Lectures on Architecture and Painting - John Ruskin - ebook
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The following Lectures are printed, as far as possible, just as they were delivered. Here and there a sentence which seemed obscure has been mended, and the passages which had not been previously written, have been, of course imperfectly, supplied from memory. But I am well assured that nothing of any substantial importance which was said in the lecture-room, is either omitted, or altered in its signification; with the exception only of a few sentences struck out from the notice of the works of Turner, in consequence of the impossibility of engraving the drawings by which they were illustrated, except at a cost which would have too much raised the price of the volume. Some elucidatory remarks have, however, been added at the close of the second and fourth Lectures, which I hope may be of more use than the passages which I was obliged to omit.

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Table of contents

PREFACE.

LECTURE I. ARCHITECTURE.

LECTURE II. ARCHITECTURE.

ADDENDA TO LECTURES I AND II.

LECTURE III. TURNER AND HIS WORKS.

LECTURE IV. PRE-RAPHAELITISM.

ADDENDA TO THE FOURTH LECTURE.

PREFACE.

The following Lectures are printed, as far as possible, just as they were delivered. Here and there a sentence which seemed obscure has been mended, and the passages which had not been previously written, have been, of course imperfectly, supplied from memory. But I am well assured that nothing of any substantial importance which was said in the lecture-room, is either omitted, or altered in its signification; with the exception only of a few sentences struck out from the notice of the works of Turner, in consequence of the impossibility of engraving the drawings by which they were illustrated, except at a cost which would have too much raised the price of the volume. Some elucidatory remarks have, however, been added at the close of the second and fourth Lectures, which I hope may be of more use than the passages which I was obliged to omit.The drawings by which the Lectures on Architecture were illustrated have been carefully reduced, and well transferred to wood by Mr. Thurston Thompson. Those which were given in the course of the notices of schools of painting could not be so transferred, having been drawn in color; and I have therefore merely had a few lines, absolutely necessary to make the text intelligible, copied from engravings.I forgot, in preparing the second Lecture for the press, to quote a passage from Lord Lindsay's "Christian Art," illustrative of what is said in that lecture (§ 52), respecting the energy of the mediæval republics. This passage, describing the circumstances under which the Campanile of the Duomo of Florence was built, is interesting also as noticing the universality of talent which was required of architects; and which, as I have asserted in the Addenda (§ 60), always ought to be required of them. I do not, however, now regret the omission, as I cannot easily imagine a better preface to an essay on civil architecture than this simple statement."In 1332, Giotto was chosen to erect it (the Campanile), on the ground, avowedly, of the universality of his talents, with the appointment of Capo Maestro, or chief Architect (chief Master I should rather write), of the Cathedral and its dependencies, a yearly salary of one hundred gold florins, and the privilege of citizenship, under the special understanding that he was not to quit Florence. His designs being approved of, the republic passed a decree in the spring of 1334, that the Campanile should be built so as to exceed in magnificence, height, and excellence of workmanship whatever in that time had been achieved by the Greeks and Romans in the time of their utmost power and greatness. The first stone was laid, accordingly, with great pomp, on the 18th of July following, and the work prosecuted with vigor, and with such costliness and utter disregard of expense, that a citizen of Verona, looking on, exclaimed that the republic was taxing her strength too far, that the united resources of two great monarchs would be insufficient to complete it; a criticism which the Signoria resented by confining him for two months in prison, and afterwards conducting him through the public treasury, to teach him that the Florentines could build their whole city of marble, and not one poor steeple only, were they so inclined."I see that "The Builder," vol. xi. page 690, has been endeavoring to inspire the citizens of Leeds with some pride of this kind respecting their town-hall. The pride would be well, but I sincerely trust that the tower in question may not be built on the design there proposed. I am sorry to have to write a special criticism, but it must be remembered that the best works, by the best men living, are in this age abused without mercy by nameless critics; and it would be unjust to the public, if those who have given their names as guarantee for their sincerity never had the courage to enter a protest against the execution of designs which appear to them unworthy.Denmark Hill, 16th April 1854.

LECTURE I. ARCHITECTURE.

1. I think myself peculiarly happy in being permitted to address the citizens of Edinburgh on the subject of architecture, for it is one which, they cannot but feel, interests them nearly. Of all the cities in the British Islands, Edinburgh is the one which presents most advantages for the display of a noble building; and which, on the other hand, sustains most injury in the erection of a commonplace or unworthy one. You are all proud of your city; surely you must feel it a duty in some sort to justify your pride; that is to say, to give yourselves a right to be proud of it. That you were born under the shadow of its two fantastic mountains,—that you live where from your room windows you can trace the shores of its glittering Firth, are no rightful subjects of pride. You did not raise the mountains, nor shape the shores; and the historical houses of your Canongate, and the broad battlements of your castle, reflect honor upon you only through your ancestors. Before you boast of your city, before even you venture to call it yours, ought you not scrupulously to weigh the exact share you have had in adding to it or adorning it, to calculate seriously the influence upon its aspect which the work of your own hands has exercised? I do not say that, even when you regard your city in this scrupulous and testing spirit, you have not considerable ground for exultation. As far as I am acquainted with modern architecture, I am aware of no streets which, in simplicity and manliness of style, or general breadth and brightness of effect, equal those of the New Town of Edinburgh. But yet I am well persuaded that as you traverse those streets, your feelings of pleasure and pride in them are much complicated with those which are excited entirely by the surrounding scenery. As you walk up or down George Street, for instance, do you not look eagerly for every opening to the north and south, which lets in the luster of the Firth of Forth, or the rugged outline of the Castle Rock? Take away the sea-waves, and the dark basalt, and I fear you would find little to interest you in George Street by itself. Now I remember a city, more nobly placed even than your Edinburgh, which, instead of the valley that you have now filled by lines of railroad, has a broad and rushing river of blue water sweeping through the heart of it; which, for the dark and solitary rock that bears your castle, has an amphitheater of cliffs crested with cypresses and olive; which, for the two masses of Arthur's Seat and the ranges of the Pentlands, has a chain of blue mountains higher than the haughtiest peaks of your Highlands; and which, for your far-away Ben Ledi and Ben More, has the great central chain of the St. Gothard Alps: and yet, as you go out of the gates, and walk in the suburban streets of that city—I mean Verona—the eye never seeks to rest on that external scenery, however gorgeous; it does not look for the gaps between the houses, as you do here; it may for a few moments follow the broken line of the great Alpine battlements; but it is only where they form a background for other battlements, built by the hand of man. There is no necessity felt to dwell on the blue river or the burning hills. The heart and eye have enough to do in the streets of the city itself; they are contented there; nay, they sometimes turn from the natural scenery, as if too savage and solitary, to dwell with a deeper interest on the palace walls that cast their shade upon the streets, and the crowd of towers that rise out of that shadow into the depth of the sky.Fig. 1.Fig. 3.Fig. 5.Plate I.2. That is a city to be proud of, indeed; and it is this kind of architectural dignity which you should aim at, in what you add to Edinburgh or rebuild in it. For remember, you must either help your scenery or destroy it; whatever you do has an effect of one kind or the other; it is never indifferent. But, above all, remember that it is chiefly by private, not by public, effort that your city must be adorned. It does not matter how many beautiful public buildings you possess, if they are not supported by, and in harmony with, the private houses of the town. Neither the mind nor the eye will accept a new college, or a new hospital, or a new institution, for a city. It is the Canongate, and the Princes Street, and the High Street that are Edinburgh. It is in your own private houses that the real majesty of Edinburgh must consist; and, what is more, it must be by your own personal interest that the style of the architecture which rises around you must be principally guided. Do not think that you can have good architecture merely by paying for it. It is not by subscribing liberally for a large building once in forty years that you can call up architects and inspiration. It is only by active and sympathetic attention to the domestic and every-day work which is done for each of you, that you can educate either yourselves to the feeling, or your builders to the doing, of what is truly great.3. Well, but, you will answer, you cannot feel interested in architecture: you do not care about it, and cannot care about it. I know you cannot. About such architecture as is built nowadays, no mortal ever did or could care. You do not feel interested in hearing the same thing over and over again;—why do you suppose you can feel interested in seeing the same thing over and over again, were that thing even the best and most beautiful in the world? Now, you all know the kind of window which you usually build in Edinburgh: here is an example of the head of one (fig.1), a massy lintel of a single stone, laid across from side to side, with bold square-cut jambs—in fact, the simplest form it is possible to build. It is by no means a bad form; on the contrary, it is very manly and vigorous, and has a certain dignity in its utter refusal of ornament. But I cannot say it is entertaining. How many windows precisely of this form do you suppose there are in the New Town of Edinburgh? I have not counted them all through the town, but I counted them this morning along this very Queen Street, in which your Hall is; and on the one side of that street, there are of these windows, absolutely similar to this example, and altogether devoid of any relief by decoration, six hundred and seventy-eight.[1] And your decorations are just as monotonous as your simplicities. How many Corinthian and Doric columns do you think there are in your banks, and post-offices, institutions, and I know not what else, one exactly like another?—and yet you expect to be interested! Nay, but, you will answer me again, we see sunrises and sunsets, and violets and roses, over and over again, and we do not tire of them. What! did you ever see one sunrise like another? does not God vary His clouds for you every morning and every night? though, indeed, there is enough in the disappearing and appearing of the great orb above the rolling of the world, to interest all of us, one would think, for as many times as we shall see it; and yet the aspect of it is changed for us daily. You see violets and roses often, and are not tired of them. True! but you did not often see two roses alike, or, if you did, you took care not to put them beside each other in the same nosegay, for fear your nosegay should be uninteresting; and yet you think you can put 150,000 square windows side by side in the same streets, and still be interested by them. Why, if I were to say the same thing over and over again, for the single hour you are going to let me talk to you, would you listen to me? and yet you let your architects do the same thing over and over again for three centuries, and expect to be interested by their architecture; with a farther disadvantage on the side of the builder, as compared with the speaker, that my wasted words would cost you but little, but his wasted stones have cost you no small part of your incomes.Fig. 2.PLATE II.4. "Well, but," you still think within yourselves, "it is not right that architecture should be interesting. It is a very grand thing, this architecture, but essentially unentertaining. It is its duty to be dull, it is monotonous by law: it cannot be correct and yet amusing."Believe me, it is not so. All things that are worth doing in art, are interesting and attractive when they are done. There is no law of right which consecrates dullness. The proof of a thing's being right is, that it has power over the heart; that it excites us, wins us, or helps us. I do not say that it has influence over all, but it has over a large class, one kind of art being fit for one class, and another for another; and there is no goodness in art which is independent of the power of pleasing. Yet, do not mistake me; I do not mean that there is no such thing as neglect of the best art, or delight in the worst, just as many men neglect nature, and feed upon what is artificial and base; but I mean, that all good art has the capacity of pleasing, if people will attend to it; that there is no law against its pleasing; but, on the contrary, something wrong either in the spectator or the art, when it ceases to please. Now, therefore, if you feel that your present school of architecture is unattractive to you, I say there is something wrong, either in the architecture or in you; and I trust you will not think I mean to flatter you when I tell you, that the wrong is not in you, but in the architecture. Look at this for a moment (fig.2); it is a window actually existing—a window of an English domestic building[2]—a window built six hundred years ago. You will not tell me you have no pleasure in looking at this; or that you could not, by any possibility, become interested in the art which produced it; or that, if every window in your streets were of some such form, with perpetual change in their ornaments, you would pass up and down the street with as much indifference as now, when your windows are of this form (fig.1). Can you for an instant suppose that the architect was a greater or wiser man who built this, than he who built that? or that in the arrangement of these dull and monotonous stones there is more wit and sense than you can penetrate? Believe me, the wrong is not in you; you would all like the best things best, if you only saw them. What is wrong in you is your temper, not your taste; your patient and trustful temper, which lives in houses whose architecture it takes for granted, and subscribes to public edifices from which it derives no enjoyment.5. "Well, but what are we to do?" you will say to me; "we cannot make architects of ourselves." Pardon me, you can—and you ought. Architecture is an art for all men to learn, because all are concerned with it; and it is so simple, that there is no excuse for not being acquainted with its primary rules, any more than for ignorance of grammar or of spelling, which are both of them far more difficult sciences. Far less trouble than is necessary to learn how to play chess, or whist, or golf, tolerably,—far less than a school-boy takes to win the meanest prize of the passing year, would acquaint you with all the main principles of the construction of a Gothic cathedral, and I believe you would hardly find the study less amusing. But be that as it may, there are one or two broad principles which need only be stated to be understood and accepted; and those I mean to lay before you, with your permission, before you leave this room.6. You must all, of course, have observed that the principal distinctions between existing styles of architecture depend on their methods of roofing any space, as a window or door for instance, or a space between pillars; that is to say, that the character of Greek architecture, and of all that is derived from it, depends on its roofing a space with a single stone laid from side to side; the character of Roman architecture, and of all derived from it, depends on its roofing spaces with round arches; and the character of Gothic architecture depends on its roofing spaces with pointed arches, or gables. I need not, of course, in any way follow out for you the mode in which the Greek system of architecture is derived from the horizontal lintel; but I ought perhaps to explain, that by Roman architecture I do not mean that spurious condition of temple form which was nothing more than a luscious imitation of the Greek; but I mean that architecture in which the Roman spirit truly manifested itself, the magnificent vaultings of the aqueduct and the bath, and the colossal heaping of the rough stones in the arches of the amphitheater; an architecture full of expression of gigantic power and strength of will, and from which are directly derived all our most impressive early buildings, called, as you know, by various antiquaries, Saxon, Norman, or Romanesque. Now the first point I wish to insist upon is, that the Greek system, considered merely as a piece of construction, is weak and barbarous compared with the two others. For instance, in the case of a large window or door, such as fig.1, if you have at your disposal a single large and long stone you may indeed roof it in the Greek manner, as you have done here, with comparative security; but it is always expensive to obtain and to raise to their place stones of this large size, and in many places nearly impossible to obtain them at all: and if you have not such stones, and still insist upon roofing the space in the Greek way, that is to say, upon having a square window, you must do it by the miserably feeble adjustment of bricks, fig.3.[3] You are well aware, of course, that this latter is the usual way in which such windows are now built in England; you are fortunate enough here in the north to be able to obtain single stones, and this circumstance alone gives a considerable degree of grandeur to your buildings. But in all cases, and however built, you cannot but see in a moment that this cross bar is weak and imperfect. It may be strong enough for all immediate intents and purposes, but it is not so strong as it might be: however well the house is built, it will still not stand so long as if it had been better constructed; and there is hardly a day passes but you may see some rent or flaw in bad buildings of this kind. You may see one whenever you choose, in one of your most costly, and most ugly buildings, the great church with the dome, at the end of George Street. I think I never saw a building with a principal entrance so utterly ghastly and oppressive; and it is as weak as it is ghastly. The huge horizontal lintel above the door is already split right through. But you are not aware of a thousandth part of the evil: the pieces of building that you see are all carefully done; it is in the parts that are to be concealed by paint and plaster that the bad building of the day is thoroughly committed. The main mischief lies in the strange devices that are used to support the long horizontal cross beams of our larger apartments and shops, and the framework of unseen walls; girders and ties of cast iron, and props and wedges, and laths nailed and bolted together, on marvelously scientific principles; so scientific, that every now and then, when some tender reparation is undertaken by the unconscious householder, the whole house crashes into a heap of ruin, so total, that the jury which sits on the bodies of the inhabitants cannot tell what has been the matter with it, and returns a dim verdict of accidental death.7. Did you read the account of the proceedings at the Crystal Palace at Sydenham the other day? Some dozen of men crushed up among the splinters of the scaffolding in an instant, nobody knew why. All the engineers declare the scaffolding to have been erected on the best principles,—that the fall of it is as much a mystery as if it had fallen from heaven, and were all meteoric stones. The jury go to Sydenham and look at the heap of shattered bolts and girders, and come back as wise as they went. Accidental death! Yes, verily; the lives of all those dozen of men had been hanging for months at the mercy of a flaw in an inch or two of cast iron. Very accidental indeed! Not the less pitiable. I grant it not to be an easy thing to raise scaffolding to the height of the Crystal Palace without incurring some danger, but that is no reason why your houses should all be nothing but scaffolding. The common system of support of walls over shops is now nothing but permanent scaffolding; part of iron, part of wood, part of brick; in its skeleton state awful to behold; the weight of three or four stories of wall resting sometimes on two or three pillars of the size of gas pipes, sometimes on a single cross beam of wood, laid across from party wall to party wall in the Greek manner. I have a vivid recollection at this moment of a vast heap of splinters in the Borough Road, close to St. George's, Southwark, in the road between my own house and London. I had passed it the day before, a goodly shop front, and sufficient house above, with a few repairs undertaken in the shop before opening a new business. The master and mistress had found it dusty that afternoon, and went out to tea. When they came back in the evening, they found their whole house in the form of a heap of bricks blocking the roadway, with a party of men digging out their cook. But I do not insist on casualties like these, disgraceful to us as they are, for it is, of course, perfectly possible to build a perfectly secure house or a secure window in the Greek manner; but the simple fact is, that in order to obtain in the cross lintel the same amount of strength which you can obtain in a pointed arch, you must go to an immensely greater cost in stone or in labor. Stonehenge is strong enough, but it takes some trouble to build in the manner of Stonehenge: and Stonehenge itself is not so strong as an arch of the Colosseum. You could not raise a circle of four Stonehenges, one over the other, with safety; and as it is, more of the cross-stones are fallen upon the plain of Sarum than arches rent away, except by the hand of man, from the mighty circle of Rome. But I waste words;—your own common sense must show you in a moment that this is a weak form; and there is not at this instant a single street in London where some house could not be pointed out with a flaw running through its brickwork, and repairs rendered necessary in consequence, merely owing to the adoption of this bad form; and that our builders know so well, that in myriads of instances you find them actually throwing concealed arches above the horizontal lintels to take the weight off them; and the gabled decoration, at the top of some Palladian windows, is merely the ornamental form resulting from a bold device of the old Roman builders to effect the same purpose.8. But there is a farther reason for our adopting the pointed arch than its being the strongest form; it is also the most beautiful form in which a window or door-head can be built. Not the most beautiful because it is the strongest; but most beautiful, because its form is one of those which, as we know by its frequent occurrence in the work of Nature around us, has been appointed by the Deity to be an everlasting source of pleasure to the human mind.Fig. 4.Fig. 6.Plate III.Gather a branch from any of the trees or flowers to which the earth owes its principal beauty. You will find that every one of its leaves is terminated, more or less, in the form of the pointed arch; and to that form owes its grace and character. I will take, for instance, a spray of the tree which so gracefully adorns your Scottish glens and crags—there is no lovelier in the world—the common ash. Here is a sketch of the clusters of leaves which form the extremity of one of its young shoots (fig.4); and, by the way, it will furnish us with an interesting illustration of another error in modern architectural systems. You know how fond modern architects, like foolish modern politicians, are of their equalities, and similarities; how necessary they think it that each part of a building should be like every other part. Now Nature abhors equality, and similitude, just as much as foolish men love them. You will find that the ends of the shoots of the ash are composed of four[4] green stalks bearing leaves, springing in the form of a cross, if seen from above, as in fig.5, Plate I., and at first you will suppose the four arms of the cross are equal. But look more closely, and you will find that two opposite arms or stalks have only five leaves each, and the other two have seven; or else, two have seven, and the other two nine; but always one pair of stalks has two leaves more than the other pair. Sometimes the tree gets a little puzzled, and forgets which is to be the longest stalk, and begins with a stem for seven leaves where it should have nine, and then recollects itself at the last minute, and puts on another leaf in a great hurry, and so produces a stalk with eight leaves; but all this care it takes merely to keep itself out of equalities; and all its grace and power of pleasing are owing to its doing so, together with the lovely curves in which its stalks, thus arranged, spring from the main bough. Fig.5 is a plan of their arrangement merely, but fig.4 is the way in which you are most likely to see them: and observe, they spring from the stalk precisely as a Gothic vaulted roof springs, each stalk representing a rib of the roof, and the leaves its crossing stones; and the beauty of each of those leaves is altogether owing to its terminating in the Gothic form, the pointed arch. Now do you think you would have liked your ash trees as well, if Nature had taught them Greek, and shown them how to grow according to the received Attic architectural rules of right? I will try you. Here is a cluster of ash leaves, which I have grown expressly for you on Greek principles (fig.6, Plate III.) How do you like it?