The notion of ‘lost sense of sight’ or Elizabethan vision refers to a skill that sixteenth century viewers were trained in, and applied to reading the composition and meaning of certain elements in works of art. Elizabethan vision was manifested through issues of conveyance and included the construction of visual symbols embedded with allegorical references. Allegory was employed to allude to certain points of view and enhance the potency of particular narratives that were apparent in the work. Hence Elizabethan vision refers to the manner of reading the work and operated simultaneously with the use of allegory as described. More importantly the use of this knowledge resulted in the ability to comprehend the work and appreciate the intention that there are several layers of meaning apparent, as opposed to a single dominating interpretation. Elizabethan vision is currently referred to as a ‘lost sense of sight’ because the ability to see and understand works of art presented in this manner no longer exists.
A sixteenth century portrait of Queen Elizabeth I, also known as the Ditchley portrait is used as the source from which this exploration regarding the concept of ‘lost sense of sight’ and the reading of narratives in landscape is derived from and refers back to. It is of importance to note that the application of Elizabethan vision and use of allegory to exaggerate particular narratives and reinforce certain points of view is intrinsic to the reading of this portrait. The history of the portrait however is also inherently linked to the sites of Ditchley and Woodstock in Oxfordshire. More interestingly, the physical limits of these sites and the boundaries associated with the historical narratives are different. The term ‘layering of meaning’ is most appropriate in this instance as the numerous historical narratives are survived by a small number of physical features on site that in turn allude further to other elements and stories. Current discussions concerning the historical narratives treat the study of these sites as mere background information that support existing readings of the Ditchley portrait.
This paper takes an interest in how the meaning of the phrase ‘lost sense of sight’ can be applied to the reading of the landscape inherent in the story of the Ditchley portrait. In this instance, the study of the physical features in the landscape will be considered in a manner similar to that of allegorical symbols. This enables a simultaneous reading of their immediate role as visual elements within the landscape, and the conscious allusion to further readings and narratives. The weaving of historical narratives in relation to the current state of the landscape creates a complex template from which multiple readings and meanings can be derived simultaneously. Hence the idea of ‘lost sense of sight’ in this analysis refers to the ability to interpret, apply and infer from the consequences of this working method that encompasses narratives that are current, historical as well as alluded to within the landscape. The study also aims to develop a method for interpreting and reading the site associated narratives in order to establish that there are multiple ways to read the landscape in the story of the portrait. More importantly these readings are able to inform and influence the way in which the Ditchley portrait is understood, appreciated and engaged with.