Stilted Arch

A stilted arch is one in which the curve of the arch, supported, as it were, on stilts, springs from the vertical at a point at a level higher than that of the impost which carries the thrust of the arch. Well known examples in England include the apse of St John’s Chapel in the Tower of London, the clerestory of Wells and Winchester cathedrals, and the transverse arches of the aisles of Westminster Abbey. However, the stilted round arch was seen by Ruskin as characteristic of the Byzantine tradition in Venice. Ruskin notes the stilted arches of the arcades of the south side of the Cathedral of Ferrara at Works, 8.212 and Plate XIII, and admires there what he calls the ‘grace and simplicity of its stilted Byzantine curves’. At Works, 9.324 there is an illustration of two stilted round arches, and at Works, 9.324 there is an illustration of the Venetian Dentil on what appears to be a stilted pointed arch in figure 58.

The relationship between the Lombard Schools of the North (as seen in San Michele, Pavia, and Sant’Ambrogio, Milan, neither of which are marked by stilted arches), and the Arab, and the Byzantine schools (in both of which stilting is found) was an important question for Ruskin (see for example Works, 9.34, Works, 9.39 and following, and Works, 9.166 and following).

At Notebook M p.45 the stilted round arch, defined by Ruskin as characteristic of the Byzantine style in Venice, is placed at the beginning of the development of Venetian Gothic:

First Order stilted round arch: (Left) St. Mark’s North Portico (Right) Casa Loredan

At Verona Book p.39 Ruskin made the point, citing St. Mark’s and the Casa Loredan, that ecclesiastical and secular architecture were the same in earlier periods. The first order stilted arch is found in both. In the Gothic period ecclesiastical and secular architecture in Venice were distinct, but stilting was characteristic of the earlier orders of secular Gothic.

Howard (2000) p.141 agrees that the earliest waterfront palaces, such as Ca’ Farsetti, Ca’ Loredan, and Ca’ Dona, had round stilted arches, ‘inspired by Byzantine tradition’, and she might have included the stilting found in St. Mark’s or in the atrium of Santa Fosca in Torcello. However:

The first pointed arches in Venice were also stilted, some tentatively peaked only at the extrados or outer curve, such as the Ca’ da Mosto or the Ca’ dell’ Angelo, others wholly pointed such as the Ca’ Vitturi or the Ca’ Priuli Bon.

Second order stilted arch
Second order stilted arch

Third order stilted arch
Third order stilted arch

The pointing of the arch was linked by Ruskin with Arab or Saracenic forms, such as that of the arch of the Porta dei Fiori at St. Mark’s:

St. Mark’s, detail of ‘Arabian’ arch of Porta dei Fiori
St. Mark’s, detail of ‘Arabian’ arch of Porta dei Fiori

For references to Arabic arches in St. Mark’s in the notebooks see: Bit Book p.49; Bit Book p.50; Gothic Book p.60 and Gothic Book p.62 for details from Porta di San Giovanni; Notebook M p.150L; Notebook M2 p.72, where there is a reference to Sheet No. 139.

The horseshoe arch can be seen as a form of stilted arch in which the stilt moves out from the vertical. It is common in Arabic architecture and an example can be seen in the Grand Mosque at Cordoba:

The photograph is available here and for details see here
The photograph is available here and for details see here

The Remer House in Venice has what is apparently a horseshoe arch which might have provided for Ruskin evidence of Arabic influence:

Remer House, detail of main entrance door
Remer House, detail of main entrance door

However, as Ruskin points out at Notebook M p.82, it is difficult to interpret the evidence. It is possible, he says, that the apparent horseshoe shape of the arch is the result of later movement. The horseshoe form is, in any case, more marked in Ruskin’s image of it in Figure 26 at Works, 10.293 than in a modern photograph.

Stilted arches were not characteristic of Renaissance architecture, and Ruskin makes the point, citing Ca’ Dario, Dorsoduro 352, Nadali & Vianello (1999) Tav. 51, and the Church of the Miracoli, at Verona Book p.39 that as in the pre-Gothic period ecclesiastical and secular architecture used the same forms:


The Church of the Miracoli, Nadali & Vianello (1999) Tav. 18 (above left) and the Casa Dario, Dorsoduro 352, Nadali & Vianello (1999) Tav. 51 (above right) are examples of ecclesiastical and secular buildings of what Ruskin calls the Byzantine Renaissance, similar in style, and without any evidence of stilting in their arches.

References to stilted arches in M include:

Notebook M p.26 Scala Monuments at Verona;

Notebook M p.49 Fondaco dei Turchi;

Notebook M p.82 Remer House (where it is suggested that the apparent horseshoe arch is merely a distorted stilted arch, cf. Works, 36.106 [n/a]);

Notebook M p.125 ogee stilt in brick in a house beyond the Miracoli;

Notebook M p.139 Palazzo Loredan;

Notebook M p.141 and Notebook M p.142 Palazzo Farsetti with link to House Book 2 p.53L;

Notebook M p.148 ‘stilted early form of Bacon palace’;

Notebook M p.177 Byzantine House near Foscari (with links to Gothic Book pp.73-4);

Notebook M p.191 Santa Fosca Torcello.

References to stilted arches in M2 include:

Notebook M2 p.26L - the tomb of Michele Morosini;

Notebook M2 p.69, and compare the diagram at Notebook M2 p.47L;

Notebook M2 p.108L - in relation to campiello della Chiesa a San Luca;

Notebook M2 p.139 - on the cortile of the Ducal Palace;

Notebook M2 p.161 - stilted arches of the apse of Valence Cathedral compared with a Byzantine Palace.

References to stilted arches in small notebooks include:

Notebook N p.25 - Drawing (no explicit verbal reference but unambiguous stilting in the upper arcade) - perhaps the earliest reference of the journey.

Bit Book p.7 - Calle Tamossi - S. Polo 1510/2;

Door Book p.18L - House 47 Drawing apparently of stilted arch

Gothic Book p.42L - an unclear passage, apparently referring to lateral chapels of SS. Giovanni e Paolo

Gothic Book p.52L Apse at Murano

Gothic Book p.59L Lateral stilted arches of the Fondaco dei Turchi

House Book 2 p.11 House 57;

House Book 2 p.24 No 69, built into part of the modern fish market;

House Book 2 p.46 House No. 84 Rio-Foscari House (Dorsoduro 3421)

House Book 2 p.53L Palazzo Farsetti

St M[arks] Book p.55L, and compare the reference on Notebook M.sheet3.

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