At the Temple of Poussin, acrylic, 40" x 31," $2500
John Ruskin and the Italian Renaissance
When John Ruskin was born in 1819, Jakob Burckhardt was one year old; when Ruskin finally passed away in 1900, wasted and insane, the Swiss historian had already been dead three years. Almost exact contemporaries, they illustrate in their writings the two polarities of moral repugnance and intellectual sympathy that defined the idea of the Italian Renaissance in the last century. Yet of the two men, so strangely alike in their apocalyptic vision of the future and in their dedication to the Italian past, it is not the Victorian moralist but the Basel patrician whose writings have made their mark on all subsequent interpretations of the Renaissance. It can safely be said that Burckhardt's history, however disputed it has become in the course of time, still remains the authoritative view of that era. "To the discovery of the outward world", Burckhardt wrote, "the Renaissance added a still greater achievement, by first discovering and bringing to light the full, whole nature of man"1 The Civilization of the Renaissance in Italy, grandiose in its plan, impressive in its erudition and exemplary in its artistry, sprang not ex nihil, but had its origin in the Renaissance conception of itself in the myth of a rinascita disseminated by Leon Battista Alberti and later by Giorgio Vasari, who rejoiced that man had awakened from a 'dark age'. No one, not even Burckhardt himself, was more fascinated than Ruskin by this 'rediscovery' of man in the fifteenth century. To Burckhardt, its obvious immorality was "but a condition of its greatness, namely, excessive individualism". In his opinion, the crimes of a Sigismondo Malatesta or an Ezelino di Romana were merely a few rotten fruits accompanying a splendid efflorescence of civilization. But to Ruskin the Renaissance was a catastrophe and the word a contradiction in terms. The effrontery of an edifice like the Tempio Malatestiano was a symbol to him of how Renaissance ideals were soon to metamorphose European man into the godless egoist of laissez-faire capitalism. Ruskin, like a latter-day Savonarola, denounced the Italian Renaissance the period which Burckhardt so much admired and praised for spawning the dim industrial cloud that had settled with all its vice and ugliness over Victorian England.
Not one of his contemporaries was more qualified than Ruskin to write about Italy. Accompanied by his well-to-do parents, he made his first trip there in 1833. The impact of Italy upon his impressionable senses was profound. His copy of Rogers's Italy, whose engravings by Turner were to have such a decisive influence upon his later intellectual life, provided the model for his juvenile opus A Tour of the Continent, which was based on notes from his travel diaries. Another trip in 1835 to Como, Verona and Venice inspired a poem entitled Venice. The budding author at seventeen even contemplated writing a play on a Venetian theme, Marcolini, but what perhaps would have become only a lamentable pseudo-Elizabethan revenge tragedy in the tradition of Shelley's Cenci never saw the light; and after several more trips to Italy, Ruskin's energies were directed less towards literature than towards the study of Italian art. Whatever purely literary pretensions he may have had disappeared entirely in 1849 when he commented in his diary after visiting the Louvre, "The first distinct impression . . . was that of the entire superiority of Painting to Literature as a test, expression, and record of human intellect, and of the enormously greater quantity of Intellect which might be forced into a picture and read there compared with that which might be expressed in words.2
Ruskin's first important book Modern Painters I was written between 1842 and 1843. As much a spirited defense of J. M. W. Turner as an attack upon the whole school of Renaissance landscape, Modern Painters I was, nevertheless, based on a very superficial knowledge of Renaissance art. How much Ruskin actually knew about the art of the Italian Renaissance and how confused his ideas were can best be seen in his travel diaries for the period between 1840 and 1841. In 1840 Ruskin began to spit blood, and the family fearing consumption sent him off on a prolonged tour to the Continent a trip which included two weeks in Florence, a week in Venice, six weeks in Naples and two months in Rome. If the diaries provide little evidence as to the origins of some of Ruskin's later views on the Renaissance, they do show how uncertain his responses were and how open he was to new visual experiences an openness that unfortunately was later to be narrowed by his tendency to elevate idiosyncratic taste into eternal principles. The older Ruskin, torn between his love for Raphael's paintings and his compulsion to denounce their subject matter as immoral, differs considerably from the twenty-year-old who commented naively at Genoa after seeing only one of Raphael's canvases "it was worth going a thousand miles for" a sentiment that was repeated two weeks later in Florence: "The galleries are impressive enough; but I had as soon be in the British Museum, as far as enjoyment goes. Except for the Raphaels, I understand nothing else."3 A month later in the Vatican, however, Ruskin reversed his original impression: "Raphael is still a dead letter to me, and must long be so."4 Worried, understandably enough, about his periodic emission of blood, Ruskin was in too precarious a physical condition to engage in anything very seriously except to sketch picturesque scenes and visit churches and palaces. Though the diaries reveal none of the obsessive investigation that marked his subsequent stays in Venice, he did combine sightseeing with a certain amount of study. "Reading Sismondi again", he notes on 9 December in Rome, "the history of these rubbishy little republics is as confused as Thucydides, but now and then a better story."5 Italy proved to be both exhilarating and exasperating, a country filled with treasures and vices. "A great fuss about the Pope officiating in the Sistine Chapel", Ruskin notes, giving vent to his congenital anti-Catholic bias, "Advent Sunday . . . no music worth hearing: a little mummery with Pope an ugly brute and dirty Cardinals. Outside and west facade of St. Peter's certainly very fine; the inside would make a nice ball room but is good for nothing else."6 What is indisputable is that Ruskin despite his readings of Sismondi and his exposure to some of the great monuments of Renaissance art had not yet formulated any of the ideas for which he was later to achieve fame and notoriety.
Florence, Rome and Pisa had their distractions, but upon Ruskin's arrival in Venice he notes in his diary: "Venice, thank God I am here. It is the paradise of cities and there is moon enough to make half the sanities of earth lunatic, striking its pure flashes of light against the gray water before the window; and I am happier than in all probability I ever shall be in my life. . . This and Chamouni are my two bournes of earth. . . Thank God I am here."7 To Ruskin Venice was a literal baptism into colour, and it was colour the sheer visual intoxication of the canals and palaces that he craved and relished almost as much as another man might food or women. But the diaries even in that early period are concerned almost exclusively with seeing and observing, with sketching and jotting down places and names. Except for a harsh remark about Titian "one huge naked backed Venus, from the painting of which what good or pleasure can be proposed to any human being, I cannot conceive it is neither pretty nor pure, neither voluptuous nor delicate"8-- there is little reflection about Italy or the Renaissance except what arises from immediate visual experience.
Between his first glimpse of the Grand Canal and the publication fifteen years later of The Stones of Venice, Ruskin had developed from a sightseer into a seer, whose credo of heightened visual perception was destined to illuminate with prophetic genius more than one area of human experience. "The greatest thing a human soul ever does in the world", he affirmed, "is to see something, and tell what it saw in a plain way. Hundreds of people can talk for one who can think, but thousands can think for one who can see. To see clearly is poetry, prophecy, and religion all in one."9 If his 1840 trip to Italy left Ruskin with little understanding of Titian and Raphael and even less of the great religious paintings of Perugino and Fra Angelico, his knowledge of Renaissance art enriched by his visual genius deepened considerably during the next ten years. In 1842 he began to study Turner and gather material for Modern Painters I, and yet, as he himself confessed to his father, his understanding embraced only one-third of the subject because he knew "nothing of the great Venetian colourists nothing of the old religious painters. . . But in 1845 came a total change."10 He began to copy Raphael's drawings, to read Rio and Lord Lindsay on the history of art, and to study Turner's Liber Studiorum. He went into Italy with a new perception of the meaning of the words 'drawing' and 'chiaroscuro'.
Describing himself as a "blind bat," Ruskin was determined to visit Florence and Pisa before writing another word of Modem Painters. The five months traveling from the cities of northern Italy to Florence and Pisa constitute the turning point in his education. The diligence of the man was truly astounding matched only by the revelations in store for him. In Florence he scrutinized the Ghirlandaios in Santa Maria Novella and then wrote a complete critical and historical account of the frescoes. His hours were industriously spent, at times in the Rose Garden of San Miniato or on the cypress avenue of the Porta Romana, thinking and writing about what he had seen. He made afternoon rambles to Fiesole and Bellosquardo, standing "for hours together writing notes in churches or galleries." In Pisa his monkish discipline was equaled only by his infatuation for the Campo Santo. Cajoling the sacristan into letting him erect a scaffold to see the frescoes, he spent two weeks drawing Gozzoli's masterpieces. Gozzoli's series of frescoes The Triumph of Death, The Life of St. Ranier of Pisa, The Last Judgment impressed Ruskin with its centrality "for the whole Christian world." But it was in Lucca, in front of the churches and before the paintings of Fra Bartolomeo, that his vision of the past changed dramatically. "I found myself suddenly in the presence of the 12th century buildings. . . Absolutely for the first time I now saw what medieval buildings were, and what they meant. I took the simplest of all facades for analysis, that of Santa Maria Foris-Partam, and thereon literally began the study of architecture."11
Ruskin's introduction at Lucca to medieval Italian architecture was only one of many artistic epiphanies that were to occur on his subsequent trips abroad. His years of growth, in fact, centered around certain key visual experiences, which like Wordsworth's spots of time inspired his major works. When he entered the Scuola di San Rocco in Venice for the first time, the visual encounter was sufficiently shattering to change the direction of his life. It was a revelation equal in intensity to his first exposure to the paintings of Turner or to his conversion from Evangelicalism at Turin in 1858. "Tintoret", he commented thirty years later, "swept me up at once into the 'mare maggiore' of the schools of painting, which crowned the power and perished in the fall of Venice, so forcing me into the study of the history of Venice herself, and through that into what else I have traced or told of the laws of national strength and virtue."12
The fruit of Ruskin's experience in San Rocco became The Stones of Venice. Between 1850 and 1851 Ruskin spent a total of nine months in Venice. Taking up residence in a palace on the Grand Canal opposite Santa Maria della Salute, he began an intensive study of the Venetian past. The library of San Marco was generously opened to him and his hours were spent ransacking the archives, as well as climbing up ladders to peer at half-hidden tomes. He scrutinized decayed paintings in dark baptisteries. He studied the doors on San Marco, the Foscari tomb, the interior of Santa Maria dei Miracoli every monument in fact that still embellished Venice. Years later sacristans still remembered the eccentric Englishman whose tips had been so generous. It was not for nothing that Ruskin often rowed for hours against the wind and rain often coming home dripping wet, or stood on frosty days drawing for long periods of time "sometimes kneeling on the pavement beside the ice, and passing hours in the fireless churches." Ruskin had gone to Venice with deliberate intentions quite unlike his early trips to Italy. The beginning of The Stones of Venice is indicative of Ruskin's ambition to be the chronicler of the city: "I would endeavour to trace the lines of this image [Venice] before it be forever lost, and to record, as far as I may, the warning which seems to me to be uttered by every one of the fast gaining waves that beat like passing bells against the Stones of Venice."13
While compiling his notes for The Stones of Venice, Ruskin also wrote a ninety-page commentary on the Book of Job. His dual preoccupation with Venetian history and Old Testament theology was in no way idiosyncratic; for the inspiration behind The Stones of Venice, in fact behind Ruskin's whole creative life, both as an art critic and as a social reformer, was a childhood ritual characteristic of families within the Evangelical fold, namely a daily reading of the Bible. In Ruskin's autobiography Praeterita, which was written late in life in between periods of depression and insanity, the author describes at length how every day until he went up to Oxford his mother would read alternate verses with him in the Bible, forcing him to learn whole chapters by heart and insisting that every intonation of the voice and every syllable of the text should be correctly uttered and memorized. "This maternal installation of my mind", comments Ruskin, "I count very confidently the most precious, and, on the whole, the one essential part of all my education."14 Destined virtually from birth for the clergy, Ruskin, at least for the first thirty years of his life, modeled his habits and principles upon strict Evangelical doctrines. Evangelicalism, the religious revival that swept over England, claiming among its adherents the youthful Emily Bronte and Benjamin Jowett, as well as Samuel Butler and Lord Macaulay, provided the categories for Ruskin's vision of the world and, what is most relevant to our understanding, his vision of the past. Not only his assiduous cultivation of the Bible, his scrupulous observance of the Sabbath, and his attitude towards money as a sacred trust, but also his belief in the supremacy of Scripture over all ecclesiastical bodies, his vision of sin as the source of all evil, and his conviction that the Holy Spirit dwells within the heart of every man reveal the profound influence of Evangelicalism upon his mind.
Mazzini may have been exaggerating when he praised Ruskin for possessing "the most analytical mind in Europe." But Ruskin's intellect was also conspicuous for its ability to synthesize disparate ideas into clear-cut categories. It is not surprising then that Ruskin's most stimulating studies of art are seldom autonomous essays about a painter or his work, but are usually moralistic essays such as on the Grotesque, the Nature of Gothic, or Roman Renaissance under which headings works of art are often examined only as illustrations of a larger thesis. If Ruskin's moral categories are now regarded by most scholars as impositions upon critical objectivity, the importance of The Stones of Venice and of Modern Painters lies nevertheless in the fact that Ruskin, indeed possessing one of the "most analytical minds" of his time, is the only critic of near genius during the past four hundred years to judge the art of Europe according to clearly-defined Christian principles. Vasari's chief preoccupation lay in describing the evolution of Italian art from Giotto to Michelangelo, Winckelmann's in reinterpreting the sublimity of Hellenic sculpture, Berenson's in the impact of art upon his own refined sensibility, but Ruskin, the moral conscience of his generation, regarded the art of the last millennium in the most clear-cut of Christian categories.
During the first three decades of his life, the Bible fed Ruskin's fundamental belief in the sacredness of creation and the omnipresence of sin. Elaborating on that passage from the Gospel which declares that the Kingdom of God lies within each man, Ruskin defined the soul as a mirror of the mind of God "A mirror dark, distorted, broken . . yet in the main, a true mirror, out of which alone, and by which alone, we can know anything of God at all."15 Ruskin, a moralist who penetrated deeply at times into the nature and destiny of man, believed, as Milton and Samuel Johnson did before him, that a human being's knowledge of life is a function of his moral being. Hence the importance of the image of the mirror in Ruskin's thought. The frescoes of Fra Angelico as well as of Gozzoli in the Campo Santo at Pisa very clearly indicated to Ruskin that when the mirror is clear and free from sin creation in the mind's eye takes on the glow of sacramental praise, and when very much tarnished the soul projects its condition of alienation and revolt on to the world.
When Ruskin arrived in Venice in 1850, he saw himself then less as an art critic and historian than as a moralist. "I would not write as I do," he announced to his father, "unless I felt myself a reformer, a man who knew what others do not know and felt what they did not feel."16 Like Gibbon pondering amidst the debris of the Forum the fate of Rome, Ruskin felt overwhelmed by the palpable contrast between Venice's present-day impotence and her past glory. A Camelot in ruins, Venice had degenerated into a mere fief of the Hapsburgs. Her political sovereignty was now dead. Her palaces were sinking into decay. Her citizens, the descendants of Titians and Bellinis, were pathetically indifferent to the splendor around them. Of the spirit that animated this once great civilization, nothing remained except her monuments. Venice had become a museum and, still worse, a Mecca for tourists. Sifting the records in the State Archives and studying the churches along the canals, Ruskin asked himself what force had stripped the 'Mistress of the Adriatic' of her possessions and had metamorphosed the most feared city in Europe into a byword among nations. The conventional point of view argued that the shift in trade routes or the emergence of Holland and Spain as rival powers was responsible, but to Ruskin such a common-sense interpretation was myopic.
Ruskin's vision of himself as a prophet to whom the scrolls of history had been unraveled was responsible not only for the Biblical prose of The Stones of Venice but also for his Biblical interpretation of history. Examining the past of Venice, Ruskin claimed to see considerably more than a mere sequence of events, which he contemptuously dismissed as the province of dry-as-dust historians.17 In the rise and fall of Venice there was, above all, a visible law of efflorescence and decay, a binding relationship between the judgment of God and the morals of men. Venice fell not because of the inferiority of her leaders, still less because the Portuguese and Spanish had supplanted her mercantile supremacy, but because amidst her masks and revels, she did not heed the message of St. Mark: "Know thou, that for all these things, God will bring thee into judgement."18 If Ruskin's Biblical phraseology does not explain how Providence operates in history, the rolling periods and stately epithets of his style set the tone in The Stones of Venice for his Christian vision of history. God's design may be inscrutable, but Ruskin was no less certain that the iniquities of Venice were responsible for her collapse than was Isaiah that Israel would disappear because of her sins. Of Venice Ruskin writes: "She became in aftertimes the revel of the earth, the Masque of Italy; and therefore is she now desolate; but her glorious robe of gold and purple was given to her when first she rose a vestal from the sea, not when she became drunk with the wine of her fornication." 1 9
If Ruskin's Evangelical background made him see sin as the major factor in the collapse of Venice, it also provided him with the direction, the force and the eloquence of a Savonarola. Ruskin regarded Venice very much the way Savonarola did Florence. Important to Ruskin in Venice's past was not so much her diplomatic unscrupulousness or her mercantile triumphs as the manner in which her people conformed to the basic tenets of Christianity; and uppermost in Ruskin's mind was to try to determine wherein this religious conformity was most noticeable. A great nation like Venice, he insisted, composes her autobiography in three ways: in her deeds, in her words, and in her art. But in which of these can an historian measure the genuine moral condition of a nation? It should be emphasized that Ruskin was a skeptic, profoundly suspicious of conventional history, namely its record of deeds and words. 20 Incessantly he probed beneath the levels of statecraft and politics to discover what the ethos of a culture really is and invariably he found it elsewhere than in its deeds or in its words. He remarks that Venice was for some centuries an oligarchy. The decline of her political prosperity was exactly coincident with that of her religion. Yet while historians may forever dispute as to whether the oligarchy was either a cause or a symptom of Venice's decline, Ruskin insisted that the history of Venice could be written without reference either to the constitution of her senate or to the prerogative of her doge, neither of which was trustworthy as a symbol of her moral being. The moral history of Venice which is her true historylies instead in her art. "With mathematical precision, subject to no error or exception, the art of a nation, so far as it exists, is an exponent of its ethical state."21 Hence Ruskin viewed each monument of Venice's past, whether it be a tomb or a temple, as an exact symbol not only of the artist's but also of the time's moral condition, and with the wrath of a Savonarola Ruskin judged these tombs and temples as if they were, in truth, deeds of good and of evil.
The seeds of Ruskin's attack upon Renaissance buildings appear in The Seven Lamps of Architecture. Consistency was not Ruskin's strong point. Mutually contradictory statements can be plucked out at random from almost any one of his books, but especially from The Seven Lamps in which many of Ruskin's favorite ideas on architecture receive an elucidation more akin to the method of Biblical exegesis than of dispassionate analysis. The focus is, as was always the case with Ruskin in the 1840s and 50s, moral and religious. He speaks of building materials in terms of "moral delinquency". He asks questions such as: "Can the Deity be indeed honoured by the presentation to Him of any material objects of value . . "22 In the midst of its often strident moralizing, teleological perspective and unorthodox division of the problems of architecture into Lamps Lamps of Sacrifice, Truth, Power, Beauty, Life, Memory, and Obedience the thesis of the book centers around one major assumption: "We have", insists Ruskin, "two separate lines of argument: one based on . . . the expedience or inherent value of the work, which is often small, and always disputable; the other based on proofs of its relation to the higher orders of human virtue."23 Much of Ruskin's subsequent writing on architecture attempts to show how the Renaissance style repudiated these "higher orders", how it violated "some ultimate nerve or fibre of the mighty laws which govern the moral world."24
Before Ruskin, writers on architecture had usually concerned themselves with treating only the formal stylistic tenets of their art. Alberti, Filarete, Sangalo the achievement of these major figures had been the codification of such technical matters as the relation between mass and height, the five orders and the fundamentals of proportion. What makes The Seven Lamps such a revolutionary book "in the history of taste, perhaps the most influential ever published." 25 claims Kenneth Clark is its probing of the relationship between architectural style and moral vision. Ruskin's aesthetic examined not only the design of a building but also something more intangible. "I do not want marble churches at all for their own sake", he insisted, "but for the sake of the spirit which would build them."26 Ruskin viewed a pediment or a spire of a church the way a literary critic often regards the language of a poem. A great monument like San Marco in Venice, if approached by means of Ruskin's aesthetic, provides clues as to the moral vision of its architect and the ideals of its civilization. By insisting that a building contains moral attributes as indisputably evident as those in any work of literature Ruskin revolutionized the whole conception of architecture in his age. A crocket and a capital, however closely they followed a particular style and however innocuous they might seem to the untrained eye of the observer, were symbols .of nothing less than of good and evil. Like Hegel, Ruskin taught the nineteenth century to beware of appearances, to search beneath the surface of reality for an underlying spirit and to view artistic styles as indexes of man's basic aspirations.
Though it reflects the early Victorian interest in Gothic, The Seven Lamps treats the art of the Middle Ages as considerably more than a prototype of a contemporary fad a curiosity to be imitated with dilettantish delight in the manner of Horace Walpole's Strawberry Hill. For the great monuments of medieval Europe were to Ruskin the "only rational" form of architecture. Their superiority to Renaissance building styles duplicated that of nature to artifice. Nature one cannot insist strongly enough that Ruskin's espousal of Gothic stemmed from his identification of its style with nature. When Ruskin looked at a building he wanted to see nature in it walls covered with sculpture, capitals vined with flowers, windows whose delicate traceries reminded him of wisps of clouds and formations of snow drops. "The pointed arch", he wrote, "is beautiful; it is the termination of every leaf that shakes in summer wind, and its most fortunate associations are directly borrowed from the trefoiled grass of the field, or from the stars of its flowers."27 Just as nature was a revelation of God, Gothic was a testimony of divine adoration.
Ruskin, however, jumped to the conclusion that only a Gothic church was worthy of worship and that Renaissance architecture was pagan in spirit. The reason for this is plain. The total impression of a typical Renaissance building upon Ruskin's sensibility was the antithesis of the naturalistic detail he loved so much in Gothic architecture. Lombardo's church, Santa Maria dei Miracoli, a prime example of Renaissance architecture in Venice, became one of Ruskin's betes noires simply because it substituted for Venetian Gothic a harmonious order of parts which offended Ruskin's proclivity for a semblance of wildness and rudeness in architecture. When Lombardo based his blueprint upon a symmetrical design of circles and rectangles, he was only following an ideal of beauty codified in the 1450s by Leon Battista Alberti.28 But such an ideal was anathema to Ruskin. It was his assumption that "Whatever is in architecture fair or beautiful, is imitated from natural forms."29 And natural forms are antipodal to the Renaissance ideal. Natural forms flow, blossom and grow, as the craftsmen of medieval Venice recognized when they preferred to carve the leaf and the flower rather than the square and the triangle upon the rich facades and capitals of San Marco. It is not difficult to understand why Ruskin, who cherished the "look of mountain brotherhood between cathedral and the Alp", found the Euclidean order of Lombardo's church both sterile and inhuman. Ruskin was unable to appreciate almost any Renaissance edifice because its governing ideal of harmonic proportion, which through all the vicissitudes of the Baroque and Rococo periods dominated European architecture until the last century, was unequivocally hostile to the Gothic imitation of natural forms.
Ruskin's hostility to Renaissance architecture probably originated in his childhood when he made meticulous drawings from nature of trees and clouds. Even then he preferred an art mirroring the organic flow of nature to one consciously based on mathematical principles. The first significant evidence of Ruskin's propensity for rudeness in architecture occurred when he was in Venice during the early 1850s. While giving the Dean of St. Paul's a guided tour of the Cathedral of Murano, he upset the ecclesiastic considerably by "abusing St. Paul's all the time, and making him observe the great superiority of the old church and the abomination [of] its renaissance additions."30 Such outspoken behavior was, of course, due to Ruskin's violent dislike of a rigorous subjection of architectural detail to a harmonious whole. Ruskin's Gestalt the whole structure of his perceptive powers was such that it found the austere grandeur of St. Paul's repugnant because of its mathematical perfection a repugnance which appeared again and again whenever Ruskin commented on a building influenced by Renaissance principles, whether it was St. Peter's in Rome or San Giorgio in Venice.
One vital and irreplaceable feature of great architecture, according to Ruskin, is sculpture. Phidias, Michelangelo, Orcagna, Pisano, Giotto (the list is Ruskin's) all were adept in both arts. Though Michelangelo and Phidias envisioned sculpture as an integral part of the Medici Chapel and the Parthenon, the lesser men of the time divorced the one from the other. The view which Ruskin spent much of his manhood propagating "the dependence of all noble design, in any kind, on the sculpture or painting of Organic Form"31 was repudiated by most Renaissance architects who regarded the presence of sculptural decoration as incompatible with their ideal of a mathematical proportion of parts. It is no wonder then that Ruskin, who found freestanding sculpture less interesting than when the art was consciously blended into the walls or facades of a building, reacted violently to St. Peter's in Rome, calling it little more than "a barn" and relished the sculptured exteriors of San Marco and Chartres, and in fact of most Gothic structures. Part of Ruskin's frenzied animosity towards Gower Street in London, whose plain Georgian exteriors symbolized to him absolute architectural decline, stems from the total absence of sculptural embellishment.32
"It is in Venice", insisted Ruskin, "and in Venice only, that effectual blows can be struck at the pestilent art of the Renaissance. Destroy its claim to admiration there, and it can assert them nowhere else."33 In The Stones of Venice, Ruskin's early criticism of Renaissance landscape painting developed into an energetic, full-scale attack upon the whole civilization of the Renaissance as displayed in its architecture. The vilification heaped upon the late monuments of Venice thus continues the line of thought in Modern Painters 1. Yet the choice of Venice as the paragon of Renaissance architecture was, it must be insisted, a grand mistake in judgement on Ruskin's part. Because of the tardy arrival in Venice of Renaissance building styles, the city played only a secondary role in the complex development of the classical revival in architecture. No important fifteenth-century architect, Alberti, Bramante, Brunelleschi nor Michelozzo, was ever commissioned to design a church or a palace in Venice. While Florence was lifting Brunelleschi's dome into the sky, Venice was still constructing her buildings in the flamboyant Gothic style. Even when Lombardo in 1509 designed the Palazzo Vendramin-Calergi on the Grand Canal, its centrally massed windows and perfectly balanced pilasters were in a style that was already considered old-fashioned. Nor was the essential hallmark of the Renaissance building its symmetry and uniformity of detail feasible in a city where hundreds of canals usually forced the architect to decorate only one facade of an edifice. Ruskin was fully aware that Venetian Renaissance architecture represented a partial return to earlier Byzantine forms. Its skillful play upon cylinders and curves, rectangular panels and oblong jambs, therefore, differed considerably from the Florentine and Roman revival of Vitruvian principles. If Ruskin had any chance of discrediting the "pestilent art of the Renaissance", it was in Florence; for only in Florence was such an enterprise feasible. In Venice, when Ruskin sought for Renaissance buildings, he too often only found baroque monuments, such as Palladio's island church, San Giorgio, and Baldassara Longhena's seventeenth-century memorial to the victims of the plague, Santa Maria della Salute.
At this point one item should be emphasized. Ruskin wrote in an age before the precise scholarly distinction between Renaissance and Baroque architecture had been formulated. Lacking the vocabulary of the modern art critic, he lumped together under one category architectural styles that are quite dissimilar. Instead of regarding Lombardo's Santa Maria dei Miracoli and Palladio's San Giorgio as expressions of two distinct styles, he viewed what we now call the Baroque style of San Giorgio as a decadent version of the pure classicism of Lombardo's church. And this naive interpretation, for which Ruskin, of course, cannot be blamed because of his position in historical time, colours his whole conception of the Renaissance. When Ruskin looked at these two so-called Renaissance buildings, which are so dissimilar in style, his habitual tendency to generalize took control over the acuteness of his observational faculties. He saw at a glance that Lombardo's aim was the creation of a perfect building, in which harmony was so great that not one detail could be removed without destroying all the rest. He immediately recognized that Santa Maria dei Miracoli, like all genuine Renaissance buildings, was constructed as Heinrich Wolfflin has put it, "to be dominated by man." But Ruskin's tendency to generalize in terms of whole cultures, and to moralize in terms of whole societies, actually blinded him to the essential difference between the two structures. For he failed to notice that in San Giorgio Palladio had substituted for the Renaissance principle of self-contained perfection the Baroque ideal of infinite space and overwhelming masses; and then failing to distinguish between the buildings of Lombardo and Palladio, Ruskin finally ended by including under the category of Renaissance principles any edifice, such as Versailles, that even remotely resembled the strict orders of a fifteenth-century building. We have here the extraordinary example of the greatest art critic in the English language basing his interpretation of Renaissance architecture on a theory of stylistic growth and decay, rather than on one of mutually antagonistic stylistic types, and therefore essentially basing his interpretation on a fallacy a fallacy that permeates his whole conception of Renaissance and post-Renaissance architecture.34
Ruskin's reaction to the architecture of Venice led to what the Germans call Geistesgeschichte. For out of the Gothic mosaics of Torcello, the palaces of the Grand Canal and the lofty domes of Santa Maria della Salute and San Giorgio, Ruskin in The Stones of Venice reconstructed the spiritual vicissitudes of the city. Like those philosophers of Alexandria who searched for allegories in each letter of the Bible, Ruskin even saw in a mere column of a church an indication of religious belief or disbelief. In ever-widening circles of interpretative significance, his mind leaped first from the stones of a church to its style, from its style to the motives of its architect, and finally from the architect's intentions to the basic values of his culture. The history of styles consequently represented for Ruskin much more than a succession of erratic changes in taste. The Gothic of San Marco and the classicism of Santa Maria dei Miracoli symbolize the high and low points of Christian belief, and the Ducal Palace "the Parthenon of Venice," became, in his opinion "the central building of the world" because its styles of architecture the Roman, Arab, and Lombard embody three of the most disparate attitudes towards life and at the same time delineate in miniature the moral and spiritual history of Europe during the past thousand years.
Ruskin's description of himself in Praeterita as "a violent Tory of the Old School" accounts partially for his interpretation of Venetian architecture. For that resolute belief in social hierarchy which he found in his favorite writers, Hooker and Plato, he also discerned in the medieval Venice of Mario Cornaro and Andrea Dandolo. Ruskin, at heart a conservative, had as his first devotion not liberty but law, not liberalism but obedience. "A wise man", he wrote, "knows his master. Less or more wise, he perceives lower and higher masters; but always some creature larger than himselfsome law holier than his own."35 In The Seven Lamps Ruskin argued that architecture only becomes great when it utters the language of a nation, defends obedience and order and glorifies religion. The architecture of medieval Venice, uncontaminated by the individualism and paganism of the Renaissance, mirrors a culture based on these very ideals of spiritual and social community.
Ruskin perceived in miniature this whole transformation of Venetian architecture from a style based on a communal spirit to one predicated on mental slavery in the spacious L-shaped formation of buildings in Venice which form the Piazzetta and the Piazza San Marco. Throughout the centuries countless people had stood at the same spot where Ruskin had one of his most original ideas, but no one had ever noticed what to Ruskin seemed a palpable truth that the construction of Sansovino's three-storied Baroque library had reduced its workmen into automatons almost as degraded in spirit as their nineteenth-century counterparts on the industrial assembly lines. The uniformity of all the parts of Sansovino's building, but especially of its capitals, had choked the imagination of the Renaissance artisan, transforming him into a cog only serving the needs of the master architect. But the creation of San Marco had been animated by a quite different spirit. In the statues above her facade, in each chunk of lapis lazuli decorating her floors and in the somber and garish aisles of her interior, medieval Venice created a sermon in stone that preaches the integrity and worth of each soul. The inscription on the first dome of San Marco expresses an ideal held in common by all the inhabitants of Venice:
Holy, Holy, Holy, Lord God of Sabaoth;
Heaven and Earth are full of Thy Glory.
Hosanna in the Highest;
Blessed is He that cometh in the Name of the Lord.
Despite the magnificence of her vaults and domes, San Marco simultaneously acknowledges the fallen nature of man. The saints over her portals shoot up helter-skelter. The rare oriental gems along her corridors form irregular patterns. Her aisles lead off into sagging vaults and chapels. The imperfection of the church symbolizes the Christianity of the Middle Ages. Refusing to transform men into slaves, the Christian ideal encouraged the artisans who embellished San Marco to give vent to the free expression of their imagination. At Nineveh, Athens and Luxor, the craftsman was a slavejust as he was in the High Renaissance. "But in the medieval, or especially Christian, system of ornament, this slavery is done away with altogether; Christianity having recognized, in small things as well as great, the individual value of each soul."36
If Clio could speak, she would indeed find The Stones of Venice to be an ironical commentary on the evolution of a venerable idea. She would probably note that the moral history that Ruskin read in Venice's monuments brings to full cycle the whole idea of the Renaissance itself. For the classical ideal that the artists of the Italian Renaissance so much admired, Ruskin regarded as a disaster a disaster for religion, for morals, and for art; and the Dark Ages that they so cavalierly left behind them the tenebrae of Petrarch Ruskin celebrated as the ideal by which European artistic decadence could be reanimated. To the painters, sculptors and humanists of Italy, the Renaissance signified above all a stylistic rebirth. The first person actually to speak of a Renaissance was Giorgio Vasari who coined the word rinascita in 1550. From the publication of Vasari's Lives to the eighteenth century, the word 'Renaissance' whether it was Bayle's la Renaissance des Lettres or Felibien's le Renaitre continued to refer to a stylistic or artistic phenomenon. But Ruskin never ceased to insist that because the imagination is primarily a moral faculty art is always more than mere style. The artist never breathes, imagines or creates in a cultural vacuum. Since the art of any nation represents the most valuable index to its moral strength, the Renaissance was immeasurably more than a simple stylistic concept. Renaissance art, no less than the art of any other period, is symbolic of the moral consciousness of its creator and its culture. Its use of classical motifs in architecture and painting was indicative of a dramatic transformation in the religious and moral life of Europe.
As long as the Renaissance continued to refer to a revival of certain aspects of classical culture, it was a manageable concept. But once the Renaissance came to signify a whole age, distinct from and indeed antagonistic to its predecessor, Pandora opened her fatal box and flooded Europe with a veritable cornucopia of confusion. For the Italian Renaissance, by virtue of its intermediate position between the so-called Middle Ages and the modern world, was caught in the midst of an ideological quarrel to which Ruskin was one of the most articulate parties. The moral decadence Ruskin claimed to read in Venetian Renaissance art represents only one offshoot of the Romantic rebellion against the post-Renaissance world and, above all, against the rationalism of the Enlightenment a rebellion first trumpeted by such diverse figures as Chateaubriand, Adam Muller, and Schlegel. Torn between the war of the Enlightenment against the Middle Ages and the Romantic rehabilitation of it, the antagonists of this altercation viewed the Renaissance either as a corridor to progress or as a prelude to disaster. Thus the term that began innocuously enough with Vasari as a celebration of an artistic triumph deteriorated gradually into a mere appendage of an ideological dispute.
Whereas it was Jakob Burckhardt's distinct achievement to establish the Italian Renaissance for the first time as a unified and autonomous culture, Ruskin had in common with such divergent thinkers as Voltaire and Michelet the egregious inability to envision the Renaissance apart from the central problems of his own age. From his first ingenuous comments on Italy in the adolescent diaries until the final collapse of his mind in the 1880s, he never ceased to accuse the Renaissance of having given birth to "certain dominant evils of modern times." While Burckhardt welcomed the Renaissance as "the first-born among the sons of modern Europe," Ruskin regarded the industrial squalor, social revolutions, and "hideous" architecture of his country as the flotsam cast adrift upon the tide of history by the follies and arrogance of the Renaissance. Its cultural cosmopolitanism, religious skepticism and towering artistic creations, which Burckhardt as well as Voltaire and Michelet had greeted as the dawn of a new age, Ruskin branded at times with great equivocation as the rebirth of paganism. The transformation of European man during the Renaissance was quite obvious and unmistakable: "Paganism again became, in effect, the religion of Europe."37 The Old Adam, once kept in submission by religious authority, now broke loose from its lair and wallowing in rebellious egotism and atheism unleashed the anarchy of the modern world. "Christianity and morality, courage, and intellect, and art all crumbling together in one wreck, we are hurried on to the fall of Italy, the revolution in France, and the condition of art in England."38 To the philosophes of the eighteenth century, the path of progress and enlightenment which was to usher in the New Jerusalem began when the Renaissance threw over the Christian "superstition." Gibbon, whose Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire ends significantly with the image ofPoggio lamenting the ruins of Rome and with the revival of Greek and Latin, could boast: "We cannot determine what height the human species may aspire in their advance toward perfection; but it may safely be presumed that no people, unless the face of nature be changed, will relapse into their original barbarism."39 But Ruskin, possessing neither Gibbon's Olympian detachment nor his disdain for religion, not to speak of his faith in human perfection, could never forgive the Renaissance for having, as he saw it, plunged Europe into seemingly irreversible chaos. For like a noose hanging around the neck of Europe, the "pride" and "infidelity" of the Renaissance had led straight to Chartism and the Manchester Insurrection, as well as to the economic wasteland of John Stuart Mill and Jeremy Bentham; its substitution of arid science for direct visual perception had germinated the "idiot groups" of the Carraci and the sterile schematic monotony of Versailles and Gower Street. The only rational attitude towards the Renaissance was to attack it and to attack it in the name of the religion which it had supposedly abandoned."40
In a generous token of appreciation, Ruskin once acknowledged that Robert Browning's poem The Bishop Orders his Tomb at Saint Praxed's Church summed up in one hundred and twenty-five lines all of his ideas about the Renaissance spirit. Browning's dramatic monologue, by exposing the avarice of a dying prince of the Church, captures the essential worldliness of the Renaissance: its obsession with virtu and reputation and, more important to Ruskin, its aestheticism. The Bishop's dream of a tomb containing the relief of Moses together with images of Pan and Apollo gathers into one magnificently succinct passage what to Ruskin was the cardinal heresy of Renaissance art. The Bishop's flagrant blindness to the irreconciliability between pagan and Christian symbolism may be recognized in most of the great art of the late Italian Renaissance. "Instead of the life of Christ, men had . . . to paint the lives of Bacchus and Venus; and if you walk through any public gallery of pictures by the 'great masters' . . . you will indeed find here and there what is called a Holy Family, painted for the sake of drawing pretty children, or a pretty woman; but for the most part you will find nothing but Floras, Pomonas, Satyrs, Graces, Bacchanals, and Banditti."41 Though the word 'aestheticism' somehow never entered into Ruskin's critical vocabulary, the core of his attack is the argument that the Renaissance painters with few exceptions subordinated religious truth to artistic beauty.
The majestic forms of High Renaissance painting, the nudes of Titian, The Last Judgment of Michelangelo, the Madonnas of Raphael, are thus subjected in Ruskin's writings to a volley of harsh criticism. "Pride", "paganism", "mere display", "licentiousness", "the apotheosis of the flesh", "enervated sensuality": these are only some of the more abusive epithets that adorn Ruskin's rhetoric. The same uncompromising Puritanism and self-righteousness that led Savonarola to destroy in a blaze of fire the sonnets of Aretino and the paintings of Botticelli prompted Ruskin to erect his own auto-da-fe. To him civilization had been somehow betrayed by the Renaissance cult of beauty. "All the renaissance principles of art tended," he argued, "to the setting of Beauty above Truth, and seeking for it always at the expense of truth."42 Truth the point need not be labored is religious truth. Unable to accept the grandeur of Titian's Venuses or Raphael's Mercuries because these paintings were pagan in content, Ruskin often much against his own better judgment denounced both artists as essentially immoral. Yet, too much of a connoisseur to repudiate in toto the accomplishments of Renaissance painting, Ruskin at times with truly astonishing equivocation distinguished between those who had been trained in the old school of religious instruction and those who had succumbed entirely to the scientific rationalism of the era.
Here Ruskin reveals how much he was indebted to such Romantic thinkers as Coleridge and Carlyle. Transmitting knowledge into vision and perception into feeling, Ruskin's ideal painter is the very antithesis of the scientist. In fact his direct insight into the truths of nature makes him, to use Emerson's memorable phrase, "a transparent eyeball." Insisting that the painter should not "murder to dissect," Ruskin regarded the Renaissance artist's obsession with anatomy and perspective, which he termed the "Pride of Science," to be a violation of the aims of painting. "The grand mistake of the Renaissance Schools lay in supposing that science and art were the same things and that to advance in the one was necessary to perfect the other."43 At a certain point in the Renaissance this infatuation with scientific investigation became the ultimate aim of art. To the medieval painter, Giotto, Orcagna and Cimabue, the purpose of his craft was to celebrate an idea: an idea that was always considered to be a fact such as the Annunciation or the Crucifixion. But with the late Renaissance the pride in knowledge itself became the end of art. "In old times, men used their powers of painting to show the objects of faith; in later times, they used the objects of faith that they might show their powers of painting."44 The typical quattrocento painter, like Leonardo and Alberti, may never have succumbed to the total rationalism of a Uccello, but by elevating scientific display into a first principle, he lost sight of the fact that the aim of art is "to relate to us the utmost ascertainable truth respecting visible things and moral feelings."45
One has only to recall the concluding words of Sir Joshua Reynold's lecture at the Royal Academy in 1790 to note how Ruskin's attack upon Renaissance painting marks the beginning of the end of a whole cycle of taste that had reigned supreme since the day that Vasari had proclaimed Michelangelo to have surpassed in greatness not only the ancients and moderns, but nature herself. "I should desire that the last words which I should pronounce in this Academy," said Sir Joshua upon retiring as its president, "and from this place, might be the name of Michelangelo."46 Yet Ruskin's description of Michelangelo's art as "dark carnality" and of his treatment of the body as "dishonest, insolent, and artificial" represents not merely an idiosyncratic change in taste, but a radical redefinition of the evolution of Renaissance art. One might almost say that Ruskin and Vasari began and ended a tradition.47
"With the Renaissance," claims Andre Malraux, "art had become separate from what it expressed. It had passed from the service of religion to the service of civilization, of an ornate image that man made of himself."48 During most of the generation that Ruskin occupied the throne as the arbiter elegantiarum of the Victorian Palace of Art, he wrote, lectured and preached against this "ornate image." The Victorian gospel of culture which so often traced its lineage back to Greek and Renaissance humanism thus stands in marked contrast to Ruskin's own opposition to the classical revival in the fifteenth century. Nothing could be further from this basic tenet that art must serve a power higher than itself than the belief of Pater that the chief preoccupation of man lies in detached aesthetic contemplation. The human mind, Ruskin insisted, is only capable of a certain amount of admiration and reverence. Religion cannot endure a subordinate place in the human heart. The tragedy of the Renaissance was that by transforming the subterranean elements of the divine into the ideal of human perfection it ended by deifying man rather than worshipping God. This metamorphosis, which Pater and Burckhardt immediately recognized and then elevated into an essential feature of the cult of the Renaissance, is according to Ruskin discernible everywhere in the art of the Renaissance. ( c )
* Notes consisting merely of the volume and page numbers refer to The Works of John Ruskin, ed. E, T. Cook and Alexander Wedderburn (Library Edition, 39 vo!s., London, 1903-12). References to The Diaries of John Ruskin, ed. Joan Evans and John Howard Whitehouse (Oxford, 1956-59), are indicated simply as Diaries.
1. Jakob Burckhardt, The Civilization of the Renaissance in Italy (London, 1950), p. 184.
2. Diaries, II, 437.
3. Ibid., p. 110
4. Ibid., p. 126.
5. Ibid., p. 122.
6. Ibid., p. 116.
7. Ibid., pp. 183-84.
8 Ibid., p. 187.
9. V, 333.
10. Ruskin's Letters from Venice, 1851-52, ed. John Lewis Bradley (Yale Studies in English, Vol. CXXIX, New Haven, 1955), pp. 179-80.
11. XXXV, 350.
"12. Ibid., p. 372.
"13. IX, 17.
14. XXXV, 42-43.
15. VII, 260.
16. Ruskin's Letters from Venice, p. 203.
17. A good example of Ruskin's skepticism is the following quotation: "You really think you can get at the facts, do you ? Know what really happened, how such and such a piece of policy came about, such and such a war. Will you have the goodness, first, to write about the history of your native village, and find out the real truth about that little business between Mrs. Smith and Mrs. Robinson?" XXII, 500.
18. X, 142.
19. X, 177. It is difficult to reconcile Ruskin's Biblical vision of history with his belief in historical cycles. For of the two perennial views of history that have flourished since the ancient Greeks and Hebrews the linear, which regards all of history as following a straight course, ending, as the New Testament would have it, in an apocalypse, or, as its modern secular offspring, the Idea of Progress, hopes in a Utopia on earth; and the cyclical, which envisions civilizations rising and falling ad infinitum while shackled to an Ixion's wheel of growth and decay Ruskin adhered to the second. The striking resemblance between his own ideas and Giambattista Vice's more profound formulations can be attributed less to any influence of the Neapolitan than to the simple fact that they both believed in the cyclical view of history. "Men first feel necessity", wrote Vico a hundred years before Ruskin, "then look for utility, then attend to comfort, still later amuse themselves with pleasure, thence grow dissolute in luxury, and finally go mad and waste their substance" (Giambattista Vico, The New Science, translated by Thomas Bergin and Max Fisch. lthaca, New York, 1948, p. 241). Like Vico's, Ruskin's views on cyclical change are based on an analogy from nature. Societies are organisms that are born and die like human beings. Venice, for example, experienced a dynamic youth which extended from 421 to 1100 when the fugitives from the Italian mainland, after settling on the lagoons, adopted Christianity and monarchical authority. Her adolescence, lasting from 1100 to 1301, expended its energies on such characteristic martial enterprises as the crusades. Her third period, which ended in 1520, produced the great art that still to this day remains the glory of Venice. This was the age of her heroes, the Lianis, the Urseolos, and the Dandolos; of her great palaces, Ca D'Oro and Ca Rezzonico; and of her splendidly domed basilica, San Marco. Late in this period of maturity appeared the 'agents of infection': printing, the revival of classicism, the rejection of Christianity, and social position divorced from utility. The period of the Renaissance corresponds to the age of Venetian decay. No country, according to Ruskin, remains for more than two centuries in the intermediate stage between faith and skepticism. In France the age of faith lasted from about 1150 to 1350; in England from 1200 to 1400. "For a thousand years, they (the Venetians) fought for life; for three hundred years they invited death" (IX, 23). And death finally arrived in 1520, "From that day the remainder of the record of Venice is only the diary of expiring delirium" (XXIV, 255). The cycle of history had reached full circle; the organism was moribund; only the bejeweled Renaissance corpse remained.
20. In a relevant obiter dictum Ruskin writes: "The policy of a nation may be compelled, and, therefore, not indicative of its true character. Its words may be false, while yet the race remains unconscious of their falsehood; and no historian can assuredly detect the hypocrisy. But art is always instinctive; and the honesty or pretense of it is therefore open to the day. The Delphic Oracle may or may not have been spoken by an honest priestess; we cannot tell by the words of it; a liar may rationally believe them a lie, such as he would himself have spoken; and a true man, with equal reason, may believe them spoken in truth. But there is no question possible in art: at a glance (when we have learned to read) we know the religion of Angelico to be sincere, and of Titian, assumed." XXIV, 203.
21. XX, 74.
22. VIII, 31.
23. Ibid., p. 23.
24. Ibid., p. 22.
25. Kenneth Clark, The Gothic Revival (New York, 1962), p. 192.
26. VIII, 39.
27. Ibid., p. 140.
28. Alberti, who presented the manuscript of his volume on architecture to Pope Nicholas V in 1452, wrote: "I shall define beauty to be a harmony of all the parts, in whatsoever subject it appears, fitted together with such proportion and connection, that nothing could be added, diminished or altered but for the worse." De Re aed, vi, 2.
29. VIII, 101.
30. Ruskin's Letters from Venice, p. 13. "XVI, 251. '" Ruskin, of course, spent considerable time campaigning against Renaissance principles in Victorian architecture. While speaking to the members of the Architectural Association in London in 1857, he argued that architecture and sculpture are not separate arts. His lifelong advocacy of Gothic may be partially attributed to the fact that this style combines) more successfully than any other, both architecture and sculpture.
33. IX, 47.
34. For an understanding of the difference between Baroque and Renaissance architecture I am indebted to the writings of Heinrich Wolfflin, especially his Renaissance and Baroque.
35. XXVIII, 343.
36. X, 189-90.
37. XI, 132.
39. Edward Gibbon, The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, 3 vols. (New York, 1950), II, 443.
40. This was no easy task. Ruskin's Evangelicalism transformed him at times into a tightrope walker trying to keep a precarious balance between his love of Catholic art and his hatred of Rome. In his efforts to demonstrate the superiority of medieval over Renaissance culture (and this word is used in its widest sense possible) Ruskin fell into pitfalls that his Catholic contemporary, Augustus Pugin, easily avoided. In 1836 Pugin, who was later to collaborate with Sir Charles Barry on the designs for the new Houses of Parliament, published his architectural treatise, Contrasts, which played a minor, though decisive, role in the efflorescence of the Gothic Revival in England. Whereas Pugin could argue quite consistently that the chaos of the modern world proceeded "from the decay of true Catholic principles and practice", Ruskin's Protestantism very often made him feel ambivalent about the legitimacy of his own ties to the Middle Ages. Both men agreed that the Renaissance represented a tragic interlude between medieval faith and modern anarchy, and that the whole temper of its culture arose as a reaction to the bankruptcy of the Papacy. Where Ruskin and Pugin parted company was over their views of the Reformation which Pugin considered "a dreadful scourge, permitted by divine Providence in punishment for . . . decayed faith". Had Ruskin followed Pugin and Newman on the road to Rome (a tantalizing thought if ever there was one), the conflict between his medievalism and Protestantism would have been circumvented. Instead, he was driven to speak, often hysterically, not about medieval Catholicism but about faith, and to argue not in theological, but in moral terms. «
41. XII, 145.
42. VII, 324.
43. XI, 47.
44. Ibid., p. 131.
45. Ibid., p. 48
46. Sir Joshua Reynolds, Discourses on Art (London, 1900), p. 240.
47. Vasari, applying the cyclical view of history to the art of his era, saw it as progressing through three stages, beginning with Giotto's innovations in form and mass and culminating in Michelangelo's naturalism a progression, it should be added, possible only because of titanic efforts of genius. As impressed as Vasari was by the genius of his contemporaries, Ruskin yet insisted that, however remarkable the accomplishments of the Renaissance may have been, they must be judged by higher standards than artistic beauty. Applying also the cyclical view of history to the art of the Renaissance, Ruskin argued that the history of art in any nation divides itself into three distinct periods. There is first the art that reflects undeveloped conscience and savage life. This is followed by the formation of conscience and the discovery of the laws of social order and personal liberty. The last period, in which the nation attempts to compromise its conscience, resulting in religious pomposity and insincerity, is the age of the Renaissance in Italy. Ruskin viewed the efforts of the Renaissance artists as part of a dynamic struggle between the influence of the old religious art and the innovations of the classical revival a kind of Toynbeean challenge and response in miniature. Bellini thus "precedes the change, meets and resists it victoriously to his death". But "Raphael, Michaelangelo, and Titian, together, bring about this deadly change, playing into each other's hands Michaelangelo being the Chief Captain in Evil; Titian in natural force." XXII, 83.
48. Andre Malraux, Satuma: An Essay on Goya (London, 1957), p. 147.