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Curious Fact of the Week: The Spectacle of the Spectacles Museum

Nationaal Brilmuseum, National Spectacles Museum

To appreciate the 700 years of bespectacled fashion, head to Amsterdam where eyewear from the likes of John Lennon, Buddy Holly, Elvis Costello, and Franz Schubert is collected in a 17th century optician’s shop.

Nationaal BrilmuseumExterior of the Nationaal Brilmuseum, note the eyeglass sign (photograph by Frank Weber)

The Stichting Nationaal Brilmuseum — or National Spectacles Museum — is a labor of visually impaired love by the Theunissen family. The first floor of the building is still a working store overflowing with eyeglasses, and feels like a transportation to a more elegant medical past. But as the two floors above it show — accessible by an incredibly narrow and steep staircase — the roots of eyewear go back much further.

Fede Galizia, "Portrait of Paolo Morigia" (detail) (16th century), oil on canvasFede Galizia, “Portrait of Paolo Morigia” (detail) (16th century), oil on canvas (via Pinacoteca Ambrosiana)

Although some seven centuries into the past are covered in its packed display cases, it’s the recent fashion that is most popular in this equally fashionable neighborhood. There are pince-nez, monocles, and of course the four-eyes frames. From Dame Edna Everage to Elton John to 19th century Austrian composer Franz Schubert with his thin and stylish frames, you may leave disappointed if you don’t happen to be a glasses wearer yourself. 

Josef Abel, "Franz Schubert" (1814), oil on canvas
Josef Abel, “Franz Schubert” (1814), oil on canvas (via Kunsthistorisches Museum)

STICHTING NATIONAAL BRILMUSEUM, Amsterdam, Netherlands


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