Behold Saint Jerome. This painting, by Hendrick Bloemaert, was created in 1630 and hangs on the wall in the Nelson Atkins Museum of Art in Kansas City. I visit this gallery a lot. Saint Jerome was born around the year 347 and died in 420. A long time ago, in other words. Among his many attributed qualities, he was considered a scholar and is asserted to be the one who translated the Bible into Latin. That’s all dandy, but what interests me about this painting is that a 5th Century man is depicted wearing glasses.
What we today would recognize as glasses were invented in Italy in around 1286. (It’s true! Just ask Wikipedia.) The magnifying power of lenses of any kind was not appreciated until the 11th Century. And so the glasses on old Saint Jerome are an anachronism. It turns out that anachronistic glasses in art is a thing.
One scholar told me that the use of glasses in this painting was not intended to be historically accurate (Bloemaert undoubtedly knew of this “error”), of course, but to express the scholarly nature of the subject himself.
So when I bring friends to the art museum, I generally steer them toward this gallery and this painting, and a pleasant little conversation ensues.
Then we go have a snack in what must be the finest setting for a restaurant in all of the city:
Join me next time.