What a Spectacle! (Part 2)

Following our previous post  What a Spectacle! which looked at the development of spectacles during the Georgian Era, we had a question/observation from a reader regarding portraits of women wearing spectacles – or rather the lack of them.  With that in mind we 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 we 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 eye sight wasn’t quite what it should have been may have been one.  The second being 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 so people didn’t realize how good or bad their eye sight was. Around the 1800’s 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 eye glasses 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 was quizzling glasses which became popular from the early 1800’s.


Moving on to the portraits that we have found and to be honest they seem to confirm our suggestions and only feature  the more mature woman.

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

Philip Mercier

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

Our third being that of Ferdinande Henriette, Countess 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.


Lastly, there is ‘High Life Below Stairs’ by John Collet, London, England, 1763. We offer two versions of this image, the first in colour, the second black and white, but there are a few subtle differences between the two.  The difference we are interested in however is that the woman in the centre of the first image is wearing spectacles, in the second she isn’t – we have no idea why this is – very odd!

highlife_med colour


High Life black and white

Unfortunately, despite our best attempts we failed to find any paintings of young women wearing  spectacles, so as many of you know our blog posts couldn’t possibly be complete without any caricatures so we 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 hair styles.Heyday Is this my daughter Anne


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