Sunday, 2 November 2008

Medieval spectacles

While I'm on the theme of All Saints North Street, here is a fragment of glass from another window in the church. It is a detail of the mid fifteenth century window portraying the Nine Orders of Angels. In this window each of the orders of angels is shown with a group of equivalent mortals. The higher angels are shown with popes and emperors, while the three lowest orders are shown with a group of ordinary York folk. Among them is this wonderful chap holding a pair of spectacles up to his eyes.

All Saints, North Street, York

A fascinating detail. I can't claim to be any sort of expert on late medieval optometry, but I did track down the following link, which describes the archaeological discovery of a similar set of specs at Trig Lane in London. The London specs are fifteenth century like the glass panel at North Street. They are bone rimmed, and just like the pair portrayed in the North Street panel the lenses were hinged so they could be moved together. Perhaps this was to give greater magnification. Anyway I should stop before I reveal my thorough ignorance of all things scientific. I have to say the Trig Lane specs are really rather elegant, I particularly like the pierced decoration.




2 comments:

BillyD said...

Very interesting. I should think that the hinge was to allow a better fit for the wearer, as well as for convenient storage. I remember reading that medieval spectacles weren't made for individuals, but that the buyer tried different pairs on until he found one that worked for him. Here's a link to a page with medieval art featuring spectacles.
http://larsdatter.com/eyeglasses.htm

I also remember reading that there was a fad for glasses at one point during the Middle Ages, and that people who didn't really need them were wearing them to look more intellectual.

Allan Barton said...

Many thanks Billy. It would seem that medieval people were just as vain and fashion conscious as people today.