Glasses on Guthlac’s Monks?

Roundel 14, Harley Y.6  'the Guthlac roll'
Roundel 14, Harley Y.6; ‘the Guthlac roll’

I was looking at the Guthlac roll in the British Library online and I noticed something rather odd. Have you noticed it? The two outer figures are wearing glasses! According to the British Library page for the roll, its dates to c. 1175-1225 and is believed to be prototypes for stained glass windows. This seems a bit early for glasses. The guy on the right has particularly modern looking specs. Come to think of it, the one on the left in addition to the glasses has a rather flamboyant feather in his hat. What do you all think? Are these objects c. 12th century or has someone added these to the roll?


13 thoughts on “Glasses on Guthlac’s Monks?

  1. from Wiki
    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.
    therefore your glasses are the earliest from history
    or a doodle
    notice the head feathers in the same colour

  2. I have just checked online – the earliest eyeglasses were dated 1285, Italy. How clear the glass was I have little idea. This was a little later than the first stained glass windows – we can see from the clear panes how clear.
    I do have a problem with the veracity of online facts, I have to admit.
    The eye glasses, and as has been said above, the feather do look like add-ons. That is, from the computer picture (my resolution is not the best).

    Always great to see you on-blog again!

  3. Why not ask The BL when the online version was photographed, and get the Keeper of MSS to look at earlier photos on your behalf. As it is a famous MS these should exist and be available. A comparison may isolate the period during which the additions were made. What’s the context? Who is shown and what does the Latin say? Good to see your site again, after a pause.

  4. Ooh, very cool image. Yeah, I would bet these are later additions. Earliest attestation of eyeglasses in the West is late 13th century (as someone notes above), and the style/execution of these glasses — and that fabulous feather! — would suggest a different (later) artist. And even if these glasses *did* somehow exist at the time this image was produced, I’d think the monks would be using rivet spectacles anyway.

  5. When you enlarge the picture (blessed be Saint Microsoft of the Office) , you can notice that the quality and shade of the ink is not belonging to the original drawing. as for the glasses, the shapes are not remotely medieval. Whoever did this is a criminal….

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