Bon / Bonish

Giovanni (died 1442) and Bartolomeo Bon (died by 1467) ran a successful business in Venice as sculptors, architects, stonemasons. Attributions to them are not always clear. However, there is documentary evidence for the firm’s involvement in work on the Ca D’Oro (1424-31), though the evidence for that was not available to Ruskin. The portal of the Frari was commissioned from the firm, and Bartolomeo worked on the portal for SS Giovanni e Paolo. In 1438 Giovanni and Bartolomeo Bon were given the commission for the building of the Porta della Carta, the main ceremonial entrance to the Ducal Palace. The work was completed and signed by Bartolomeo after the death of Giovanni.

They are to be distinguished from the later, and unrelated, father and son (probably) Bartolomeo and Pietro Bon, whose work included the Procuratie Vecchie, begun 1513, and the Scuola Grande di San Rocco (on this see Notebook M2 pp.79ff), begun 1515.

Ruskin does not seem to refer to the Bons by name in any of his published works. In the Notebooks ‘Bon’ or ‘Bonish’ seem to be used more as indicators of style than attributions to individuals. In particular the style is defined for Ruskin by the Porta della Carta, which he sees as the prime Venetian example of the degradation of Gothic, an understanding of which was a major part of the agenda he set himself at the beginning of the journey [Notebook M2 pp.2backf].

At Works, 9.44 the ‘insipid confusion’ of the Porta della Carta and the ‘wild crockets’ of St. Marks (see at Notebook M p.iL the reference to its branching crockets & niches) are cited as prime examples of the degradation of Gothic throughout Europe by the ‘Romanist superstition’. He set himself the task at Notebook M2 p.3back to consider the ‘degradation of architecture, and ... the mistaken pursuit of new styles’. However that degradation in Italy, though not in France, happened ‘not ungracefully’, and there is some recognition in the notebooks of the attractions of the Bon style. At Notebook M2 pp.100-101 there is a useful summary of Ruskin’s view of the faults of the Bon style: the notes on the leafage of the 29th Capital provide a summary of Ruskin’s views of the faults of the ‘Bon school’: ‘beautiful but poor in effect, commonplace and vulgar’.

One possible reason for Ruskin’s concern is made explicit at Gothic Book p.36:

The Bon time may be noted as one of a kind of insipid St Pauls cherub beauty: curious as coming between the quaint character of middle ages. & the refined cinque cento. We receded into it

A footnote at Works, 11.370 refers to the discovery of the documents associating Giovanni Bon with the Ca d’Oro, and to the debate about what Ruskin’s reactions might have been, whether aghast that a building of which he was taken to approve should be the work of an architect of whom he disapproved, or vindicated by the evidence that the decline of Gothic had its beginnings here at precisely the time (1424-1430) identified by Ruskin. It is worth noting the point made by Ruskin at Notebook M p.41: ‘The whole house seems to me a patch work and partly restored very lately.’

References in the notebooks to ‘Bon’ and cognate forms such as ‘Bonish’ and ‘Bonism’ are as follows:

Notebook M p.37 The ‘Renaissance Ornament’ appears to be that of the door of SS Giovanni e Paolo, which is dated to 1458 and is from the workshop of Bartolomeo Bon (the Bon of the Porta della Carta). It is:

far too imitative, missing its architectural purpose: A less detailed ornament would have been far more comprehensible to the eye in its place: more abstract & simple: Its separate parts should have found portions of sculpture to which the eye should have been especially directed. Fine cinque cento work, like that of Monza, while it is finished in its workmanship, is never wanting in architectural effect.

Notebook M p.145 capitals at house near Teatro Malibran are ‘pure florid Bon’.

Notebook M pp.146-7 Capital at ‘House opposite the Ca d’Oro’, ‘effectively cut’ when seen at a distance from below, but ‘very poor when seen close’. This is a ‘general character of the late Florid capitals’.

Notebook M p.156 - Paolo Savelli’s tomb has ‘no Bonism’ about the figures, ‘more like the judgment of Solomon’.

Notebook M p.157 - the Foscari tomb is all of the ‘grossest Bonism’.

Notebook M p.166 - the angel at the angle of the Ducal Palace has ‘smooth, serene, thoroughly cut features’ which are seen as late Gothic, not ‘Bon exactly’ ‘more Porta San Stefano’. The reference is to the door of the church of Santo Stefano.

Notebook M p.171 - The 15th capital is not Bon school but intermediate.

Notebook M2 p.31 - the statues on the doors of the Madonna del’ Orto are attributed by Ruskin to Bartolomeo Bon.

Notebook M2 p.45 - Ducal Palace Capitals of the upper arcade from the 16th onwards are the work of the Bons.

Notebook M2 p.46 - lack of definitive thirteenth and early fourteenth century houses because sculptured shafts are so often of the Bon kind.

Notebook M2 p.47 - morbid undulation of the Bon capitals in the Ducal Palace capitals of the upper arcade

Notebook M2 p.49 - In the upper arcade of the Ducal Palace Ruskin draws attention to: inequality of workmanship in the newer capitals as in the old; Bon shafts are from an inch to an inch and a half on the circumference thicker; capitals ‘of the worst and most effeminate Bon school’ (‘effeminate’ would appear to be intended as a pejorative adjective).

Notebook M2 p.88 Bon shaft on the sea side of the Ducal Palace is eight feet at the base, the others seven feet.

Notebook M2 p.90 Misericordia on the 33rd Capital is seen as the best of the whole Bon series. Capitals are ‘Bon’ or ‘Bonish’ - feathers are uniformly made, features are Greekish-Academy, and as further signs of the later date letters are long flourished and contraction marks are changed.

Notebook M2 pp.100-101 - The notes on the leafage of the 29th Capital provide a summary of Ruskin’s views of the faults of the ‘Bon school’. The 33rd is a perfect Bon example, beautiful but poor effect, commonplace and vulgar.

Notebook M2 p.101L refers to a fine example of Bon workmanship.

Notebook M2 p.102 The 15th Capital has leafage like that of the Bon third order capitals.

Notebook M2 p.104 The sea angle is not Bon work, though it is imitated in Bon capitals.

Notebook M2 p.137 Reference to the finer Bon school in relation to the mouldings of the inner cortile of the Ducal Palace.

Notebook M2 p.138 The cornice of the good late Bon school or Porta della Carta time is finely worked, but rudely interrupted by new work in imitation of it in the inner cortile.

Notebook M2 p.152 Image of the Virgin at St Pierre in Avignon is far inferior even to the ‘Bon affectation which has still some chasteness and dignity about it, here all is lost in French attitude and drapery’.

Gothic Book p.28L reference to first Bon capital of the Ducal Palace upper arcade

Gothic Book p.29 Bon series of Ducal Palace capitals of the upper arcade begins at 16th with naked boys and luxuriant leaves.

GB 36L - late house at Ponte Marcello with luxuriant Bon capitals with cherubs’ heads.

Gothic Book p.36 The Bon time may be noted as one of a kind of insipid St Pauls beauty: curious as coming between the quaint character of middle ages & the reformed cinque cento. We receded into it.

Gothic Book p.37L - ‘flowery Bon schools.

Gothic Book p.56L - ‘capitals of the worst Bon school, vilely cut’.

Gothic Book p.56 ‘masonry all hard and bad of the worst Bon school’

House Book 2 p.59L pure Bon capitals.

Palace Book p.14L first capital of the Bon series in the lower arcade of the Ducal Palace ‘altogether rude and common’.

Palace Book p.23b - upper arcade of Ducal Place in the Bon series the ‘eye directed almost entirely to the undulation and the rib secondary’

Palace Book p.24 Ducal palace upper arcade capitals

Palace Book p.25L Bon Pilasters towards the sea and Bon pillars on inside of arcade.

Palace Book p.27L - measurements of shafts of Bon series of capitals.

Palace Book p.27 figures of the Bon series of capital for the most part uninteresting.

Palace Book p.32 - a Bon capital with thicker shaft.

Palace Book p.55 There is no chain mail even on Bon capitals firm as their leaves are. There is no Faliero precision or joy in them but they are most marvelously unpleasant so they & the leaves laboriously finished inside.

Palace Book p.56L ‘I can’t make out this corner capital it is so Bonish. & yet so good’

St M[arks] Book p.65a fine example of third order foliage of Bon work.

St M[arks] Book p.87L - Bon imitations distinguished from fine work in the piers of the Ducal Palace inner cortile.

St M[arks] Book p.92L Its leafage is cut as I have described the third order Bon. Its breast ribs ripple beautifully, and all is exquisite in lobing & undulation but late evidently. Its flower band is however very pure.

St M[arks] Book p.94L - an attempt to define the differences between good early leaves and Bon leaves

St M[arks] Book p.95L The 33rd a very perfect Bon example of Third order Remarkable for the delicate trembling of the main ribs of its breast leaves & the angle leaves have a finely drawn rib all up to the lobes are beautifully thrown from it. But the effect of the whole is poor & the flower band quite heavy & vulgar over waved

St M[arks] Book p.96L 29th A Bon capital: ‘The main plan is kept but the ribs are fined down and therefore ineffective on the eye. They look washed out. The lobes are confused in their lie & form & the angle leaves have a recess as bottom instead of a rib marking the time by the bye when they would not put ribs on two sides.’

St M[arks] Book p.98 A rough note on the 34th Capital of the Ducal Palace Lower Arcade perhaps reads: The 34th Bon Birds leafage more refined in plan, far less good in execution.

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[Version 0.05: May 2008]