestries have never come to light and no other tapestry with four articles is known to exist. Examples do exist showing three panels and these are believed to be from a series of four, each showing three articles.
The example at the City Hall at Brussels depicts the seventh, eighth, and ninth articles. This museum purchased the tapestry in 1887 after it had already been heavily restored. In one section just to the right of Jesus there is an individual possibly holding something in his hand, however, this is an area of heavy restoration, done prior to the first photos taken of this art treasure. Otherwise no glasses appear.
The example at the McMullen Museum of Art of Boston College is Flemish in origin and it too has an interesting history. Dating similarly to the end of the 15th century it came from the choir area of the Spanish Cathedral of Toledo and shows the fourth, fifth, and sixth articles of the Creed. It was presented at the famous tapestry exhibition in Paris 1876, sold at Christie’s London in 1893 to Mr. Asher Wertheimer and then it was purchased by the Hearst Foundation in 1925. The William Randolph Hearst Foundation then gave it to the Museum at Boston College in 1954. Unfortunately no optical objects appear.
Finally there is a wonderful example at the Vatican Museum in Rome. It is on view in one of the large public galleries and it shows the first three articles of the Creed. The style suggests completion just after the middle of the 15th century, perhaps making it the earliest. Following a personal visit to the Vatican Museum in September 2011 it was determined that spectacles as an anachronism do not exist in this tapestry.
Another great museum is the Musee du Cluny (of the Middle Ages) in Paris but they have no tapestries of note in their extensive collections.
The large late 15th century tapestry in storage at the MFA Boston is yet another great art treasure which shows an early vision aid, making it unique. In my opinion it should be given the ranking of Second Greatest Anachronism in the world.
There appears to be a general scarcity of representations of eyeglasses in tapestries of the Renaissance Period.
Four other examples are of note: Marcus Tullius Cicero (106 BC – 48 BC) wears relatively modern glasses with early temple sides in a circa 1800 caricature; Virgil (70 BC – 19 BC) is depicted wearing rivet spectacles in an impressive painting. Only two illustrations of Moses (1391–1271 BC) with eyeglasses have ever been seen. A few other examples from early times likely also exist.
Located by accident with no further explanation is yet another art object (a print?) showing Jesus sitting at a table in the company of three other religious figures. Alexis Vanlathem noticed this at an art dealer’s shop in Brussels. At the Brilmuseum in Amsterdam there is known to be a similar small framed print which shows Jesus flanked by the same three religious figures. It has the title “Maître est-ce moi?” ---- Master is it me?
Somehow added to the Brilmuseum print are five vision aids!! These include rivet spectacles, scissors glasses, circa 1850 glasses with adjustable sides, another oval-framed pair which looks like a short handled lorgnette, and lastly a plastic case for contact lenses sits on the table. No further information seems to be available regarding these thought-provoking pieces of art. Does anyone recognize the original artwork here (the one without the vision aids)? Hope is expressed that this will provoke its immediate identification. You are invited to email any ideas or thoughts to firstname.lastname@example.org. Thank you.
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Petra Vlasic, has a blog dedicated to the translations of the scientific and popular projects and articles of the researchers of all the world. This page has been translated Into Bosnian. Click to see the translation.