Telescope Lens-Making in the 17th Century: The Legacy of Vangelista Torricelli

Giuseppe Molesini

In the early days of instrumental optics, the know-how of lens making was shrouded in secrecy. A remarkable exception can be found in a letter from 1643, in which the Italian lens-maker Vangelista Torricelli gives his correspondent directions on optical shop practices.


figureJan van der Straet’s “Spectacles” (1584). On the left of the image, a vendor sells spectacles in a European marketplace.

At the dawn of the 17th century, optical technology was almost exclusively devoted to mirrors and spectacle lens making. Spectacles had been around since the late 13th century for correcting farsightedness, but the introduction of lenses for correcting myopia was relatively recent in the 1600s. The availability of both positive and negative lenses laid the groundwork for the advent of the telescope.

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