Vision Aids in a Religious Theme

Alfonso Patanazzi of Urbino 1636-1720, The Sacred Family with S. Giovannino, oil on burlap, 1669, private collection in Cagli, Italy.   Notice Baby Jesus, Mary, St. John (as a toddler), and Joseph (holding the spectacles)
Alfonso Patanazzi of Urbino 1636-1720, The Sacred Family with S. Giovannino, oil on burlap, 1669, private collection in Cagli, Italy. Notice Baby Jesus, Mary, St. John (as a toddler), and Joseph (holding the spectacles)
The Effusion of the Holy Ghost, limewood sculpture, Northern Swabian, about 1500, Martin von Wagner Museum der Universität Würzburg, inventory Nr. H 2483. This little relief was once part of the collection of Johann Peter Wagner, court sculpture in Würzburg, and father of Johann Martin von Wagner (1777-1858)
The Effusion of the Holy Ghost, limewood sculpture, Northern Swabian, about 1500, Martin von Wagner Museum der Universität Würzburg, inventory Nr. H 2483. This little relief was once part of the collection of Johann Peter Wagner, court sculpture in Würzburg, and father of Johann Martin von Wagner (1777-1858)
Paolo De Matteis, (1662-1728), Alfonso of the liquori with eyeglasses and crucifix, painted on burlap, Italian, 1735, Museum Alfonsiano di Pagani, by the kind permission of Redentoristi Fathers, Pagani (Salerno), Italy
Paolo De Matteis, (1662-1728), Alfonso of the liquori with eyeglasses and crucifix, painted on burlap, Italian, 1735, Museum Alfonsiano di Pagani, by the kind permission of Redentoristi Fathers, Pagani (Salerno), Italy
The Crucifix, from Heymann, Madame Alfred, Lunettes et Lorgnettes de Jadis, J. Leroy, Paris 1911. It is so fortunate that all of the carved cases displayed in her rare book have now reappeared after about 85 years.
The Crucifix, from Heymann, Madame Alfred, Lunettes et Lorgnettes de Jadis, J. Leroy, Paris 1911. It is so fortunate that all of the carved cases displayed in her rare book have now reappeared after about 85 years.
Vittore Carpaccio (1460-1526), The Death of St. Jerome, School of San Giorgio degli Schiavoni, Venice, 1502, signed Victor Carpathus (his name in Latin), Fingebat, MDII
Vittore Carpaccio (1460-1526), The Death of St. Jerome, School of San Giorgio degli Schiavoni, Venice, 1502, signed Victor Carpathus (his name in Latin), Fingebat, MDII

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“It is clear that the Catholic Church, via its educated and industrious monks, played a significant part in the fabrication of vision aids and their dissemination throughout the world. Had it not been for missionaries, man might have waited several hundred more years for this marvelous invention which has helped man in intellectual pursuit and to better toil in trades requiring near vision.”
From “Vision Aids in History”, Eric Muth

The majority of the early eyeglasses were used by scholarly people and also by some older artisans whose skills involved very detailed hand craftsmanship. Beginning in the very late 13th century clergy especially had access to spectacles to help them read and learn. After the early 15th century the myopic lens was developed and this permitted some near-sighted clergy to use monocles on a handle. These various optical aids have been represented by some of the most world famous artists of their times in highly-regarded paintings known as anachronisms, examples of which appear in several of the slideshows below. In particular renowned saints have been depicted in various forms of art which were originally placed on display at religious institutions. Many of these paintings, woodwork and sculptures have been moved over the last six hundred years to new homes at important museums of art and other public and private institutions. Some are even in the collections of private individuals.

The digital photos in most of the slideshows below have been made possible because of the cooperation and kind support of many people including the authorities at numerous religious institutions from around the world. (Religious Links). Others come from art museums (Artwork Links) and also important Libraries (Libraries Links). These generous people are cooperating by sharing their special digital photos in order to further stimulate everyone’s interest in the 700+ year history of the optical lens. Enjoy perusing almost 250 images in the slideshows below. The majority of them have never appeared before on this website.

Slideshows of Images

  1. Cases and Books
  2. Etchings, Engravings, and Prints
  3. Stamps
  4. Wood, Stone and Ivory Sculpture
  5. Modern Representations
  6. Important Paintings
  7. Other Assorted Examples

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