Bourges is the site of the last diary entry on the journey home. Ruskin there takes the opportunity to bring together many of the ideas he had developed over the preceding months in relation to the cathedral. The promise at the beginning of the tour was certainty, architectural laws, as opposed to what he saw as the reliance on mere opinion by Woods and the critics of Seven Lamps of Architecture in their comments on St. Marks. However Notebook M2 p.176 suggests a different view, and one much closer to the Quaker version of ‘theoria’ set out by Woods as the basis for his judgments (see Woods’ opinions about the ugliness of St Marks), which Ruskin had sought to callenge as a result of the review of Seven Lamps of Architecture. Compare the approach taken in Sheet No. 188 in Bourges Cathedral:
The general impression after Italian Gothic of confused structure - no sure support of anything - the whole curiously balanced and equipoised - held by cross thrusts here and side thrusts there - here tied and there wedged - the whole most ingenious but unnatural and uncomfortable. The want of proportion in the pillars painful. They have not the look of shafts doing their work but of material squeezed together and held tightly by a case of iron rods; the walls look bound together in the same way. The small shafts having a capital here and a band there, like gaspipes, and then a long run to the ground without anything at all and these being observe. only this - I believe necessary faults of a most blessed and glorious whole.
The faults can be defined and described; the glory has simply to be recognised.
The porches of Bourges cathedral provide a ‘perfect study for their elaborate failure’ (Notebook M2 p.176), and the central figure of Christ is ‘commonplace’ (Sheet No. 199).
Proutish work, along with S. Ambrogio in Milan and S. Michele in Pavia, and the Roman Arch at Orange, is used to point its faults. Ruskin’s judgments were perhaps intended to be iconoclastic.
Murray (1847a) pp.356-360 calls Bourges a ‘colossal and magnificent edifice, one of the finest in France, conspicuous with its two solid towers far and near.’ ... ‘Its West façade presents a row of no less than five deeply recessed portals, all ornamented, in a style of peculiar richness and originality, with sculpture; that in the centre higher than the rest, is decorated above the carved wood doors, with a bas-relief of admirable execution’. There is ‘varied expression of the countenances’; ‘elevated character’ in many; and ‘easy flow of drapery’.
On the interior Murray comments that it is ‘double aisled, those next to the centre 65ft high and furnished with a triforium and clerestory, worthy of a cathedral nave, extending all round the choir’; the ‘vaulted stone roof of the central aisle, 117ft high, is supported by 60 piers with capitals in the early English style, presenting the most varied and striking perspective.’
For a more recent account of Bourges Cathedral see Branner (1989).
For images and an account of the history and iconography of the porches at Bourges see Bayard (1975).
See also images here
[Version 0.05: May 2008]