What a Spectacle! (Part 2)

Following the previous post  What a Spectacle! which looked at the development of spectacles during the Georgian Era, I had a question/observation from a reader regarding portraits of women wearing spectacles – or rather the lack of them.

With that in mind, I have tried, almost in vain to put together a short post to show just women wearing spectacles. To be honest it has proved to be something of a challenge and of course, I thrive on challenges!

There are only a few possible explanations for the lack of images, the first being that of vanity; you wanted to look at your best when having your portrait painted and ‘masking‘ the eyes with spectacles or even showing publicly that your eyesight wasn’t quite what it should have been may have been one.

The second explanation is probably that young to middle-aged women simply preferred to use an eyeglass of some sort if they felt their eyesight was lacking or finally, that quite simply eye tests as we understand them today, simply did not exist in the same way, therefore people didn’t realize how good or bad their eyesight really was.

Around the 1800s the use of any type of spectacles was a sign of old age and infirmity, so it seems that vanity would most likely have prevented many women from admitting to this!

For ‘ladies of fashion’ the lorgnette was immensely popular.  The picture below shows one invented by George Adams Jr. (1750 – 1795) in the form of a penknife and intended to be carried loose in the pocket. Lorgnettes were developed towards the end of the 1700’s and often took the form of a pair of eyeglasses on a long handle.

Courtesy of the Museum of Vision

If you preferred something slightly more discrete and more akin to a piece of jewellery then the other option were quizzling glasses which became popular from the early 1800’s.


Moving on to the portraits that I have found, and to be honest they seem to confirm the suggestion, and only feature the more mature woman.

The first offering is an oil painting entitled ‘The Sense of Hearing, The Sense of Sound’ by the French artist Philippe Mercier.

The Sense of Hearing, Philippe Mercier.
Yale Center for British Art, Paul Mellon Collection

The next is a self-portrait by the Polish artist  Anna Dorothea Therbusch,  painted circa 1777, when she was around 65 years of age.

Anna Dorothea Therbusch, self portrait c.1777.

The third offering is Friederike Charlotte of Stolberg-Gedern in her later life.

Friederike Charlotte, Countess of Stolberg-Gedern

The next, a caricature entitled ‘ The Mutual Embrace’ courtesy of the British Museum.

The Mutual Embrace

Finally, there is ‘High Life Below Stairs’ by John Collet, London, England, 1763.

High Life Below Stairs by John Collet, 1763

Unfortunately, despite best attempts, I failed to find any paintings of young women wearing spectacles, so as many of you know my blog posts couldn’t possibly be complete without any caricatures so I offer this one from the Lewis Walpole Library entitled  ‘Heyday! Is this my daughter Anne!‘, yet again depicting an elderly woman accompanied by her daughter who is sporting one of our favourite enormous hairstyles.Heyday Is this my daughter Anne

6 thoughts on “What a Spectacle! (Part 2)

  1. Pingback: History A'la Carte 2-12-15 - Random Bits of Fascination

  2. V

    Hi Sarah and Joanne,

    Thank you for this interesting article. I have a question: Was Countess Ferdinande Henriette of Stolberg a maternal ancestor of Queen Victoria? If she was, would you mind sharing any additional information about the picture?


    1. Sarah Murden

      Ferdinande Henriette, Countess of Stolberg-Gedern had 13 children. It was her daughter, Countess Karoline Ernestine of Erbach-Schönberg who was the great grandmother of Queen Victoria, via her daughter, Countess Augusta Caroline Sophie Reuss-Ebersdorf who was the maternal grandmother of Queen Victoria. In turn, her daughter, Princess Victoria of Saxe-Coburg-Saalfeld was Queen Victoria’s mother. Sadly, as this article was written several years ago, I can no longer trace the source of the painting, but I’m sure it was online somewhere.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Ah, it appears that the picture is of her sister Friederike Charlotte of Stolberg-Gedern, not Ferdinande Henriette. The filename on your site’s jpg says “friederike-charlotte”, and through that I found two websites that both feature the same image with this caption: “Friederike Charlotte, Countess of Stolberg-Gedern by Franz Lippold”.


        Still, thank you very much for the article!

        Liked by 1 person

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