Improving Vision: The Moral Focus of the Sense of Sight in Seventeenth-Century Text and Textile, Jean Lambert
In early modern culture, the eye was widely deemed to be the pre-eminent organ of the sensorium on account of its contribution to the intellectual and spiritual enlightenment of the individual. Paradoxically, however, it was also perceived as the faculty most vulnerable to dangerous errors and offences and, hence, principal conduit for vice and instrument of inducement to sin. Centring on the moral dimension of sight, this paper compares the representation of the sense of sight in a mid-seventeenth-century embroidered panel depicting the personification of sight and Richard Brathwait’s essay ‘Of Seeing’, published in 1625. It considers ways of seeing as inflected by the different idioms of needle and pen, including a re-presentation of the feminization of ocular vices. Specifically, it discusses the relationship between external and internal sight, the body’s eye and the soul’s eye, in connection with proffered monitory instruction on the proper moral function and spiritual object of the eye as prescribed corrective for improving vision.