The Stones of Venice, Volume III - John Ruskin - ebook

Of all the buildings in Venice, later in date than the final additions to the Ducal Palace, the noblest is, beyond all question, that which, having been condemned by its proprietor, not many years ago, to be pulled down and sold for the value of its materials, was rescued by the Austrian government, and appropriated—the government officers having no other use for it—to the business of the Post-Office; though still known to the gondolier by its ancient name, the Casa Grimani. It is composed of three stories of the Corinthian order, at once simple, delicate, and sublime; but on so colossal a scale, that the three-storied palaces on its right and left only reach to the cornice which marks the level of its first floor. Yet it is not at first perceived to be so vast; and it is only when some expedient is employed to hide it from the eye, that by the sudden dwarfing of the whole reach of the Grand Canal, which it commands, we become aware that it is to the majesty of the Casa Grimani that the Rialto itself, and the whole group of neighboring buildings, owe the greater part of their impressiveness.

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John Ruskin

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EARLY RENAISSANCE.§ I. I trust that the reader has been enabled, by the preceding chapters, to form some conception of the magnificence of the streets of Venice during the course of the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries. Yet by all this magnificence she was not supremely distinguished above the other cities of the middle ages. Her early edifices have been preserved to our times by the circuit of her waves; while continual recurrences of ruin have defaced the glory of her sister cities. But such fragments as are still left in their lonely squares, and in the corners of their streets, so far from being inferior to the buildings of Venice, are even more rich, more finished, more admirable in invention, more exuberant in beauty. And although, in the North of Europe, civilization was less advanced, and the knowledge of the arts was more confined to the ecclesiastical orders, so that, for domestic architecture, the period of perfection must be there placed much later than in Italy, and considered as extending to the middle of the fifteenth century; yet, as each city reached a certain point in civilization, its streets became decorated with the same magnificence, varied only in style according to the materials at hand, and temper of the people. And I am not aware of any town of wealth and importance in the middle ages, in which some proof does not exist, that, at its period of greatest energy and prosperity, its streets were inwrought with rich sculpture, and even (though in this, as before noticed, Venice always stood supreme) glowing with color and with gold. Now, therefore, let the reader,— forming for himself as vivid and real a conception as he is able, either of a group of Venetian palaces in the fourteenth century, or, if he likes better, of one of the more fantastic but even richer street scenes of Rouen, Antwerp, Cologne, or Nuremberg, and keeping this gorgeous image before him,—go out into any thoroughfare, representative, in a general and characteristic way, of the feeling for domestic architecture in modern times; let him, for instance, if in London, walk once up and down Harley Street, or Baker Street, or Gower Street; and then, looking upon this picture and on this, set himself to consider (for this is to be the subject of our following and final inquiry) what have been the causes which have induced so vast a change in the European mind.§ II. Renaissance architecture is the school which has conducted men’s inventive and constructive faculties from the Grand Canal to Gower Street; from the marble shaft, and the lancet arch, and the wreathed leafage, and the glowing and melting harmony of gold and azure, to the square cavity in the brick wall. We have now to consider the causes and the steps of this change; and, as we endeavored above to investigate the nature of Gothic, here to investigate also the nature of Renaissance.§ III. Although Renaissance architecture assumes very different forms among different nations, it may be conveniently referred to three heads:—Early Renaissance, consisting of the first corruptions introduced into the Gothic schools: Central or Roman Renaissance, which is the perfectly formed style: and Grotesque Renaissance, which is the corruption of the Renaissance itself.§ IV. Now, in order to do full justice to the adverse cause, we will consider the abstract nature of the school with reference only to its best or central examples. The forms of building which must be classed generally under the term early Renaissance are, in many cases, only the extravagances and corruptions of the languid Gothic, for whose errors the classical principle is in no wise answerable. It was stated in the second chapter of the “Seven Lamps,” that, unless luxury had enervated and subtlety falsified the Gothic forms, Roman traditions could not have prevailed against them; and, although these enervated and false conditions are almost instantly colored by the classical influence, it would be utterly unfair to lay to the charge of that influence the first debasement of the earlier schools, which had lost the strength of their system before they could be struck by the plague.§ V. The manner, however, of the debasement of all schools of art, so far as it is natural, is in all ages the same; luxuriance of ornament, refinement of execution, and idle subtleties of fancy, taking the place of true thought and firm handling: and I do not intend to delay the reader long by the Gothic sick-bed, for our task is not so much to watch the wasting of fever in the features of the expiring king, as to trace the character of that Hazael who dipped the cloth in water, and laid it upon his face, Nevertheless, it is necessary to the completeness of our view of the architecture of Venice, as well as to our understanding of the manner in which the Central Renaissance obtained its universal dominion, that we glance briefly at the principal forms into which Venetian Gothic first declined. They are two in number: one the corruption of the Gothic itself; the other a partial return to Byzantine forms; for the Venetian mind having carried the Gothic to a point at which it was dissatisfied, tried to retrace its steps, fell back first upon Byzantine types, and through them passed to the first Roman. But in thus retracing its steps, it does not recover its own lost energy. It revisits the places through which it had passed in the morning light, but it is now with wearied limbs, and under the gloomy shadows of evening.§ VI. It has just been said that the two principal causes of natural decline in any school, are over-luxuriance and over-refinement. The corrupt Gothic of Venice furnishes us with a curious instance of the one, and the corrupt Byzantine of the other. We shall examine them in succession.Now, observe, first, I do not mean by luxuriance of ornament, quantity of ornament. In the best Gothic in the world there is hardly an inch of stone left unsculptured. But I mean that character of extravagance in the ornament itself which shows that it was addressed to jaded faculties; a violence and coarseness in curvature, a depth of shadow, a lusciousness in arrangement of line, evidently arising out of an incapability of feeling the true beauty of chaste form and restrained power. I do not know any character of design which may be more easily recognized at a glance than this over-lusciousness; and yet it seems to me that at the present day there is nothing so little understood as the essential difference between chasteness and extravagance, whether in color, shade, or lines. We speak loosely and inaccurately of “overcharged” ornament, with an obscure feeling that there is indeed something in visible Form which is correspondent to Intemperance in moral habits; but without any distinct detection of the character which offends us, far less with any understanding of the most important lesson which there can be no doubt was intended to be conveyed by the universality of this ornamental law.§ VII. In a word, then, the safeguard of highest beauty, in all visible work, is exactly that which is also the safeguard of conduct in the soul,—Temperance, in the broadest sense; the Temperance which we have seen sitting on an equal throne with Justice amidst the Four Cardinal Virtues, and, wanting which, there is not any other virtue which may not lead us into desperate error. Now, observe: Temperance, in the nobler sense, does not mean a subdued and imperfect energy; it does not mean a stopping short in any good thing, as in Love or in Faith; but it means the power which governs the most intense energy, and prevents its acting in any way but as it ought. And with respect to things in which there may be excess, it does not mean imperfect enjoyment of them; but the regulation of their quantity, so that the enjoyment of them shall be greatest. For instance, in the matter we have at present in hand, temperance in color does not mean imperfect or dull enjoyment of color; but it means that government of color which shall bring the utmost possible enjoyment out of all hues. A bad colorist does not love beautiful color better than the best colorist does, nor half so much. But he indulges in it to excess; he uses it in large masses, and unsubdued; and then it is a law of Nature, a law as universal as that of gravitation, that he shall not be able to enjoy it so much as if he had used it in less quantity. His eye is jaded and satiated, and the blue and red have life in them no more. He tries to paint them bluer and redder, in vain: all the blue has become grey, and gets greyer the more he adds to it; all his crimson has become brown, and gets more sere and autumnal the more he deepens it. But the great painter is sternly temperate in his work; he loves the vivid color with all his heart; but for a long time he does not allow himself anything like it, nothing but sober browns and dull greys, and colors that have no conceivable beauty in them; but these by his government become lovely: and after bringing out of them all the life and power they possess, and enjoying them to the uttermost,—cautiously, and as the crown of the work, and the consummation of its music, he permits the momentary crimson and azure, and the whole canvas is in a flame.§ VIII. Again, in curvature, which is the cause of loveliness in all form; the bad designer does not enjoy it more than the great designer, but he indulges in it till his eye is satiated, and he cannot obtain enough of it to touch his jaded feeling for grace. But the great and temperate designer does not allow himself any violent curves; he works much with lines in which the curvature, though always existing, is long before it is perceived. He dwells on all these subdued curvatures to the uttermost, and opposes them with still severer lines to bring them out in fuller sweetness; and, at last, he allows himself a momentary curve of energy, and all the work is, in an instant, full of life and grace.The curves drawn in Plate VII. of the first volume, were chosen entirely to show this character of dignity and restraint, as it appears in the lines of nature, together with the perpetual changefulness of the degrees of curvature in one and the same line; but although the purpose of that plate was carefully explained in the chapter which it illustrates, as well as in the passages of “Modern Painters” therein referred to (vol. ii. pp. 43, 79), so little are we now in the habit of considering the character of abstract lines, that it was thought by many persons that this plate only illustrated Hogarth’s reversed line of beauty, even although the curve of the salvia leaf, which was the one taken from that plate for future use, in architecture, was not a reversed or serpentine curve at all. I shall now, however, I hope, be able to show my meaning better.§ IX. Fig. 1 in Plate I., opposite, is a piece of ornamentation from a Norman-French manuscript of the thirteenth century, and fig. 2 from an Italian one of the fifteenth. Observe in the first its stern moderation in curvature; the gradually united lines nearly straight, though none quite straight, used for its main limb, and contrasted with the bold but simple offshoots of its leaves, and the noble spiral from which it shoots, these in their turn opposed by the sharp trefoils and thorny cusps. And see what a reserve of resource there is in the whole; how easy it would have been to make the curves more palpable and the foliage more rich, and how the noble hand has stayed itself, and refused to grant one wave of motion more.
§ X. Then observe the other example, in which, while the same idea is continually repeated, excitement and interest are sought for by means of violent and continual curvatures wholly unrestrained, and rolling hither and thither in confused wantonness. Compare the character of the separate lines in these two examples carefully, and be assured that wherever this redundant and luxurious curvature shows itself in ornamentation, it is a sign of jaded energy and failing invention. Do not confuse it with fulness or richness. Wealth is not necessarily wantonness: a Gothic moulding may be buried half a foot deep in thorns and leaves, and yet will be chaste in every line; and a late Renaissance moulding may be utterly barren and poverty-stricken, and yet will show the disposition to luxury in every line.§ XI. Plate XX., in the second volume, though prepared for the special illustration of the notices of capitals, becomes peculiarly interesting when considered in relation to the points at present under consideration. The four leaves in the upper row are Byzantine; the two middle rows are transitional, all but fig. 11, which is of the formed Gothic; fig. 12 is perfect Gothic of the finest time (Ducal Palace, oldest part), fig. 13 is Gothic beginning to decline, fig. 14 is Renaissance Gothic in complete corruption.Now observe, first, the Gothic naturalism advancing gradually from the Byzantine severity; how from the sharp, hard, formalized conventionality of the upper series the leaves gradually expand into more free and flexible animation, until in fig. 12 we have the perfect living leaf as if fresh gathered out of the dew. And then, in the last two examples and partly in fig. 11, observe how the forms which can advance no longer in animation, advance, or rather decline, into luxury and effeminacy as the strength of the school expires.§ XII. In the second place, note that the Byzantine and Gothic schools, however differing in degree of life, are both alike in temperance, though the temperance of the Gothic is the nobler, because it consists with entire animation. Observe how severe and subtle the curvatures are in all the leaves from fig. 1 to fig. 12, except only in fig. 11; and observe especially the firmness and strength obtained by the close approximation to the straight line in the lateral ribs of the leaf, fig. 12. The longer the eye rests on these temperate curvatures the more it will enjoy them, but it will assuredly in the end be wearied by the morbid exaggeration of the last example.
§ XIII. Finally, observe—and this is very important—how one and the same character in the work may be a sign of totally different states of mind, and therefore in one case bad, and in the other good. The examples, fig. 3. and fig. 12., are both equally pure in line; but one is subdivided in the extreme, the other broad in the extreme, and both are beautiful. The Byzantine mind delighted in the delicacy of subdivision which nature shows in the fern-leaf or parsley-leaf; and so, also, often the Gothic mind, much enjoying the oak, thorn, and thistle. But the builder of the Ducal Palace used great breadth in his foliage, in order to harmonize with the broad surface of his mighty wall, and delighted in this breadth as nature delights in the sweeping freshness of the dock-leaf or water-lily. Both breadth and subdivision are thus noble, when they are contemplated or conceived by a mind in health; and both become ignoble, when conceived by a mind jaded and satiated. The subdivision in fig. 13 as compared with the type, fig. 12, which it was intended to improve, is the sign, not of a mind which loved intricacy, but of one which could not relish simplicity, which had not strength enough to enjoy the broad masses of the earlier leaves, and cut them to pieces idly, like a child tearing the book which, in its weariness, it cannot read. And on the other hand, we shall continually find, in other examples of work of the same period, an unwholesome breadth or heaviness, which results from the mind having no longer any care for refinement or precision, nor taking any delight in delicate forms, but making all things blunted, cumbrous, and dead, losing at the same time the sense of the elasticity and spring of natural curves. It is as if the soul of man, itself severed from the root of its health, and about to fall into corruption, lost the perception of life in all things around it; and could no more distinguish the wave of the strong branches, full of muscular strength and sanguine circulation, from the lax bending of a broken cord, nor the sinuousness of the edge of the leaf, crushed into deep folds by the expansion of its living growth, from the wrinkled contraction of its decay.1 Thus, in morals, there is a care for trifles which proceeds from love and conscience, and is most holy; and a care for trifles which comes of idleness and frivolity, and is most base. And so, also, there is a gravity proceeding from thought, which is most noble; and a gravity proceeding from dulness and mere incapability of enjoyment, which is most base. Now, in the various forms assumed by the later Gothic of Venice, there are one or two features which, under other circumstances, would not have been signs of decline; but, in the particular manner of their occurrence here, indicate the fatal weariness of decay. Of all these features the most distinctive are its crockets and finials.§ XIV. There is not to be found a single crocket or finial upon any part of the Ducal Palace built during the fourteenth century; and although they occur on contemporary, and on some much earlier, buildings, they either indicate detached examples of schools not properly Venetian, or are signs of incipient decline.The reason of this is, that the finial is properly the ornament of gabled architecture; it is the compliance, in the minor features of the building, with the spirit of its towers, ridged roof, and spires. Venetian building is not gabled, but horizontal in its roots and general masses; therefore the finial is a feature contradictory to its spirit, and adopted only in that search for morbid excitement which is the infallible indication of decline. When it occurs earlier, it is on fragments of true gabled architecture, as, for instance, on the porch of the Carmini.In proportion to the unjustifiableness of its introduction was the extravagance of the form it assumed; becoming, sometimes, a tuft at the top of the ogee windows, half as high as the arch itself, and consisting, in the richest examples, of a human figure, half emergent out of a cup of leafage, as, for instance, in the small archway of the Campo San Zaccaria: while the crockets, as being at the side of the arch, and not so strictly connected with its balance and symmetry, appear to consider themselves at greater liberty even than the finials, and fling themselves, hither and thither, in the wildest contortions. Fig. 4. in Plate I, is the outline of one, carved in stone, from the later Gothic of St. Mark’s; fig. 3. a crocket from the fine Veronese Gothic; in order to enable the reader to discern the Renaissance character better by comparison with the examples of curvature above them, taken from the manuscripts. And not content with this exuberance in the external ornaments of the arch, the finial interferes with its traceries. The increased intricacy of these, as such, being a natural process in the developement of Gothic, would have been no evil; but they are corrupted by the enrichment of the finial at the point of the cusp,—corrupted, that is to say, in Venice: for at Verona the finial, in the form of a fleur-de-lis, appears long previously at the cusp point, with exquisite effect; and in our own best Northern Gothic it is often used beautifully in this place, as in the window from Salisbury, Plate XII. (Vol. II.), fig. 2. But in Venice, such a treatment of it was utterly contrary to the severe spirit of the ancient traceries; and the adoption of a leafy finial at the extremity of the cusps in the door of San Stefano, as opposed to the simple ball which terminates those of the Ducal Palace, is an unmistakable indication of a tendency to decline.In like manner, the enrichment and complication of the jamb mouldings, which, in other schools, might and did take place in the healthiest periods, are, at Venice, signs of decline, owing to the entire inconsistency of such mouldings with the ancient love of the single square jamb and archivolt. The process of enrichment in them is shown by the successive examples given in Plate VII., below. They are numbered, and explained in the Appendix.§ XV. The date at which this corrupt form of Gothic first prevailed over the early simplicity of the Venetian types can be determined in an instant, on the steps of the choir of the Church of St. John and Paul. On our left hand, as we enter, is the tomb of the Doge Marco Cornaro, who died in 1367. It is rich and fully developed Gothic, with crockets and finials, but not yet attaining any extravagant developement. Opposite to it is that of the Doge Andrea Morosini, who died in 1382. Its Gothic is voluptuous, and over-wrought; the crockets are bold and florid, and the enormous finial represents a statue of St. Michael. There is no excuse for the antiquaries who, having this tomb before them, could have attributed the severe architecture of the Ducal Palace to a later date; for every one of the Renaissance errors is here in complete developement, though not so grossly as entirely to destroy the loveliness of the Gothic forms. In the Porta della Carta, 1423, the vice reaches its climax.§ XVI. Against this degraded Gothic, then, came up the Renaissance armies; and their first assault was in the requirement of universal perfection. For the first time since the destruction of Rome, the world had seen, in the work of the greatest artists of the fifteenth century,—in the painting of Ghirlandajo, Masaccio, Francia, Perugino, Pinturicchio, and Bellini; in the sculpture of Mino da Fiesole, of Ghiberti, and Verrocchio,—a perfection of execution and fulness of knowledge which cast all previous art into the shade, and which, being in the work of those men united with all that was great in that of former days, did indeed justify the utmost enthusiasm with which their efforts were, or could be, regarded. But when this perfection had once been exhibited in anything, it was required in everything; the world could no longer be satisfied with less exquisite execution, or less disciplined knowledge. The first thing that it demanded in all work was, that it should be done in a consummate and learned way; and men altogether forgot that it was possible to consummate what was contemptible, and to know what was useless. Imperatively requiring dexterity of touch, they gradually forgot to look for tenderness of feeling; imperatively requiring accuracy of knowledge, they gradually forgot to ask for originality of thought. The thought and the feeling which they despised departed from them, and they were left to felicitate themselves on their small science and their neat fingering. This is the history of the first attack of the Renaissance upon the Gothic schools, and of its rapid results, more fatal and immediate in architecture than in any other art, because there the demand for perfection was less reasonable, and less consistent with the capabilities of the workman; being utterly opposed to that rudeness or savageness on which, as we saw above, the nobility of the elder schools in great part depends. But inasmuch as the innovations were founded on some of the most beautiful examples of art, and headed by some of the greatest men that the world ever saw, and as the Gothic with which they interfered was corrupt and valueless, the first appearance of the Renaissance feeling had the appearance of a healthy movement. A new energy replaced whatever weariness or dulness had affected the Gothic mind; an exquisite taste and refinement, aided by extended knowledge, furnished the first models of the new school; and over the whole of Italy a style arose, generally now known as cinque-cento, which in sculpture and painting, as I just stated, produced the noblest masters which the world ever saw, headed by Michael Angelo, Raphael, and Leonardo; but which failed of doing the same in architecture, because, as we have seen above, perfection is therein not possible, and failed more totally than it would otherwise have done, because the classical enthusiasm had destroyed the best types of architectural form.§ XVII. For, observe here very carefully, the Renaissance principle, as it consisted in a demand for universal perfection, is quite distinct from the Renaissance principle as it consists in a demand for classical and Roman forms of perfection. And if I had space to follow out the subject as I should desire, I would first endeavor to ascertain what might have been the course of the art of Europe if no manuscripts of classical authors had been recovered, and no remains of classical architecture left, in the fifteenth century; so that the executive perfection to which the efforts of all great men had tended for five hundred years, and which now at last was reached, might have been allowed to develope itself in its own natural and proper form, in connexion with the architectural structure of earlier schools. This refinement and perfection had indeed its own perils, and the history of later Italy, as she sank into pleasure and thence into corruption, would probably have been the same whether she had ever learned again to write pure Latin or not. Still the inquiry into the probable cause of the enervation which might naturally have followed the highest exertion of her energies, is a totally distinct one from that into the particular form given to this enervation by her classical learning; and it is matter of considerable regret to me that I cannot treat these two subjects separately: I must be content with marking them for separation in the mind of the reader.§ XVIII. The effect, then, of the sudden enthusiasm for classical literature, which gained strength during every hour of the fifteenth century, was, as far as respected architecture, to do away with the entire system of Gothic science. The pointed arch, the shadowy vault, the clustered shaft, the heaven-pointing spire, were all swept away; and no structure was any longer permitted but that of the plain cross-beam from pillar to pillar, over the round arch, with square or circular shafts, and a low-gabled roof and pediment: two elements of noble form, which had fortunately existed in Rome, were, however, for that reason, still permitted; the cupola, and, internally, the waggon vault.§ XIX. These changes in form were all of them unfortunate; and it is almost impossible to do justice to the occasionally exquisite ornamentation of the fifteenth century, on account of its being placed upon edifices of the cold and meagre Roman outline. There is, as far as I know, only one Gothic building in Europe, the Duomo of Florence, in which, though the ornament be of a much earlier school, it is yet so exquisitely finished as to enable us to imagine what might have been the effect of the perfect workmanship of the Renaissance, coming out of the hands of men like Verrocchio and Ghiberti, had it been employed on the magnificent framework of Gothic structure. This is the question which, as I shall note in the concluding chapter, we ought to set ourselves practically to solve in modern times.§ XX. The changes effected in form, however, were the least part of the evil principles of the Renaissance. As I have just said, its main mistake, in its early stages, was the unwholesome demand for perfection, at any cost. I hope enough has been advanced, in the chapter on the Nature of Gothic, to show the reader that perfection is not to be had from the general workman, but at the cost of everything,—of his whole life, thought, and energy. And Renaissance Europe thought this a small price to pay for manipulative perfection. Men like Verrocchio and Ghiberti were not to be had every day, nor in every place; and to require from the common workman execution or knowledge like theirs, was to require him to become their copyist. Their strength was great enough to enable them to join science with invention, method with emotion, finish with fire; but, in them, the invention and the fire were first, while Europe saw in them only the method and the finish. This was new to the minds of men, and they pursued it to the neglect of everything else. “This,” they cried, “we must have in all our work henceforward:” and they were obeyed. The lower workman secured method and finish, and lost, in exchange for them, his soul.§ XXI. Now, therefore, do not let me be misunderstood when I speak generally of the evil spirit of the Renaissance. The reader may look through all I have written, from first to last, and he will not find one word but of the most profound reverence for those mighty men who could wear the Renaissance armor of proof, and yet not feel it encumber their living limbs,2—Leonardo and Michael Angelo, Ghirlandajo and Masaccio, Titian and Tintoret. But I speak of the Renaissance as an evil time, because, when it saw those men go burning forth into the battle, it mistook their armor for their strength: and forthwith encumbered with the painful panoply every stripling who ought to have gone forth only with his own choice of three smooth stones out of the brook.§ XXII. This, then, the reader must always keep in mind when he is examining for himself any examples of cinque-cento work. When it has been done by a truly great man, whose life and strength could not be oppressed, and who turned to good account the whole science of his day, nothing is more exquisite. I do not believe, for instance, that there is a more glorious work of sculpture existing in the world than that equestrian statue of Bartolomeo Colleone, by Verrocchio, of which, I hope, before these pages are printed, there will be a cast in England. But when the cinque-cento work has been done by those meaner men, who, in the Gothic times, though in a rough way, would yet have found some means of speaking out what was in their hearts, it is utterly inanimate,—a base and helpless copy of more accomplished models; or, if not this, a mere accumulation of technical skill, in gaining which the workman had surrendered all other powers that were in him.There is, therefore, of course, an infinite gradation in the art of the period, from the Sistine Chapel down to modern upholstery; but, for the most part, since in architecture the workman must be of an inferior order, it will be found that this cinque-cento painting and higher religious sculpture is noble, while the cinque-cento architecture, with its subordinate sculpture, is universally bad; sometimes, however, assuming forms, in which the consummate refinement almost atones for the loss of force.§ XXIII. This is especially the case with that second branch of the Renaissance which, as above noticed, was engrafted at Venice on the Byzantine types. So soon as the classical enthusiasm required the banishment of Gothic forms, it was natural that the Venetian mind should turn back with affection to the Byzantine models in which the round arches and simple shafts, necessitated by recent law, were presented under a form consecrated by the usage of their ancestors. And, accordingly, the first distinct school of architecture3 which arose under the new dynasty, was one in which the method of inlaying marble, and the general forms of shaft and arch, were adopted from the buildings of the twelfth century, and applied with the utmost possible refinements of modern skill. Both at Verona and Venice the resulting architecture is exceedingly beautiful. At Verona it is, indeed, less Byzantine, but possesses a character of richness and tenderness almost peculiar to that city. At Venice it is more severe, but yet adorned with sculpture which, for sharpness of touch and delicacy of minute form, cannot be rivalled, and rendered especially brilliant and beautiful by the introduction of those inlaid circles of colored marble, serpentine, and porphyry, by which Phillippe de Commynes was so much struck on his first entrance into the city. The two most refined buildings in this style in Venice are, the small Church of the Miracoli, and the Scuola di San Marco beside the Church of St. John and St. Paul. The noblest is the Rio Façade of the Ducal Palace. The Casa Dario, and Casa Manzoni, on the Grand Canal, are exquisite examples of the school, as applied to domestic architecture; and, in the reach of the canal between the Casa Foscari and the Rialto, there are several palaces, of which the Casa Contarini (called “delle Figure”) is the principal, belonging to the same group, though somewhat later, and remarkable for the association of the Byzantine principles of color with the severest lines of the Roman pediment, gradually superseding the round arch. The precision of chiselling and delicacy of proportion in the ornament and general lines of these palaces cannot be too highly praised; and I believe that the traveller in Venice, in general, gives them rather too little attention than too much. But while I would ask him to stay his gondola beside each of them long enough to examine their every line, I must also warn him to observe, most carefully, the peculiar feebleness and want of soul in the conception of their ornament, which mark them as belonging to a period of decline; as well as the absurd mode of introduction of their pieces of colored marble: these, instead of being simply and naturally inserted in the masonry, are placed in small circular or oblong frames of sculpture, like mirrors or pictures, and are represented as suspended by ribands against the wall; a pair of wings being generally fastened on to the circular tablets, as if to relieve the ribands and knots from their weight, and the whole series tied under the chin of a little cherub at the top, who is nailed against the façade like a hawk on a barn door.But chiefly let him notice, in the Casa Contarini delle Figure, one most strange incident, seeming to have been permitted, like the choice of the subjects at the three angles of the Ducal Palace, in order to teach us, by a single lesson, the true nature of the style in which it occurs. In the intervals of the windows of the first story, certain shields and torches are attached, in the form of trophies, to the stems of two trees whose boughs have been cut off, and only one or two of their faded leaves left, scarcely observable, but delicately sculptured here and there, beneath the insertions of the severed boughs.It is as if the workman had intended to leave us an image of the expiring naturalism of the Gothic school. I had not seen this sculpture when I wrote the passage referring to its period, in the first volume of this work (Chap. XX. § XXXI.):—“Autumn came,—the leaves were shed,—and the eye was directed to the extremities of the delicate branches. The Renaissance frosts came, and all perished!”§ XXIV. And the hues of this autumn of the early Renaissance are the last which appear in architecture. The winter which succeeded was colorless as it was cold; and although the Venetian painters struggled long against its influence, the numbness of the architecture prevailed over them at last, and the exteriors of all the latter palaces were built only in barren stone. As at this point of our inquiry, therefore, we must bid farewell to color, I have reserved for this place the continuation of the history of chromatic decoration, from the Byzantine period, when we left it in the fifth chapter of the second volume, down to its final close.§ XXV. It was above stated, that the principal difference in general form and treatment between the Byzantine and Gothic palaces was the contraction of the marble facing into the narrow spaces between the windows, leaving large fields of brick wall perfectly bare. The reason for this appears to have been, that the Gothic builders were no longer satisfied with the faint and delicate hues of the veined marble; they wished for some more forcible and piquant mode of decoration, corresponding more completely with the gradually advancing splendor of chivalric costume and heraldic device. What I have said above of the simple habits of life of the thirteenth century, in no wise refers either to costumes of state, or of military service; and any illumination of the thirteenth and early fourteenth centuries (the great period being, it seems to me, from 1250 to 1350), while it shows a peculiar majesty and simplicity in the fall of the robes (often worn over the chain armor), indicates, at the same time, an exquisite brilliancy of color and power of design in the hems and borders, as well as in the armorial bearings with which they are charged; and while, as we have seen, a peculiar simplicity is found also in the forms of the architecture, corresponding to that of the folds of the robes, its colors were constantly increasing in brilliancy and decision, corresponding to those of the quartering of the shield, and of the embroidery of the mantle.§ XXVI. Whether, indeed, derived from the quarterings of the knights’ shields, or from what other source, I know not; but there is one magnificent attribute of the coloring of the late twelfth, the whole thirteenth, and the early fourteenth century, which I do not find definitely in any previous work, nor afterwards in general art, though constantly, and necessarily, in that of great colorists, namely, the union of one color with another by reciprocal interference: that is to say, if a mass of red is to be set beside a mass of blue, a piece of the red will be carried into the blue, and a piece of the blue carried into the red; sometimes in nearly equal portions, as in a shield divided into four quarters, of which the uppermost on one side will be of the same color as the lowermost on the other; sometimes in smaller fragments, but, in the periods above named, always definitely and grandly, though in a thousand various ways. And I call it a magnificent principle, for it is an eternal and universal one, not in art only,4 but in human life. It is the great principle of Brotherhood, not by equality, nor by likeness, but by giving and receiving; the souls that are unlike, and the nations that are unlike, and the natures that are unlike, being bound into one noble whole by each receiving something from, and of, the others’ gifts and the others’ glory. I have not space to follow out this thought,—it is of infinite extent and application,—but I note it for the reader’s pursuit, because I have long believed, and the whole second volume of “Modern Painters” was written to prove, that in whatever has been made by the Deity externally delightful to the human sense of beauty, there is some type of God’s nature or of God’s laws; nor are any of His laws, in one sense, greater than the appointment that the most lovely and perfect unity shall be obtained by the taking of one nature into another. I trespass upon too high ground; and yet I cannot fully show the reader the extent of this law, but by leading him thus far. And it is just because it is so vast and so awful a law, that it has rule over the smallest things; and there is not a vein of color on the lightest leaf which the spring winds are at this moment unfolding in the fields around us, but it is an illustration of an ordainment to which the earth and its creatures owe their continuance, and their Redemption.§ XXVII. It is perfectly inconceivable, until it has been made a subject of special inquiry, how perpetually Nature employs this principle in the distribution of her light and shade; how by the most extraordinary adaptations, apparently accidental, but always in exactly the right place, she contrives to bring darkness into light, and light into darkness; and that so sharply and decisively, that at the very instant when one object changes from light to dark, the thing relieved upon it will change from dark to light, and yet so subtly that the eye will not detect the transition till it looks for it. The secret of a great part of the grandeur in all the noblest compositions is the doing of this delicately in degree, and broadly in mass; in color it may be done much more decisively than in light and shade, and, according to the simplicity of the work, with greater frankness of confession, until, in purely decorative art, as in the illumination, glass-painting, and heraldry of the great periods, we find it reduced to segmental accuracy. Its greatest masters, in high art, are Tintoret, Veronese, and Turner.§ XXVIII. Together with this great principle of quartering is introduced another, also of very high value as far as regards the delight of the eye, though not of so profound meaning. As soon as color began to be used in broad and opposed fields, it was perceived that the mass of it destroyed its brilliancy, and it was tempered by chequering it with some other color or colors in smaller quantities, mingled with minute portions of pure white. The two moral principles of which this is the type, are those of Temperance and Purity; the one requiring the fulness of the color to be subdued, and the other that it shall be subdued without losing either its own purity or that of the colors with which it is associated.§ XXIX. Hence arose the universal and admirable system of the diapered or chequered background of early ornamental art. They are completely developed in the thirteenth century, and extend through the whole of the fourteenth gradually yielding to landscape, and other pictorial backgrounds, as the designers lost perception of the purpose of their art, and of the value of color. The chromatic decoration of the Gothic palaces of Venice was of course founded on these two great principles, which prevailed constantly wherever the true chivalric and Gothic spirit possessed any influence. The windows, with their intermediate spaces of marble, were considered as the objects to be relieved, and variously quartered with vigorous color. The whole space of the brick wall was considered as a background; it was covered with stucco, and painted in fresco, with diaper patterns.§ XXX. What? the reader asks in some surprise,—Stucco! and in the great Gothic period? Even so, but not stucco to imitate stone. Herein lies all the difference; it is stucco confessed and understood, and laid on the bricks precisely as gesso is laid on canvas, in order to form them into a ground for receiving color from the human hand,—color which, if well laid on, might render the brick wall more precious than if it had been built of emeralds. Whenever we wish to paint, we may prepare our paper as we choose; the value of the ground in no wise adds to the value of the picture. A Tintoret on beaten gold would be of no more value than a Tintoret on coarse canvas; the gold would merely be wasted. All that we have to do is to make the ground as good and fit for the color as possible, by whatever means.§ XXXI. I am not sure if I am right in applying the term “stucco” to the ground of fresco; but this is of no consequence; the reader will understand that it was white, and that the whole wall of the palace was considered as the page of a book to be illuminated: but he will understand also that the sea winds are bad librarians; that, when once the painted stucco began to fade or to fall, the unsightliness of the defaced color would necessitate its immediate restoration; and that therefore, of all the chromatic decoration of the Gothic palaces, there is hardly a fragment left.Happily, in the pictures of Gentile Bellini, the fresco coloring of the Gothic palaces is recorded, as it still remained in his time; not with rigid accuracy, but quite distinctly enough to enable us, by comparing it with the existing colored designs in the manuscripts and glass of the period, to ascertain precisely what it must have been.§ XXXII. The walls were generally covered with chequers of very warm color, a russet inclining to scarlet, more or less relieved with white, black, and grey; as still seen in the only example which, having been executed in marble, has been perfectly preserved, the front of the Ducal Palace. This, however, owing to the nature of its materials, was a peculiarly simple example; the ground is white, crossed with double bars of pale red, and in the centre of each chequer there is a cross, alternately black with a red centre and red with a black centre where the arms cross. In painted work the grounds would be, of course, as varied and complicated as those of manuscripts; but I only know of one example left, on the Casa Sagredo, where, on some fragments of stucco, a very early chequer background is traceable, composed of crimson quatrefoils interlaced, with cherubim stretching their wings filling the intervals. A small portion of this ground is seen beside the window taken from the palace, Vol. II. Plate XIII. fig. 1.§ XXXIII. It ought to be especially noticed, that, in all chequered patterns employed in the colored designs of these noble periods, the greatest care is taken to mark that they are grounds of design rather than designs themselves. Modern architects, in such minor imitations as they are beginning to attempt, endeavor to dispose the parts in the patterns so as to occupy certain symmetrical positions with respect to the parts of the architecture. A Gothic builder never does this: he cuts his ground into pieces of the shape he requires with utter remorselessness, and places his windows or doors upon it with no regard whatever to the lines in which they cut the pattern: and, in illuminations of manuscripts, the chequer itself is constantly changed in the most subtle and arbitrary way, wherever there is the least chance of its regularity attracting the eye, and making it of importance. So intentional is this, that a diaper pattern is often set obliquely to the vertical lines of the designs, for fear it should appear in any way connected with them.§ XXXIV. On these russet or crimson backgrounds the entire space of the series of windows was relieved, for the most part, as a subdued white field of alabaster; and on this delicate and veined white were set the circular disks of purple and green. The arms of the family were of course blazoned in their own proper colors, but I think generally on a pure azure ground; the blue color is still left behind the shields in the Casa Priuli and one or two more of the palaces which are unrestored, and the blue ground was used also to relieve the sculptures of religious subject. Finally, all the mouldings, capitals, cornices, cusps, and traceries, were either entirely gilded or profusely touched with gold.The whole front of a Gothic palace in Venice may, therefore, be simply described as a field of subdued russet, quartered with broad sculptured masses of white and gold; these latter being relieved by smaller inlaid fragments of blue, purple, and deep green.§ XXXV. Now, from the beginning of the fourteenth century, when painting and architecture were thus united, two processes of change went on simultaneously to the beginning of the seventeenth. The merely decorative chequerings on the walls yielded gradually to more elaborate paintings of figure-subject; first small and quaint, and then enlarging into enormous pictures filled by figures generally colossal. As these paintings became of greater merit and importance, the architecture with which they were associated was less studied; and at last a style was introduced in which the framework of the building was little more interesting than that of a Manchester factory, but the whole space of its walls was covered with the most precious fresco paintings. Such edifices are of course no longer to be considered as forming an architectural school; they were merely large preparations of artists’ panels; and Titian, Giorgione, and Veronese no more conferred merit on the later architecture of Venice, as such, by painting on its façades, than Landseer or Watts could confer merit on that of London by first whitewashing and then painting its brick streets from one end to the other.§ XXXVI. Contemporarily with this change in the relative values of the color decoration and the stone-work, one equally important was taking place in the opposite direction, but of course in another group of buildings. For in proportion as the architect felt himself thrust aside or forgotten in one edifice, he endeavored to make himself principal in another; and, in retaliation for the painter’s entire usurpation of certain fields of design, succeeded in excluding him totally from those in which his own influence was predominant. Or, more accurately speaking, the architects began to be too proud to receive assistance from the colorists; and these latter sought for ground which the architect had abandoned, for the unrestrained display of their own skill. And thus, while one series of edifices is continually becoming feebler in design and richer in superimposed paintings, another, that of which we have so often spoken as the earliest or Byzantine Renaissance, fragment by fragment rejects the pictorial decoration; supplies its place first with marbles, and then, as the latter are felt by the architect, daily increasing in arrogance and deepening in coldness, to be too bright for his dignity, he casts even these aside one by one: and when the last porphyry circle has vanished from the façade, we find two palaces standing side by side, one built, so far as mere masonry goes, with consummate care and skill, but without the slightest vestige of color in any part of it; the other utterly without any claim to interest in its architectural form, but covered from top to bottom with paintings by Veronese. At this period, then, we bid farewell to color, leaving the painters to their own peculiar field; and only regretting that they waste their noblest work on walls, from which in a couple of centuries, if not before, the greater part of their labor must be effaced. On the other hand, the architecture whose decline we are tracing, has now assumed an entirely new condition, that of the Central or True Renaissance, whose nature we are to examine in the next chapter.§ XXXVII. But before leaving these last palaces over which the Byzantine influence extended itself, there is one more lesson to be learned from them of much importance to us. Though in many respects debased in style, they are consummate in workmanship, and unstained in honor; there is no imperfection in them, and no dishonesty. That there is absolutely no imperfection, is indeed, as we have seen above, a proof of their being wanting in the highest qualities of architecture; but, as lessons in masonry, they have their value, and may well be studied for the excellence they display in methods of levelling stones, for the precision of their inlaying, and other such qualities, which in them are indeed too principal, yet very instructive in their particular way.§ XXXVIII. For instance, in the inlaid design of the dove with the olive branch, from the Casa Trevisan (Vol. I. Plate XX. p. 369), it is impossible for anything to go beyond the precision with which the olive leaves are cut out of the white marble; and, in some wreaths of laurel below, the rippled edge of each leaf is as finely and easily drawn, as if by a delicate pencil. No Florentine table is more exquisitely finished than the façade of this entire palace; and as ideals of an executive perfection, which, though we must not turn aside from our main path to reach it, may yet with much advantage be kept in our sight and memory, these palaces are most notable amidst the architecture of Europe. The Rio Façade of the Ducal Palace, though very sparing in color, is yet, as an example of finished masonry in a vast building, one of the finest things, not only in Venice, but in the world. It differs from other work of the Byzantine Renaissance, in being on a very large scale; and it still retains one pure Gothic character, which adds not a little to its nobleness, that of perpetual variety. There is hardly one window of it, or one panel, that is like another; and this continual change so increases its apparent size by confusing the eye, that, though presenting no bold features, or striking masses of any kind, there are few things in Italy more impressive than the vision of it overhead, as the gondola glides from beneath the Bridge of Sighs. And lastly (unless we are to blame these buildings for some pieces of very childish perspective), they are magnificently honest, as well as perfect. I do not remember even any gilding upon them; all is pure marble, and of the finest kind.5And therefore, in finally leaving the Ducal Palace,6 let us take with us one more lesson, the last which we shall receive from the Stones of Venice, except in the form of a warning.§ XXXIX. The school of architecture which we have just been examining is, as we have seen above, redeemed from severe condemnation by its careful and noble use of inlaid marbles as a means of color. From that time forward, this art has been unknown, or despised; the frescoes of the swift and daring Venetian painters long contended with the inlaid marbles, outvying them with color, indeed more glorious than theirs, but fugitive as the hues of woods in autumn; and, at last, as the art itself of painting in this mighty manner failed from among men,7 the modern decorative system established itself, which united the meaninglessness of the veined marble with the evanescence of the fresco, and completed the harmony by falsehood.§ XL. Since first, in the second chapter of the “Seven Lamps,” I endeavored to show the culpableness, as well as the baseness, of our common modes of decoration by painted imitation of various woods or marbles, the subject has been discussed in various architectural works, and is evidently becoming one of daily increasing interest. When it is considered how many persons there are whose means of livelihood consist altogether in these spurious arts, and how difficult it is, even for the most candid, to admit a conviction contrary both to their interests and to their inveterate habits of practice and thought, it is rather a matter of wonder, that the cause of Truth should have found even a few maintainers, than that it should have encountered a host of adversaries. It has, however, been defended repeatedly by architects themselves, and so successfully, that I believe, so far as the desirableness of this or that method of ornamentation is to be measured by the fact of its simple honesty or dishonesty, there is little need to add anything to what has been already urged upon the subject. But there are some points connected with the practice of imitating marble, which I have been unable to touch upon until now, and by the consideration of which we may be enabled to see something of the policy of honesty in this matter, without in the least abandoning the higher ground of principle.§ XLI. Consider, then, first, what marble seems to have been made for. Over the greater part of the surface of the world, we find that a rock has been providentially distributed, in a manner particularly pointing it out as intended for the service of man. Not altogether a common rock, it is yet rare enough to command a certain degree of interest and attention wherever it is found; but not so rare as to preclude its use for any purpose to which it is fitted. It is exactly of the consistence which is best adapted for sculpture: that is to say, neither hard nor brittle, nor flaky nor splintery, but uniform, and delicately, yet not ignobly, soft,—exactly soft enough to allow the sculptor to work it without force, and trace on it the finest lines of finished form; and yet so hard as never to betray the touch or moulder away beneath the steel; and so admirably crystallized, and of such permanent elements, that no rains dissolve it, no time changes it, no atmosphere decomposes it: once shaped, it is shaped for ever, unless subjected to actual violence or attrition. This rock, then, is prepared by Nature for the sculptor and architect, just as paper is prepared by the manufacturer for the artist, with as great—nay, with greater—care, and more perfect adaptation of the material to the requirements. And of this marble paper, some is white and some colored; but more is colored than white, because the white is evidently meant for sculpture, and the colored for the covering of large surfaces.§ XLII. Now, if we would take Nature at her word, and use this precious paper which she has taken so much care to provide for us (it is a long process, the making of that paper; the pulp of it needing the subtlest possible solution, and the pressing of it—for it is all hot-pressed—having to be done under the saw, or under something at least as heavy); if, I say, we use it as Nature would have us, consider what advantages would follow. The colors of marble are mingled for us just as if on a prepared palette. They are of all shades and hues (except bad ones), some being united and even, some broken, mixed, and interrupted, in order to supply, as far as possible, the want of the painter’s power of breaking and mingling the color with the brush. But there is more in the colors than this delicacy of adaptation. There is history in them. By the manner in which they are arranged in every piece of marble, they record the means by which that marble has been produced, and the successive changes through which it has passed. And in all their veins and zones, and flame-like stainings, or broken and disconnected lines, they write various legends, never untrue, of the former political state of the mountain kingdom to which they belonged, of its infirmities and fortitudes, convulsions and consolidations, from the beginning of time.Now, if we were never in the habit of seeing anything but real marbles, this language of theirs would soon begin to be understood; that is to say, even the least observant of us would recognize such and such stones as forming a peculiar class, and would begin to inquire where they came from, and, at last, take some feeble interest in the main question, Why they were only to be found in that or the other place, and how they came to make a part of this mountain, and not of that? And in a little while, it would not be possible to stand for a moment at a shop door, leaning against the pillars of it, without remembering or questioning of something well worth the memory or the inquiry, touching the hills of Italy, or Greece, or Africa, or Spain; and we should be led on from knowledge to knowledge, until even the unsculptured walls of our streets became to us volumes as precious as those of our libraries.§ XLIII. But the moment we admit imitation of marble, this source of knowledge is destroyed. None of us can be at the pains to go through the work of verification. If we knew that every colored stone we saw was natural, certain questions, conclusions, interests, would force themselves upon us without any effort of our own; but we have none of us time to stop in the midst of our daily business, to touch and pore over, and decide with painful minuteness of investigation, whether such and such a pillar be stucco or stone. And the whole field of this knowledge, which Nature intended us to possess when we were children, is hopelessly shut out from us. Worse than shut out, for the mass of coarse imitations confuses our knowledge acquired from other sources; and our memory of the marbles we have perhaps once or twice carefully examined, is disturbed and distorted by the inaccuracy of the imitations which are brought before us continually.§ XLIV. But it will be said, that it is too expensive to employ real marbles in ordinary cases. It may be so: yet not always more expensive than the fitting windows with enormous plate glass, and decorating them with elaborate stucco mouldings and other useless sources of expenditure in modern building; nay, not always in the end more expensive than the frequent repainting of the dingy pillars, which a little water dashed against them would refresh from day to day, if they were of true stone. But, granting that it be so, in that very costliness, checking their common use in certain localities, is part of the interest of marbles, considered as history. Where they are not found, Nature has supplied other materials,—clay for brick, or forest for timber,—in the working of which she intends other characters of the human mind to be developed, and by the proper use of which certain local advantages will assuredly be attained, while the delightfulness and meaning of the precious marbles will be felt more forcibly in the districts where they occur, or on the occasions when they may be procured.§ XLV. It can hardly be necessary to add, that, as the imitation of marbles interferes with and checks the knowledge of geography and geology, so the imitation of wood interferes with that of botany; and that our acquaintance with the nature, uses, and manner of growth of the timber trees of our own and of foreign countries, would probably, in the majority of cases, become accurate and extensive, without any labor or sacrifice of time, were not all inquiry checked, and all observation betrayed, by the wretched labors of the “Grainer.”§ XLVI. But this is not all. As the practice of imitation retards knowledge, so also it retards art.There is not a meaner occupation for the human mind than the imitation of the stains and striæ of marble and wood. When engaged in any easy and simple mechanical occupation, there is still some liberty for the mind to leave the literal work; and the clash of the loom or the activity of the fingers will not always prevent the thoughts from some happy expatiation in their own domains. But the grainer must think of what he is doing; and veritable attention and care, and occasionally considerable skill, are consumed in the doing of a more absolute nothing than I can name in any other department of painful idleness. I know not anything so humiliating as to see a human being, with arms and limbs complete, and apparently a head, and assuredly a soul, yet into the hands of which when you have put a brush and pallet, it cannot do anything with them but imitate a piece of wood. It cannot color, it has no ideas of color; it cannot draw, it has no ideas of form; it cannot caricature, it has no ideas of humor. It is incapable of anything beyond knots. All its achievement, the entire result of the daily application of its imagination and immortality, is to be such a piece of texture as the sun and dew are sucking up out of the muddy ground, and weaving together, far more finely, in millions of millions of growing branches, over every rood of waste woodland and shady hill.