The Stones of Venice

I have recently been following the story of the Pre-Raphaelites, and I think I have written in earlier blogs about some of their work.  I have also taken a great interest in the Arts and Crafts Movement, and in William Morris, whose designs are still widely available in the better sort of department stores.
So of course I very soon came across the name of John Ruskin, the great Victorian writer, critic and commentator, who did so much to sponsor and guide and encourage and popularise the work of the Pre-Raphaelites, since their philosophy closely accorded with his own.  There was a Victorian scandal here.  Ruskin married the young, beautiful and passionate Effie Gray, but failed to consummate the marriage.  The story of their wedding night is comic and tragic by turns, but not entirely suitable for family reading around the fireside.
Effie left Ruskin and married John Everett Millais, who started out as a Pre-Raphaelite and became one of the great painters of the era.  Millais had been a protégé of Ruskin, and the circumstances of his marriage must have raised tensions, providing a key theme for the recent eponymous BBC TV series.
One of Ruskin’s major works, still in print, was “The Stones of Venice”, an architectural, historical and sociological study of Venice.  Ruskin was passionate about architecture, and the Gothic style.  He arrived in Venice with Effie (before the split) in 1849 to do his research.  The book is still in print today, and in its time was a great influence on William Morris.
One may disagree with Ruskin’s dogmatic insistence — prejudice even — on the merits of the Gothic Style, and his interpretation of the subsequent Renaissance style as nothing but decline and decay, and yet take a great delight in the book.  I suspect that my architectural hero Sir Edwin Lutyens would have been horrified by Ruskin’s rejection of “The Orders” of architecture, as Lutyens swore by them.  But Ruskin’s prose is almost lyrical, so that at times one could almost be reading blank verse.  I found it enormously satisfying (I read in during the Christmas/New Year break), and I recommend it to anyone with an interest in the period, or in Venice, or in architecture.
May I try your patience with a quotation to illustrate the style?
“There is not at this moment a junior student in our schools of painting, who does not know fifty times as much about the art as Giotto did; but he is not for that reason greater than Giotto; no, nor his work better, nor fitter for our beholding.  Let him go on to know all that the human intellect can discover and contain in the term of a long life, and he will not be one inch, one line, nearer to Giotto’s feet.  But let him leave his academy benches, and, innocently, as one knowing nothing, go out into the highways and hedges, and there rejoice with them that rejoice, and weep with them that weep; and in the next world, among the companies of the great and the good, Giotto will give him his hand, and lead him into their white circle, and say ‘This is our brother’ ”.
And I turn to Browning for a last comment on Venice:
“As for Venice and her people
Merely born to bloom and drop.
Here on earth they bore their fruitage,
Mirth and folly were the crop.
What of soul was left, I wonder,
When the kissing had to stop?”

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1 Response to The Stones of Venice

  1. An interesting read! Thankyou, for sharing this with us!

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