In Seven Lamps of Architecture at Works, 8.206 Ruskin had referred to Woods’ opinions on the ugliness of St. Mark’s and the Ducal Palace. At Works, 9.55f. Ruskin argued that such judgments, by Woods, and by those who agreed with him in their responses to Seven Lamps of Architecture, were the result of distortions caused by the Renaissance, and in particular by the work of Palladio, who was for Woods the architect who ‘pleased universally’ (Woods (1828) I p.238). At Verona Book p.40 the work of Palladio is ‘utterly vile’, and at Works, 9.55f the principles Ruskin established ‘indisputably’ divided the vileness of Palladio from the good, as defined by the best of Gothic.
In sculpture the earlier originals of the Ducal Palace Series of Capitals of Lower Arcade, in their leafage as in their figures, define for Ruskin the best of Venetian Gothic sculpture, as the sculpture of porches of Lyon is ‘by far the most wonderful I have yet seen in northern Gothic (Notebook M2 p.170). The moral and religious point underlying Ruskin’s narrative of the strengths of Gothic and degradation of Gothic is made at Notebook M2 p.176. The best of Gothic sculpture celebrates the triumph over God over their savage hearts. The ‘sophistication of Palladio’ is favoured by the ‘noblesse of Venice’ who ‘decorate their houses with the sources of their pleasure, with grinning masques and sculptured musical instruments’. At Notebook M p.162L the life of the children, destined to become ‘Men’, of the earlier 4th Capital of the Ducal Palace Lower Arcade in the Ducal Palace Series of Capitals of Lower Arcade is contrasted with the ‘fat stolid cheeks’ of the ‘barbered dunces’ destined to become perfumed coxcombs, of the ‘renaissance’ 35th Capital of the Ducal Palace Lower Arcade.
In architecture the starting point in the notebooks for Ruskin’s account of the strengths of Gothic was a ‘little pointed window’, in the church of St-Germain at Vitteaux recorded on 6 October 1849 at Notebook N p.9 and Notebook M2 p.1back. That observation led to an analysis of the families of Gothic, and the functional strengths of Gothic, as means of defining the ‘laws of beauty’.
The approach of the account beginning at Notebook M2 p.1back is reminiscent of Willis (1835). For Willis the strength of Gothic as opposed to Roman architecture was its mechanical and structural clarity: ‘The Romans attempted concealment, and hence introduced discordance between the decoration and the mechanism of the structure. The Gothic builders in later times more wisely adapted their decoration to the exact direction of the resisting forces required by the vaulted structure (pp.17-18). So the clustered column is not merely ‘a kind of enriched fluting’ but an expression of a ‘definite relation to the parts which lie above it’ (p.24). Willis also stresses the need to study the variety of form, function, and material which define regional and national styles, and the reasons for stylistic change (pp.11-13).
Despite this early entry in M2 it is not clear that Ruskin followed in his later notes the analytical and structural agenda set by Willis. There is a good deal of measurement in the notebooks, but Ruskin’s aim, as distinct from that of Willis, is to assert as ‘indisputably’ true his aesthetic judgments in relation to his ideas of architectural and moral development and decline. His purpose was polemical rather than analytical.
At Notebook M2 p.1back Giotto’s Campanile in Florence (for a photograph see here) provides the paradigm for Ruskin’s definition of the best of Italian Gothic.
Notebook M p.48L cites as images of ‘simple and perfect Gothic’ the Broletto at Como (for which see the chromolithograph at Works, 9.174) and the Ragione in the Piazza dei Mercanti in Milan (for an image of which see here).
They are said at Notebook M p.48L to derive from the stream starting from the Lombard Romanesque of Pisa. Presumably the reference is to the Duomo:
In the development of Venetian Gothic that stream has another source in the Byzantine Style (which is for Ruskin a form of Romanesque) of Saint Mark’s in Venice.
The Scala monuments in Verona are used by Ruskin to define his views of the nature of Gothic and of the degradation of Gothic.
At Notebook M2 p.118 Castelbarco tomb is full of ‘extraordinary energy’ (and see the footnote at Works, 9.175; the illustration facing Works, 9.176, and Sheet No. 175; Sheet No. 175B; Sheet No. 176; Sheet No. 177; Sheet No. 178).
For images by Ruskin of the Castelbarco Tomb see here and here.
For a photograph from Ruskin’s Rudimentary Series of the Castelbarco Tomb see here.
At Notebook M2 p.122 the church of Santa Anastasia itself is the ‘most perfect’ example of Italian Gothic.
For details of photograph see here
For details of photograph see here and here
Notebook M2 p.171L on the return through France Lyon Cathedral porches provide an example of Gothic feeling and style, with an energy (Notebook M2 p.172) which is distinguished from the cinquecento style, and from the ‘joyless and valueless overcrowded and misplaced’ sculpture of the porch of Bourges cathedral (Notebook M2 p.179).
[Version 0.05: May 2008]