Ruskin made clear his feelings about Milan Cathedral at Works, 8.244:
The thing is a Lie from beginning to end. You may make a model of a building as you may of a corpse, and your model may have the shell of the old walls within it as your cast might have the skeleton, with what advantage I neither see nor care: but the old building is destroyed, and that more totally and mercilessly than if it had sunk into a heap of dust, or melted into a mass of clay: more has been gleaned out of desolated Nineveh than ever will be out of re-built Milan.
At Works, 35.117 he explains his earlier admiration of Milan Cathedral, exemplified in the verse at Works, 2.377 [n/a], by saying that he was at that time unable to distinguish between good Gothic and bad.
Ruskin sets out a systematic approach to distinguishing good Gothic from bad in the first diary entry for this tour. It is for Saturday 6th October, in Dijon. It is thirty pages long, and starts at what is now the back of the Notebook known as M2. There Ruskin first analyses the families of Gothic, and points to the ‘degradation’ of Gothic, including Italian Gothic, once the ‘noblest’ of all, citing the Italian examples of the Colleone Chapel at Bergamo, the Certosa at Pavia, and the Duomo at Como, and expressing some doubts about the Gothic of the cathedrals at Carrara and Monza.
At Notebook M p.4 Milan Cathedral provides the touchstone for identifying bad Gothic; it appears as the antithesis of the Palazzo Ducale in Venice as it will be presented in Stones of Venice. Both bring together ’every style in the world’. In the Great Council Chamber of the Palazzo Ducale is Tintoretto’s Paradise. The image that comes to Ruskin’s mind in Milan Cathedral is one drawn from Dante’s vision of hell (Notebook M p.5).
Ruskin seems to have had little interest in the complex building history of the Duomo, just as he shows little interest in the history of the construction of the pulpit at Sant’ Ambrogio.
Photograph is available here: for information about the image see here
[Version 0.05: May 2008]