John Ruskin.

The seven lamps of architecture; lectures on architecture and painting; The study of architecture online

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the Lord, and great shall be the peace of thy children."





The delivery of the foregoing lectures excited, as it may be
imagined, considerable indignation among the architects who
happened to hear them, and elicited various attempts at reply.
As it seemed to have been expected by the writers of these
replies, that in two lectures, each of them lasting not much
more than an hour, I should have been able completely to
discuss the philosophy and history of the architecture of the
world, besides meeting every objection, and reconciling every
apparent contradiction, which might suggest itself to the
minds of hearers with whom, probably, from first to last, I
bad not a single exactly correspondent idea, relating to the
matters under discussion, it seems unnecessary to notice any
of them in particular. But as this volume may perhaps fall
into the hands of readers who have not time to refer to the
works in which my views have been expressed more at large,
and as I shaU. now not be able to write or to say anything
more about architecture for some time to come, it may be
useful to state here, and explain in the shortest possible com-
pass, the main gist of the propositions which I desire to main-
tain respecting that art ; and also to note and answer, once
for all, such arguments as are ordinarily used by the archi-
tects of the modern school to controvert these propositions.
They may be reduced under six heads.

1. That Gothic or Eomanesque construction is nobler than
Greek construction.

2. That ornamentation is the principal part of architecture,


3. That ornamentation should be visible.

4. That ornamentation should be natural

5. That ornamentation should be thoughtful

6. And that therefore Gothic ornamentation is nobler than
Greek ornamentation, and Gothic architecture the only archi
tecture which should now be built.

Proposition 1st. — Oothic or Romanesque construction is nohlci
than Greek construction.* That is to say, building an arch,
vault, or dome, is a nobler and more ingenious work than lay
ing a flat stone or beam over the space to be covered. It is,
for instance, a nobler and more ingenious thing to build an
arched bridge over a stream, than to lay two pine-trunks across
from bank to bank ; and, in like manner, it is a nobler and
more ingenious thing to build an arch over a window, door,
or room, than to lay a single flat stone over the same space.

No architects have ever attempted seriously to controvert
this proposition. Sometimes, however, they say that " of two
ways of doing a thing, the best and most perfect is not always
to be adopted, for there may be particular reasons for em-
ploying an inferior one. " This I am perfectly ready to grant,
only let them show their reasons in each particular case.
Sometimes also they say, that there is a charm in the simple
construction which is lost in the scientific one. This I am
also perfectly ready to grant. There is a charm in Stonehenge
which there is not in Amiens Cathedral, and a charm in an
Alpine pine bridge which there is not in the Ponte della Trin-

* The constructive value of Gothic architecture is, however, far
greater than that of Komanesque, as the pointed arch is not only sus-
ceptible of an infinite variety of forms and applications to the weight to
be sustained, but it possesses, in the outline given to its masonry at its
perfect periods, the means of self-sustainment to a far greater degree
than the round arch. I pointed out, I believe, the first time, the mean-
ing and constructive value of the Gothic cusp, in page 139 of the first
volume of the ''Stones of Venice." That statement was first denied,
and then taken advantage of, by modern architects ; and, considering
Iiow often it has been alleged that I have no practical knowledge of
architecture, it cannot but be matter of some triumph to me, to find the
" Builder," of the 31st January, of this year, describing, as a new in-
vention, the successful application to a church in Carlow of the prinor
pie which I laid down in the year 1851.


ita afc Florence, and, in general, a charm in savageness •which
there is not in science. But do not let it be said, therefore,
that savageness is science.

Proposition 2nd. — Ornamentation is the principal part of
architecture. That is to say, the highest nobility of a build-
ing does not consist in its being well built, but in its being
nobly sculptured or painted.

This is always, and at the first hearing of it, very naturally,
considered one of my most heretical propositions. It is also
one of the most important I have to maintain ; and it must ba
permitted me to explain it at some length. The first thing to
be required of a building — not, observe, the highest thing, but
the first thing — is that it shall answer its purposes completely,
permanently, and at the smallest expense. If it is a house, it
should be just of the size convenient for its owner, containing
exactly the kind and number of rooms that he wants, with ex-
actly the number of windows he wants, put in the places that
he wants. If it is a church, it should be just large enough
for its congregation, and of such shape and disposition aa
shall make them comfortable in it and let them hear well in
it. If it be a pubUc office, it should be so disposed as is most
convenient for the clerks in their daily avocations ; and so on ;
all this being utterly irrespective of external appearance or
lEsthetic considerations of any kind, and all being done solidly,
securely, and at the smallest necessary cost.

The sacrifice of any of these first requirements to external
appearance is a futility and absurdity. Rooms must not be
darkened to make the ranges of windows symmetrical. Useless
wtngs must not be added on one side to balance useful wings
on the other, but the house built with one wing, if the owner
has no need of two ; and so on.

But observe, in doing all this, there is no High, or as it is
commonly called. Fine Art, required at aU. There may be
much science, together with the lower form of art, or "handi-
craft," but there is as yet no Fine Art. House-building, on
these terms, is no higher thing than ship-building. It indeed
will generally be found that the edifice designed with this
masculine reference to utility, will have a charm about it^


otherwise unattainable, just as a ship, constructed -with simple
reference to its service against powers of wind and wave, tuma
but one of the loveliest things that human hands produce.
StiU, we do not, and properly do not, hold ship-building to be
a fine art, nor preserve in our memories the names of immor-
sal ship-builders ; neither, so long as the mere utihty and con-
structive merit of the building are regarded, is architecture to
be held a fine art, or are the names of architects to be remem-
bered immortally. For any one may at any time be taught to
bmld the ship, or (thus far) the house, and there is nothing
deserving of immortality in doing what any one may be taught
to do.

But when the house, or church, or other building is thus
far designed, and the forms of its dead walls and dead roofs
are up to this point determined, comes the divine part of the
work — namely, to turn these dead walls into Hving ones.
Only Deity, that is to say, those who are taught by Deity, can
do that.

And that is to be done by painting and sculpture, that is
to say, by ornamentation. Ornamentation is therefore the
principal part of architecture, considered as a subject of fine

Now observe. It wiU at once foUow from this principle,
that a great architect must be a great sculptor or painter.

This is a universal law. No person who is not a great
sculptor or painter can be an architect. If he is not a sculptor
or painter, he can only be a builder.

The three greatest architects hitherto known in the world
were Phidias, Giotto, and Michael Angelo ; with all of whom,
architecture was only their play, sculpture and painting their
■work. AU great works of architecture in existence are either
the work of single sculptors or painters, or of societies of
sculptors and painters, acting collectively for a series of years.
A Gothic cathedral is properly to be defined as a piece of the
most magnificent associative sculpture, arranged on the no-
blest principles of building, for the service and delight of
multitudes ; and the proper definition of architecture, aa
distinguished from sculpture, ia merely " the art of design'


ing sculpture for a particular place, and placing it there on
the best principles of building."

Hence it clearly follows, that in modem days we have no
architects. The term "architecture" is not so much as un-
derstood by us. I am very sorry to be compelled to the dis-
courtesy of stating this fact, but a fact it is, and a fact which
it is necessary to state strongly.

Hence also it wiU follow, that the first thing necessary to
the possession of a school of architecture is the formation of
a school of able sculptors, and that till we have that, nothing
■we do can be called architecture at all.

This, then, being my second proposition, the so-called
"architects" of the day, as the reader wiH imagine, are not
willing to admit it, or to admit any statement which at all
involves it ; and every statement, tending in this direction,
which I have hitherto made, has of course been met by eager
opposition ; opposition which perhaps would have been still
more energetic, but that architects have not, I think, till
lately, been quite aware of the lengths to which I was pre-
pared to carry the principle.

The arguments, or assertions, which they generally employ
against this second proposition and its consequences, are the

First. That the true nobihty of architecture consists, not in
decoration (or sculpture), but in the " disposition of ^masses,"
and that architecture is, in fact, the " art of proportion."

It is difficult to overstate the enormity of the ignorance
which this popular statement implies. For the fact is that
all art, and all nature, depend on the " disposition of masses."
Painting, sculpture, music, and poetry, depend all equally on
the "proportion," whether of colours, stones, notes, or words
Proportion is a principle, not of architecture, but of existence.
It is by the laws of proportion that stars shine, that moun.
tains stand, and rivers flow. Man can hardly perform any act
of his life, can hardly utter two words of innocent speech, or
move his hand in accordance with those words, without in-
volving some reference, whether taught or instinctive, to the
laws of proportion. And in the fine arts, it is impossible to


move a single step, or to execute the smallest and simplesii
piece of work, without involving all those laws of proportion
in their full complexity. To arrange (by invention) the folda
of a piece of drapery, or dispose the locks of hair on the head
of a statue, requires as much sense and knowledge of the laws
of proportion, as to dispose the masses of a cathedral The one
are indeed smaller than the other, but the relations between
1, 2, 4, and 8, are precisely the same as the relations between
6, 12, 24, and 48. So that the assertion that " architecture
is par excellence the art of proportion," cotdd never be made
except by persons who know nothing of art in general ; and,
in fact, never is made except by those architects, who, not
being artists, fancy that the one poor aesthetic principle of
which they are cognizant is the whole of art. They find that
the " disposition of masses '' is the only thing of impojrtance
in the art with which they are acquainted^ and fancy therefore
that it is peciuiar to that art ; whereas the fact is, that all
great art begins exactly where theirs ends, with the " disposi-
tion of masses.'' The assertion that Greek architecture, as
opposed to Gothic architecture, is the " architecture of pro-
portion," is another of the results of the same broad igno-
rance. First, it is a calumny of the old Greek style itself,
which, like every other good architecture that ever existed,
depends more on its grand figure sculpture, than on its pro-
portions of parts ; so that to copy the form of the Parthenon
without its friezes and frontal statuary, is like copying the
figure of a human being without its eyes and mouth ; and, in
the second place, so far as modern pseudo-Greek work does
depend on its proportions more than Gothic work, it does so,
not because it is better proportioned, but because it has noth-
ing hut proportion to depend upon. Gesture is in like man-
ner of more importance to a pantomime actor than to a trage-
dian, not because his gesture is more refined, but because he
has no tongue. And the proportions of our common Greek
work are important to it undoubtedly, but not because they
are or ever can be more subtle than Gothie proportion, but
because that work has no sculpture, nor colour, nor imagina-
tion, nor sacredness, nor any other quality whatoroever in ii^


but ratios of measures. And it is diffictilt to express with
sufficient force the absurdity of the supposition that there is
more room for refinements of proportion in the relations of
seven or eight equal pillars, with the triangular end of a roof
above them, than between the shafts, and buttresses, and
porches, and pinnacles, and vaultings, and towers, and all
other doubly and trebly multiplied magnificences of member-
ship which form the framework of a Gothic temple.

Second Eeply. — It is often said, with some appearance of
plausibility, that I dwell in all my writings on little things
and contemptible details ; and not on essential and large
things. Now, in the first place, as soon as our architects be-
come capable of doing and managing little and contemptible
things, it wiU be time to talk about larger ones ; at present I
do not see that they can design so much as a niche or a
bracket, and therefore they need not as yet think about any-
thing larger. For although, as both just now, and always, I
have said, there is as much science of arrangement needed in
the designing of a small group of parts as of a large one, yet
assuredly designing the larger one is not the easier work of
the two. For the eye and mind can embrace the smaller ob-
ject more completely, and if the powers of conception are
feeble, they get embarrassed by the inferior members which
fall within the divisions of the larger design.* So that, of
course, the best way is to begin with the smaller features ;
for most assuredly, those who cannot design small things
cannot design large ones ; and yet, on the other hand, who-
ever can design small things perfectly, can design whatever
he chooses. The man who, without copying, and by his own
true and original power, can arrange a cluster of rose-leaves
nobly, can design anything. He may fail from want of taste
or feeling, but not from want of power.

* Thus, In speaking of Pugin's designs, I said, "Expect no cathedral*
of him ; but no one, at present, can design a better flnial, though he
will never design even a finial, perfectly." But even this I said less
with reference to powers of arrangement, than to materials of fancy ;
for many men have stone enough to last them through u boss or <
bracket, but not to last them through a church front.


And the real reaaon why architects are so eager in protest-
ing against my close examination of details, is simply that
they know they dare not meet me on that ground. BeiDg, as
I have said, in reaJity not ai-chitects, but builders, they can
indeed raise a large building, with copied ornaments, which,
being huge and wliite, they hope the public may pronoTjoice
" handsome." But they cannot design a cluster of oak-leaves
— no, nor a single hxunan figure — no, nor so much as a beast,
or a bird or a bird's nest ! Let them first learn to invent as
much as will fill a quatrefoU, or point a pinnacle, and then it
will be time enough to reason with them on the principles of
the sublime.

But farther. The things that I have dwelt upon in exam-
ining buildings, though often their least parts, are always in
reahty their principal pai-ts. That is the principal part of a
building in which its mind is contained, and that, as I have
just shown, is its sculpture and painting. I do with a build-
ing as I do with a man, watch the eye and the lips : when they
ai-e bright and eloquent, the form of the body is of httle con-

"Whatever other objections have been made to this second
proposition, arise, as far as I remember, merely from a con-
fusion of the idea of essentialness or primariness with the
idea of nobleness. The essential thing in a building, — its
/irst virtue, — is that it be strongly built, and fit for its uses.
The noblest thing in a building, and its highest virtue, is that
it be nobly sculptured or painted.*

One or two important corollaries yet remain to be stated.
It has just been said that to sacrifice the convenience of a '
building to its external appearance is a futility and absurdity,
and that convenience and stabiHty are to be attained at the
smallest cost. But when that convenience has been attained,
the adding the noble characters of life by painting and
sculpture, is a work in which all possible cost may be wisely
admitted. There is great difficulty in fuUy explaining the
various bearings of this proposition, so as to do away with the

* Of course I use the term painting as including every mode of ap*
plying colour.


chances of its being erroneously understood and applied.
For although, in the first designing of the building, nothing
is to be admitted but what is wanted, and no useless wings
are to be added to balance useful ones, yet in its ultimate
designing, when its sculpture and colour become precious, it
may be that actual room is wanted to display them, or richer
symmetry wanted to deserve them ; and in such cases even a
useless wall may be built to bear the sculpture, as at San
Michele of Lucca, or a useless portion added to complete the
cadences, as at St. Mark's of Venice, or useless height ad-
mitted in order to increase the impressiveness, as in nearly
every noble buUding in the world. But the right to do this
is dependent upon the actual purpose of the building becom-
ing no longer one of utility merely ; as the purpose of a
cathedral is not so much to shelter the congregation as to awe
them. In such cases even some sacrifice of convenience may
occasionally be admitted, as in the case of certain forms of
pillared churches. But for the most part, the great law is,
convenience first, and\ then the noblest decoration possible ;
and this is peculiarly the case in domestic buildings, and
such pubhc ones as are constantly to be used for practical

Proposition 3rd. — Ornamentation should be visible.

The reader may imagine this to be an indisputable posi-
tion ; but, practically, it is one of the last which modem
architects are likely to admit ; for it involves much more
than appears at first sight. To render ornamentation, with
all its qualities, clearly and entirely visible in its appointed
place on the building, requires a knowledge of effect and a
power of design which few even of the best artists possess,
and which modern architects, so far from possessing, do not
so much as comprehend the existence of. But, without
dweUing on this highest manner of rendering ornament
"visible,"' I desire only at present to conviace the reader
thoroughly of the main fact asserted in the text, that while
modem builders decorate the tops of buildings, medissval
builders decorated the bottom. So singular is the ignorance
yet prevailing of the first iirinciples of Gothic architecture


that I saw this assertion marked with notes of interrogation
ia several of the reports of these Lectures ; although, at
Edinburgh, it was only necessary for those who doubted it to
have walked to Holyrood Chapel, in order to convince them-
selves of the truth of it, so far as their own city was con-
cerned ; and although, most assuredly, the cathedrals of
Eui'ope have now been drawn often enough to estabHsh the
very simple fact that their best sculpture is in their porches,
not ia their steeples. However, as this great Gothic principle
seems yet imacknowledged, let me state it here, once for all,
namely, that the whole building is decorated, in aU pure and
fine examples, with the most exactly studied respect to the
powers of the eye ; the richest and most deUcate sculpture
being put on the walls of the porches, or on the fayade of the
building, just high enough above the ground to secure it
from accidental, (not from wanton*) injury. The decoration,
as it rises, becomes always bolder, and in the buildings of the
greatest times generally simpler. Thus at San Zeno, and the
duomo of Verona, the only dehcate decorations are on the
porches and lower walls of the fapades, the rest of the build->
ings being left comparatively plain ; in the ducal palace of
Venice the only very careful work is in the lowest capitals ;
and so also the richness of the work diminishes upwards in
the transepts of Rouen, and fajades of Bayeux, Bheims,
Amiens, Abbeville.f Lyons, and Notre Dame of Paris. But
in the middle and later Gothic the tendency is to produce an
equal richness of effect over the whole building, or even to in-
crease the richness towards the top : but this is done so skil-
fully that no fine work is wasted : and when the spectator
ascends to the higher points of the building, which he thought
were of the most consummate delicacy, he finds them Herculean

* Nothing is more notable in good Gothic than the confidence of ita
builders in the respect of the people for their work. A great school of
architecture cannot exist when this respect cannot be calculated upon,
as it would be vain to put fine sculpture within the reach of a popula-
tion whose only pleasure would be in defacing it.

f The church at Abbeville is late flamboyant, but well deserves, iot
the exquisite beauty of its porches, to be named even with the grsiU
works of the thirteenth century.


in strengtlL and rough-hewn in style, the really delicate work
being all put at the base. The general treatment of Eoman-
esque work is to increase the numher of arches at the top,
which at once enriches and lightens the mass, and to put the
finest sculpture of the arches at the bottom. In towers of
all kinds and periods the effective enrichment is towards the
top, and most rightly, since their dignity is in their height ;
but they are never made the recipients of fine scrolpture, with,
as far as I know, the single exception of Giotto's campanile^
which indeed has fine sculpture, hut it is at the bottom.

The fa9ade of WeUs Cathedral seems to be an exception to
the general rule, in having its principal decoration at the top ;
but it is on a scale of perfect power and effectiveness ; while
in the base modern Gothic of Milan Cathedral the statues are
cut delicately everywhere, and the builders think it a merit
that the visitor must climb to the roof before he can see them ;
and our modem Greek and Italian architecture reaches the
utmost pitch of absurdity by placing its fine work at the top
only. So that the general condition of the thing may be
stated boldly, as in the text : the principal ornaments of
Gothic buildings being in their porches, and of modem build-
ings, in their parapets.

Proposition 4tL — Ornamentation should be natural, — that is
to say, should in some degree express or adopt the beauty of
aatural objects. This law, together with its ultimate reason,
is expressed in the statement given in the " Stones of Venice,"
voL i. p. 213. : " All noble ornament is the expression of
man's delight in God's work."

Observe, it does not hence foUow that it should be an exact
imitation of, or endeavour in anywise to supersede, God's work.
It may consist only in a partial adoption of, and compliance
with, the usual forms of natural things, without at all going
to the point of imitation ; and it is possible that the point of
imitation may be closely reached by ornaments, which never-
theless are entirely unfit for their place, and are the signs only
of a degraded ambition and an ignorant dexterity. Bad dec-
orators err as easily on the side of imitating nature, as of for-
getting her ; and the question of the exact degree in which

Online LibraryJohn RuskinThe seven lamps of architecture; lectures on architecture and painting; The study of architecture → online text (page 25 of 32)