Many theories abound for who should be credited for the invention of traditional eyeglasses. Despite evidence of spectacles in China in 1270, and Chinese claims of themselves importing spectacle technology from the Middle East in the 11th century, some people theorise that spectacles were first invented between 1280 and 1300 in Italy. Some also theorise that the first European inventor of spectacles was Salvino D'Armate.
In 1676, Francesco Redi, a professor of medicine at the University of Pisa, wrote that he possessed a 1289 manuscript whose author complains that he would be unable to read or write were it not for the recent invention of glasses. He also produced a record of a sermon given in 1305, in which the speaker, a Dominican friar named Fra Giordano da Rivalto, remarked that glasses had been invented less than twenty years previously, and that he had met the inventor. Based on this evidence, Redi credited another Dominican friar, Fra Alessandro da Spina of Pisa, with the re-invention of glasses after their original inventor kept them a secret, a claim contained in da Spina's obituary record. However, Spina most likely learned to make spectacles after seeing them made by another individual, a talent for which he was known at the time.
Another potential inventor is Salvino D'Armate, who is credited with inventing the first wearable eye glasses on 16 September 1284 in Italy. In a 1684 history of Florence, Leopoldo del Migliore wrote that the church of Santa Maria Maggiore contained a memorial honoring D'Armati with the inscription: Here lies Salvino degl' Armati, son of Armato of Florence, inventor of eyeglasses. May God forgive his sins. A.D. 1317. The church has been rebuilt several times since the 13th century, however, and this tomb no longer exists, so the claim cannot be verified.
Seated apostle holding lenses in position for reading. Detail from Death of the Virgin, by the Master of Heiligenkreuz, ca. 1400–30 (Getty Center).
The earliest pictorial evidence for the use of eyeglasses is Tommaso da Modena's 1352 portrait of the cardinal Hugh de Provence reading in a scriptorium. Another early example would be a depiction of eyeglasses found north of the Alps in an altarpiece of the church of Bad Wildungen, Germany, in 1403.
These early spectacles had convex lenses that could correct both hyperopia (farsightedness), and the presbyopia that commonly develops as a symptom of aging. Nicholas of Cusa is believed to have discovered the benefits of concave lens in the treatment of myopia (nearsightedness). However, it was not until 1604 that Johannes Kepler published in his treatise on optics and astronomy, the first correct explanation as to why convex and concave lenses could correct presbyopia and myopia.
The American scientist Benjamin Franklin, who suffered from both myopia and presbyopia, adopted bifocals in 1784 to avoid having to regularly switch between two pairs of glasses although the claim that he actually invented them is disputed.
The first lenses for correcting astigmatism were constructed by the British astronomer George Airy in 1825.
Over time, the construction of spectacle frames also evolved. Early eyepieces were designed to be either held in place by hand(monocle ), or by exerting pressure on the nose (pince-nez).
A monocle is a type of corrective lens used to correct or enhance the vision in only one eye. It consists of a circular lens, generally with a wire ring around the circumference that can be attached to a string. The other end of the string is then connected to the wearer's clothing to a
void losing the monocle. The antiquarian Philipp von Stosch wore a monocle in Rome in the 1720s, in order to closely examine engravings and antique engraved gems, but the monocle did not become an article of gentlemen's apparel until the nineteenth century. It was introduced by the dandy's quizzing glass of the 1790s, as a sense of high fashion.
Figure 18: Monocle glasses. Figure 19: Monocle glasses.