“Our Speaking Picture”: William Scott’s Model of Poesy and the Visual Imagination

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One of the most important ways William Scott’s The Model of Poesy (1599) will enrich our conception of Elizabethan literary theory is through its sustained dialogue with the visual arts, which supply Scott with sophisticated analogies for thinking about poetic “images” and their appeal to the mind’s eye. Revisiting Sidney’s alignment of poetry and painting in The Defence of Poesy, Scott’s comparative poetics blends the latest Italian art theory, in the shape of Giovanni Paolo Lomazzo’s Trattato dell’arte (1584), with Pliny’s anecdotes of the ancient painters, in an effort to fill in the sketchy outlines of Sidney’s “speaking picture”. This article focuses on The Model’s most striking visual metaphors, tracing their possible sources and wider implications for his pictorial poetics. Scott repeatedly relates poetry’s appeals to the visual imagination, or mind’s eye, to the painterly arts of perspective, chiaroscuro and trompe l’oeil. His theory also reveals an interest in the metaphorical potential of optics—comparing, for example, metaphor’s way of “beholding [...] things in others” to the curious properties of “crystal glasses”. In short, Scott outlined a theoretical basis for the rapprochement between the sister arts that was already visible in English poetry of the 1590s.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)29
Number of pages68
JournalSidney Journal
Issue number1
Early online date31 Jan 2015
Publication statusPublished - 2015


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