Nova Reperta: Invention of Eyeglasses (Conspicilla)

Plate 15. This plate illustrates exchanges being made in a market square. One market stall is selling glasses and lenses, to the right is a bookseller and behind him a woman sewing. In an everday setting the optician (indicated by his trade banner) dispenses ready-made spectacles and magnifiers. To the right of the stall a prospective buyer is trying on a pair of glasses. Stradanus demonstrates that all sectors of society, both high and low, can benefit from discovery. Most of the people in the scene wear glasses and in the background a blind man and is guide dog are depicted. One of the most humorous of the prints in the Nova Reperta, it shows that the series could be appreciated on many different levels. 

Inscriptions in Latin. In margin: '15. CONSPICILLA.', 'Inventa conspicilla sunt, quae luminum', 'Obscuriores detegunt caligines'. On image: 'Ion.Stradanus Invent.', 'Phls. Galle excud.'.

As the title indicates, Nova Reperta catalogues inventions and discoveries in the 'modern' world (as opposed to the classical world of antiquity). The print series dates to the 1590s and probably emerged in two distinct phases. During the late 16th century scientists were starting to break free from the constraints that had hitherto been imposed by the unchallenged authority of the classical writers. It commemorates both Italian and Northern achievements, comprised of a title page and nineteen figurative representations. As a set, it dates between 1580 and 1605. It seems to have been started as a set focusing on America, but soon expanded and can now be grouped into four themes (according to Alice Bonner McGinty's scholarship):

1. Discovery of America – Vespucci, magnet, venereal infection, longitude, astrolabe
2. Conquest of matter and motion – gunpowder, iron clocks, distillation, stirrups, watermill, windmill, polishing armour
3. Rationalisation of agriculture – silk, olive oil, sugar refining
4. Mechanisation of words and image – printing books, oil paint, spectacles, copper engraving.

The set is dedicated to Italian humanist Luigi Alamanni, who belonged to an old aristocratic Florentine family. He was not only the dedicatee of the set, but was clearly intellectually involved in their production and likely assumed the role of artistic mentor, commenting on details as drawings were sent between Antwerp and Florence. Evidence of Almanni's influence on the series can be seen in his annotations on the backs of some of Stradanus's drawings. Furthermore much of the icongraphy relates to Florentine subjects. Alamanni had drawings in his possession suggesting he may also have been financially involved. Much information in Nova Reperta was probably gleaned from texts in his library. 

The Nova Reperta was designed by Johannes Stradanus. Born in Bruges in 1523, Stradanus was a versatile, 16th-century mannerist artist who worked across a range of mediums and spent most of his artistic career in Florence. We know the names of two of the engravers who worked on this project in the workshop of Philips Galle. His son Theodoor Galle signed the engraving Vespucci rediscovers America. Jan Collaert's name appears on three of the plates: 15,17,18 and four other plates have also been attributed to him: 1,2,12,16.

Object Details

ID: PAF7117
Type: Print
Display location: Not on display
Creator: Galle, Phillips; Stradanus, Johannes Collaert, Ioan
Date made: circa 1580-1605
Credit: National Maritime Museum, Greenwich, London
Measurements: Sheet: 218 x 287 mm; Mount: 406 mm x 558 mm

Your Request

If an item is shown as “offsite”, please allow eight days for your order to be processed. For further information, please contact Archive staff:

Tel: (during Library opening hours)

Click “Continue” below to continue processing your order with the Library team.