Ruskin confessed to his father that “I never was so utterly crushed to the earth before any human intellect as I was today, before Tintoret”. In the cycle of vast canvases depicting the Life of Christ, “he lashes out like a leviathan, and heaven and earth come together. M Angelo himself cannot hurl figures into space as he does.
John Ruskin, Study of the central portion of Tintoretto's 'Crucifixion', 1845.
No artist made a greater impression on the young Ruskin than Jacopo Robusti (1518-94), known as Tintoretto. Writing in Volume III of Modern Painters (1856), Ruskin drew attention to the figures of the Magi, depicted as “two of the noblest and most thoughtful of the Venetian senators in extreme old age.”
John Ruskin, Adoration of the Magi, after Tintoretto, 1845.
Possibly dating from the spring of 1846, this study shows the whole façade of a Palazzo Dario. Built in about 1487 for Giovanni Dario – secretary to the Venetian Republic in Constantinople – it exemplifies the style of “Renaissance engrafted on Byzantine”, with remarkable inlaid panels of marble.
John Ruskin, Palazza Dario, c.1846
"Rose tracery near Frari, Tracery of daguerred house with [?] in balcony: in Campo St Agostin near the Frari"
This architectural notebook, known as the ‘N Book,’ is the earliest in the series of ten which Ruskin used to record details and measurements of aspects of architectural features. He named notebooks according to content. Door book, House book, Gothic book, Palace book, Bit book, etc.
John Ruskin, Architectural Notebook 'N Book', 1849-1850.
"No 11. Details of bases of upper arcade, Doges palace / p. 34 M. Nov 14th. 1849."
This is an example of one of the vast number of studies made by Ruskin between 1849 and 1852 in preparation for The Stones of Venice (1851-53). Ruskin made a list of 206 numbered worksheets, of which 78 are in the Ruskin Library (whole or fragmentary): no.11 is described as ‘Ducal Palace Upper Arcade.’
John Ruskin, The Stones of Venice worksheet: Upper arcade of Doge’s Palace, November 1849.
In contrast with the medieval sculpted capitals on the Ducal Palace, Ruskin thought the later Renaissance carvings “base.” He made an exception for the 36th and final capital, “the most beautiful of the whole series … very noble; its groups of figures most carefully studied, very graceful, and much more pleasing than those of the earlier work, though with less real power in them.” (Stones of Venice, Volume II, 1853)
John Ruskin, Doge's Palace, Venice: 36th Capital, 1849-1852.
Ruskin’s decision to return to Venice for the winter of 1876-7 was partly motivated by a plan to revise The Stones of Venice, ‘gathering bits up’ again of his beloved city. In a letter to Charles Eliot Norton he said his intention was to make “pencil outline drawings from general scenes”, to round out the original text and thereby perhaps make it more appealing to the general reader.
John Ruskin, View on the upper reach of the Grand Canal, Venice, with the Palazi Tron and Duodo, 1876.
Ruskin commissioned three copies of this damaged mosaic after 1877, from Charles Fairfax Murray and T.M. Rooke (both now in the Guild of St George collection at Sheffield), and this one from the young Italian artist Angelo Alessandri. One of the minor subjects in the chancel, this was one of Ruskin’s favourites among the mosaics of St Mark’s.
Angelo Alessandri, Mosaic, St Mark's, Venice: The Doge, Clergy, and People of Venice, 1883.
This meticulous copy is said to be by Ruskin himself, but more likely to be by Angelo Alessandri. Ruskin thought the mosaics of St. Mark’s “the bible of old Venice”, and determined to have records made of them when they were under threat of wholesale replacement in the late 1870s: this desecration was later halted.
John Ruskin, The 'Inventio' Mosaic (Finding the Body of St. Mark)
Ruskin presumably directed Carloforti towards this sculpture, which he thought was inspired by the figure of St Simeon in the Church of San Simeon Grande: “The head of Noah has the same profusion of flowing hair and beard, but wrought in smaller and harder curls.” (Stones of Venice, Volume II)
Raffaele Carloforti, Head of Noah, from the Vine Angle, 1876.
Exhibit prepared by Rebecca Patterson
Text (c) Ruskin Library
Images (c) Ruskin Foundation (Ruskin Library, Lancaster University)