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Tomb of Ilaria del Caretto, Lucca Cathedral: Head of Ilaria

John Ruskin1874

The Ruskin Library

The Ruskin Library

Following his visit in 1845, Ruskin provided a number of notes on Italian art and architecture for the third edition of Murray’s Handbook for Travellers in Northern Italy, published in 1847, including his first public comment on the Ilaria tomb: “The couched figure is deserving of great praise: the head-dress is singular, and consists of a turban-like fillet round the brow, divided by a band of stars.” “It is impossible to tell you,” he wrote to his father, giving his first impressions, “the perfect sweetness of the lips & the closed eyes, nor the solemnity of the seal of death which is set upon the whole figure. The sculpture, as art, is in every way perfect – truth itself, but truth selected with inconceivable refinement of feeling.” This drawing belonged to W.G. Collingwood, and may have been drawn on Ruskin’s last visit to Lucca in 1882, in Collingwood’s company. The collection includes several studies of the Ilaria tomb, as well as a rare early photographic study using daguerreotype photography.

The second wife of Paolo Guinigi, Lord of Lucca from 1400, Ilaria del Carretto died in 1405, and her tomb effigy was carved by the leading Tuscan sculptor Jacopo della Quercia (1374-1438) for the Cathedral in Lucca. This sublime piece of early Renaissance sculpture was one of Ruskin’s most important discoveries during his Italian tour of 1845, and as he wrote forty years later, “became at once, and has ever since remained, my ideal of Christian sculpture.”

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