Spectacles in historic art


Spectacles – eyewear, in general – had gone a long way in human history. But there are memorable ones that last thousands of years. How did these eyeglasses stood the test of time? The answer is called Art. Great artworks had become the vehicle for these spectacles for ages, and this set of artworks, whether painting or sculpture, had transported the spectacles into the current time for our generation to admire.


A painting showing the Persian artist Ridhā al-'Abbasī in his old age.
Image 1.  
A painting showing the Persian artist Ridhā al-‘Abbasī in his old age.


In March 1635, Ridhā al-‘Abbasī, a Persian artist, inspired his student, Mu’in al-Musawwer, to paint him while wearing his spectacles. The painting is said to be the oldest known artwork in the Muslim world that features the spectacles. After the 13th century, the spectacles have become famous among Muslims as the item had been featured in several literary forms and writings, as well, such as in one of the poems of Ahmad al-Attar al-Masri and in a book written by historian, al-Sakhāwī; all with relevant association with eyesight and its health corresponding to stages of youth and ageing. A painting by Ridhā al-‘Abbasī dated 1650 also features a man wearing spectacles and holding a book. The painting is now under the care of a gallery in Washington, DC.  The artwork shown in Image 1 is currently consigned at Princeton University Library in New Jersey.




Image 2. Japanese woman wearing wire spectacles, 1897.
Image 2.
Japanese woman wearing wire spectacles, 1897.

The artwork shown in Image 2 is a preview from the art series titled, Shin Bijin 真美人 (True Beauties), created and produced by Yōshū Chikanobu, a prolific woodblock artist of Japan’s Meiji period. It is a collection of delicately hued portraits of a host of “modern” Japanese women who thrived in the new and changing world three decades into the Meiji era (1868-1912).  This Ukiyo-e print shows a woman seated at a table dressed in a kimono and wearing eyeglasses. From her blue-tinted spectacles to her gold ring, her merging of diverse styles in fashion, as much as her accessories, announces that she is a woman of means and expansive taste.



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References: Spectacles in historic art




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