The nose glasses: an invention from Florence or Pisa?

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Even Umberto Eco, in The Name of the Rose, tells that Guglielmo di Baskerville shows a pair of glasses, calling them the work of today, claiming to have received them as a gift from Salvino degli Armati. A character, Salvino, whom no document from the 14th century reports or mentions.

The story of the invention of “nose glasses” is very complicated …

In 1305, a sermon by Blessed Giordano da Pisa, made in Santa Maria Novella in Florence, revealed to the people that “it is not yet twenty years since the art of making glasses that make you see well had been found. I saw him who first found and made them ”.

Not the usual historical dispute between Pisa and Florence, but a dispute between two activities of great economic importance. Florence was a center of excellence in the production of lenses – with about 80 people who gave life to a thriving trade in these very useful instruments, from the 14th to the end of the 16th century – with great expertise in the production of convex glasses for presbyopes of 60, 65 and 75 years, or concave glass for young people.

In fact, since the 1600s the Florentines have been striving to wrest the primacy of invention from Pisa, creating various historical falsehoods.

First Francesco Redi attributes the invention of glasses to a certain Sandro di Pippozzo. Then the antiquarian Ferdinando del Migliore, in 1684, created another: Salvino degli Armati, of which he wrote that in the Florentine church of Santa Maria Maggiore there was a sepulcher with the epigraph “Savino degli Armati inventor of glasses in 1317”.

Many, not all, believed in this story in Florence.

Even an attentive historian such as Domenico Maria Manni who in 1783 published “Of the nose glasses invented by Salvino Armati”, and as a result of this, a marble bust was placed in Santa Maria Maggiore in honor of the inventor.

The character, that never existed, finds credit until 1885, so much so that Pasquale Villari, historian and senator, dedicates a commemorative plaque to him in the chiasso degli Armati between via del Giglio and Chiasso degli Armati, near the church that had been the family parish.

We will have to wait until 1920, thanks to another historian Isidoro del Lungo who tackles the subject and unmasks the whole plot, woven against the hated Pisa.