(b. ca. 1325, Modena, d. 1379, Modena)

Cardinal Nicholas of Rouen

Chapter House, San Niccolò, Treviso

The invention of eyeglasses, probably in the late thirteenth century, allowed people to peer at nature through a new kind of lens. The Chapter House at Treviso presents one of the most "scholastic" of all Gothic fresco cycles, being an idealized portrait gallery of members of the Dominican order. But it also represents an achievement of scholarship, of the technology needed to study, which included not only desks, books, and pens, but recently invented optical instruments like lenses. Cardinal Nicholas of Rouen peers at his text, as though looking at a minute marginal drawing, through a single lens. Other figures in the series perform the age-old scholar activity of comparing one text with another. The artist had all his models, many of them inherited or stolen from others, within the valuable pages of his model book.