Famous Historical Statements up to 1600

Famous Historical Statements up to 1600

Over the past eight centuries there have been numerous statements recorded in history that are relevant to the topic of vision aids. From all of the reading that has gone into building this website, the following each stand out and are therefore presented for your enjoyment. After reading these you might agree that many examples are interesting and have much significance. Especially place yourself back in time and try to live the actual moment in history which is described.

Date Person Background History Where Image The Statement
1268 Friar Roger Bacon Roger Bacon (1210-1294) was an Oxford lecturer and later a Franciscan monk who was preoccupied with the idea of experimental studies. As a forerunner of the modern scientist, he experimented with lenses and mirrors and described reflection and refraction. He suggested lenses could be used as magnifiers for close work and also single lenses could be used for viewing distant objects. His "Opus Majus" deals in seven parts with (1) the obstacles to real wisdom and truth, (2) the relation between theology and philosophy, (3) the necessity of studying zealously the Biblical languages (4) mathematics and their relation and application to the sacred sciences (5) optics or perspective; (6) the experimental sciences; and (7) moral philosophy or ethics. Bacon was imprisoned in a cell from 1278-1290 when results of his optical studies were condemned and he was charged with 'suspected novelties' (“black magic”) in his teaching. Evidently his writings were then hidden until 1733. In his Opus Majus Reading stone on a rare print of the Summa universae theologiae from a 1482 book, in Brillen by Rossi French reading stone on an original 1495 woodcut "If anyone examine letters or other minute objects through the medium of crystal or glass or other transparent substance, if it be shaped like the lesser segment of a sphere, with the convex side toward the eye, he will see the letters far better and they will seem larger to him. For this reason such an instrument is useful to old persons and to those with weak eyes for they can see any letter, however small, if magnified enough."
1303 Bernard de Gordon of Montpelier This physician who lived between the 13th and 14th century praised an eye solution (collyrium) in a medical book.  He started teaching medicine in Montpellier in 1285. A list of his writings is to be found in Astruc Memoires pour servir à l´Histoire de la Faculté de Montpellier. In a medical book Detail of St. Luke, behind the high altar in Niederwildungen, Konrad von Soest, 1404 “ It is so effective that it allows an old patient to see even small letters without glasses.”
Feb. 23, 1306 Fra Giordano da Rivalto Given at the church of Santa Maria Novella in Florence, this was the first ever mention of the term for eyeglasses.  In a sermon Santa Maria Novella, Florence where the Father Giordano sermon was given in 1306
part of Father Giordano's sermon, 1306
“It is not yet twenty years since there was found the art of making eyeglasses which make for good vision, one of the best arts and most necessary that the world has. So short a time is it since there was invented a new art that never existed. I have seen the man who first invented and created it and I have talked to him”
1313 Fra Allesandro della Spina According to Prof Arnold Sorsby, "Fra Giordino had a colleague in the monastery of St. Catherina at Pisa, Fra Alessandro da Spina, and that Francesco Redi, Italian Prof of Medicine, found the obituary notice in the manuscript chronicle of the monastery" In his death notice part of Alessandro della Spina's 1313 death notice “…..a monk of most excellent character and acute mind………Whatever has been made, when he Spina saw it with his own eyes, he too knew how to make it; and when somebody else was the first to invent eyeglasses and was unwilling to communicate the invention to others, all by himself he made them and good-naturedly shared them with everybody.”
1317 Salvino Armato degli Armati Claims related to Salvino Armato of Florence are largely based on the excessive zeal of a Florentine historian, Domenico Manni.    Manni related that a Florentine antiquary had seen a tomb-stone inscription in the now demolished church of St. Maria Maggiore at Florence.  Manni believed that Armato was the secretive inventor spoken of in the references to Allesandro della Spina. On his headstone Armati, from an Armati website
Sculpture of Salvino Armati, problem is the bust is 1,000 years old and the stone is dated to the 19th century
Tombstone of Salvino Armati

“Here lies Salvino D’Armato Degli Armati of Florence, the inventor of eyeglasses. May God forgive his sin. Anno Domini 1317" 

 (unfortunately this has been proven to be false. He did not invent spectacles.  It is now generally accepted that the claim, probably to boost the prestige of the Armati family from Florence, was made hundreds of years after he died, if he ever even existed, and the plaque has been removed from the outside wall and hidden away low down in a corner of one of the side chapels.)  

circa 1360’s Francesco Petrarca

Francesco Petrarca (1304 – 1374) was the great Italian poet, classical scholar, and Humanist. His Latin poetry and scholarship made him famous, and in 1341 he was crowned as poet laureate in Rome.

In this quotation it is unlikely that he was referring to a magnifier, the only other type of corrective lens available at that time.

From his "Letter to Posterity" (trans. and ed. by Mark Musa in The_Italian_Renaissance_Reader) Francesco Petrarca, from a poetry-portal website "I had ... for many years sharp vision, which, however, unexpectedly deserted me when I passed my sixtieth birthday, and forced me, reluctantly, to resort to the use of glasses."   
1363 Guy de Chauliac Guy de Chauliac (1300?-1368) was one of the most eminent French surgeons of the European Middle Ages.  In Chirurgia Magna he helped establish surgery as a serious science by describing many surgical procedures, including that for cataract.  His book remained the standard surgical text for 300 years.  He became physician to Popes Clement VI, Innocent VI and Urban V.  in his Chirurgia magna Guy de Chauliac from the Famous Anatomists of the Medieval Times website When the eye solutions do not help, we have to turn to spectacles of glass or beryl.”
1415 Thomas Hoccleve Hoccleve (1369?-1450) is an English poet acknowledged as an enthusiastic admirer of Chaucer. It is most probable that Hoccleve knew Chaucer personally.  He was a true Chaucerian as far as love and admiration could make him, but he was unable to imitate worthily his master's skill in poetry. in L.D.Bronson’s book Early American Specs close-up of 1493 Diogenes with Rivet spectacles

“Right as a spectacle helpeth feeble sighte.  

When a man on the  book redith or writ.”

1462 Duke Francesco Sforza of Milan Founder of the Sforza dynasty in Milan, Italy Francesco Sforza (1401-1466)  was originally a mercenary leader, most famous for being able to bend metal bars with his bare hands. He later proved himself to be an expert tactician and very skilled field commander. The then duke of Milan, Filippo Maria Visconti , allowed Francesco to marry his daughter Bianca, but after the duke died without a male heir, fighting broke out. During this time, Franscesco turned against the Visconti, and seized control of Milan and its possessions.  Under his skillful rule, the city of Milan was modernized. He created an efficient tax system that generated enormous revenues for the government, his court became a center of Renaissance learning and culture, and the people of Milan loved him. In his letter to his resident ambassador in Florence The Duke of Milan ordering eyeglasses from Florence, Italy, 1462 “Because there are many who request of us eyeglasses that are made there in Florence……….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.”
1553 Christobal Mendez, Spanish medical physician as described by Agustin Gonzalez-Cano in his article published in January 2004, Atti Della Fondazione Giorgio Ronchi. In his 1553 “Book of Bodily Exercises" Cover page,  Book of Bodily Exercises, Christolph Mendez, 1553, Cushing Whitney Medical Library, Yale University For this reason I find not good that some people use continuously their eyeglasses, being short-sighted, because in this way, the eyes are covered and do not exercise and they have more superfluities, and that harms them very much”
1583 George Bartisch George Bartisch (1535‑1606) was a German who was apprenticed to a barber surgeon as a 13‑year‑old boy. He took a par­ticular interest in diseases of the eye and over the years made him­self into a specialist. In his 40s Bartisch put his special knowledge into this book, apparently doing the illustrations himself.  His book was widely read by physi­cians and students, and its very existence suggested that it might be possible to make a career out of "the service of the eyes." In 1588, at the age of 53, Bartisch was appointed court oculist to the Elector of Saxony, an important position for someone who had started out as an unlettered barber surgeon. In his 1583 "Ophthalmodoulea" the first comprehensive text on eye diseases

Link to the BOA Library Website

Ophthalmoudouleia, George Bartisch, 1583, Cushing Whitney Medical Library, Yale University
George Bartisch (1535-1607) title page of Ophthalmodouleia, Bernard Becker Medical Library, St. Louis

“Man has two eyes – he needs not four”

In fact one chapter in the Bartisch book Ophthalmodoulea is dedicated to the topic

“How one should avoid spectacles and eyeglasses and should abstain from wearing them”


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