John Ruskin.

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

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but once fairly acknowledged among us ; and however it may
be chiUed and repressed in practice, however feeble may be
its real influence, however the sacredness of it may be dimin-
ished by counter-workings of vanity and self-interest, yet its
mere acknowledgment would bring a reward ; and with our
present accumulation of means and of intellect, there would
be such an impulse and vitality given to art as it has not felt
since the thirteenth century. And I do not assert this as
other than a national consequence : I should, indeed, expect
a larger measure of every great and spiritual faculty to be
always given where those faculties had been wisely and relig-
iously employed ; but the impulse to which I refer, would
be, humanly speaking, certain ; and woiild naturally result
from obedience to the two great conditions enforced by the
Spirit of Sacrifice, first, that we should in everything do our
best ; and, secondly, that we should consider increase of ap-
parent labor as an increase of beauty in the building. A few
practical deductions from these two conditions, and I have

X. For the first : it is alone enough to secure success, and
it is for want of observing it that we continually faU. We
are nohe of us so good architects as to be able to work habitu-
ally beneath our strength ; and yet there is not a buUdiag
that I know of, lately raised, wherein it is not sufficiently
evident that neither architect nor builder has done his best.
It is the especial characteristic of modem work. AH old
work nearly lias been hard work. It may be the hard work
of children, of bai'barians, of rustics ; but it is always their
utmost. Ours has as constantly the look of money's worth,
of a stopping short wherever and whenever we can, of a lazy
compliance with low conditions ; never of a fair putting forth
of our sti^engtb. Let us have done with this kind of work at
once : cast oflf every temptation to it : do not let us degrade
ourselves voluntarily, and then mutter and mourn over our
stort comings ; let us confess our poverty or our parsimony,


but not belie our human intellect. It is not even a question
of how much we are to do, but of how it is to be done ; it is
not a question of doing more, but of doing better. Do not
let us boss our roofs with wretched, half-worked, blunt-edged
rosettes ; do not let us, flank our gates with rigid imitations
of mediaeval statuary. Such things are mere insults to
common sense, and only unfit us for feeling the nobUity of
their prototypes. We have so much, suppose, to be spent in
decoration ; let us go to the Plaxman of his time, whoever
he may be, and bid him carve for us a single statue, frieze or
capital, or as many as we can afford, compeUing upon him the
one condition, that they shall be the best be can do ; place
them where they wiU be of the most value, and be content
Our other capitals may be mere blocks, and our other niches
empty. No matter : better our work unfinished than aU bad.
It may be that we do not desire ornament of so high an
order ; choose, then, a less developed style, also, if you will,
rougher material ; the law which we are enforcing requires
only that what we pretend to do and to give, shall both be
the best of their kind ; choose, therefore, the Norman hatchet
work, instead of the Flaxman frieze and statue, but let it be
the best hatchet work ; and if you cannot afford marble, use
Caen stone, but from the best bed ; and if not stone, brick,
but the best brick ; preferring always what is good of a lower
order of work or material, to what is bad of a higher ; for this
is not only the way to improve every kind of work, and to put
every kind of material to better use ; but it is more honest
and unpretending, and is in harmony with other just, upright,
and manly principles, whose range we shall have presently to
take into consideration.

XI. The other condition which we had to notice, was the
value of the appearance of labor upon architecture. I have
spoken of this before ; * and it is, indeed, one of the most
frequent sources of pleasure which belong to the art, always,
however, within certain somewhat remarkable limits. For it
does not at first appear easily to be explained why labor, as
represented by materials of value, should, without sense of
♦ Mod. Painters, Part I. Sec 1, Chap. 3.


wrong or error, bear being wasted ; while the waste of actual
workmanship is always painful, so soon as it is apparent.
But so it is, that, while precious materials may, with a certain
profusion and negligence, be employed for the magnificence
of what is seldom seen, the work of man cannot be carelessly
and idly bestowed, without an immediate sense of wrong ; as
if the strength of the Uving creature were never intended by
its Maker to be sacrificed in vain, though it is well for us
sometimes to part with what we esteem precious of sub-
stance, an showing that in such a service it becomes but dross
and dust. And in the nice balance between the straitening
of effort or enthusiasm on the one hand, and vainly casting it
away upon the other, there are more questions than can be
met by any but very just and watchful feeHng. In general it
is less the mere loss of labor that offends us, than the lack
of judgment implied by such loss ; so that if men confessedly
work for work's sake, and it does not appear that they are ig-
norant where or how to make their labor tell, we shall not be
grossly offended. On the contrary, we shall be pleased if the
work be lost in carrying out a principle, or in avoiding a de-
ception. It, indeed, is a law properly belonging to another
part of our subject, but it may be allowably stated here, that,
whenever, by the construction of a building, some parts of it
are hidden from the eye which are the continuation of others
bearing some consistent ornament, it is not well that the or-
nament should cease in the parts concealed ; credit is given
for it, and it should not be deceptively withdrawn : as, for in-
stance, in the sculpture of the backs of the statues of a temple
pediment ; never, perhaps, to be seen, but yet not lawfully to
be left unfinished. And so in the working out of ornaments
in dark concealed places, in which it is best to err on the side
of completion ; and in the carrying round of string courses,
and other such continuous work ; not but that they may stop
sometimes, on the point of going into some palpably impene-
trable recess, but then let them stop boldly and markedly, on
some distinct terminal ornament, and never be supposed to
exist where they do not. The arches of the towers which
flank the transepts of Eouen Oathedi'al have rpgette ornsr-


ments on tlieir spandrils, on the three visible sides ; none on
the side towards the roof. The right of this is rather a nice
point for question.

Xn. Visibility, however, we must remember, depends, not
only on situation, but on distance ; and there is no way in
vhich work is more painfully and unwisely lost than in its
over delicacy on parts distant from the eye. Here, again, the
principle of honesty must govern our treatment : we must
iiot work any kind of ornament which is, perhaps, to cover
the whole building (or at least to occur on all parts of it) deli-
cately where it is near the eye, and rudely where it is removed
from it. That is trickery and dishonesty. Consider, firet,
what kinds of ornaments wiU tell in the distance and what
near, and so distribute, them, keeping such as by their nature
are delicate, down near the eye, and throwing the bold and
rough kinds of work to the top ; and if there be any kind
which is to be both near and far off, take care that it be as
boldly and rudely wrought where it is well seen as where it
is distant, so that the spectator may know exactly what it is,
and what it is worth. Thus chequered patterns, and in gen-
eral such ornaments as common workmen can execute, may
extend over the whole building ; but bas-rehefs, and fine
niches and capitals, should be kept down, and the common
sense of this mil always give a building dignity, even though
there be some abruptness or awkwardness, in the resulting
an-angements. Thus at San Zeno at Verona, the bas-reliefs,
fuU of incident and interest are confined to a parallelogram
of the front, reaching to the height of the capitals of the col-
umns of the porch. Above these, we find a simple though
most lovely, little arcade ; and above that, only blank wall,
with square face shafts. The whole effect is tenfold grander
and better than if the entire fagade had been covered with bad
work, and may serve for an example of the way to place little
where we cannot afford much. So, again, the transept gates
of Eouen * are covered with dehcate bas-reliefs (of which I

* Henceforward, for the sake of convenience, when I name any oa-
Shedral town in this manner, let me he understood to speak of its o»th&
iral ehurcb.


shall speak at greater length presently) up to about ouce
and a half a man's height ; and above that come the usual
aud more visible statues and niches. So in the campanile at
Florence, the circuit of bas-reliefs is on its lowest story ;
above that come its statues ; and above them all its pattern
mosaic, and twisted columns, exquisitely finished, like all
Italian work of the time, but still, in the eye of the Floren-
tine, rough and commonplace by comparison with the bas-
reliefs. So generally the most delicate niche work and best
mouldings of the French Gothic are in gates and low win-
dows well within sight ; although, it being the very spiiit of
that style to trust to its exuberance for effect, there is occa-
sionally a burst upwards and blossoming unrestrainably to
the sky, as in the pediment of the west front of Bouen, and
in the recess of the rose window behind it, where there are
some most elaborate flower-mouldings, all but invisible from
below, and only adding a general enrichment to the deep
shadows that relieve the shafts of the advanced pediment. It
is observable, however, that this very work is bad flamboyant,
and has corrupt renaissance characters in its detail as well as
ase ; while in the earlier and grander north and south gates,
there is a very noble proportioning of the work to the dis-
tance, the niches and statues which crown the noi-them one,
at a height of about one hundred feet from the ground, being
alike colossal and simple ; visibly so from below, so as to in-
duce no deception, and yet honestly and well-finished above,
and all that they are expected to be ; the features very beau-
tiful, full of expression, and as delicately wrought as any
work of the period.

XTTT. It is to be remembered, however, that while the orna-
ments in every fine ancient building, without exception so far
as I am aware, are most delicate at the base, they are often
in greater effective quantity on the upper parts. In high
towers this is perfectly natural and right, the solidity of the
foundation being as necessary as the division and penetration
of the superstructure ; hence the hghter work and richly
pierced crowns of late Gothic towers. The campanile of
Giotto at Florence, already alluded to, is an exquisite instance


of the union of the two principles, delicate bas-reliefs adorn-
ing its massy foundation, while the open tracery of the upper
windows attracts the eye by its slender intricacy, and a rich
cornice crowns the whole. In such truly fine cases of this
disposition the upper work is effective by its quantity and in-
tricacy only, as the lower portions by delicacy ; so also in the
Tour de Beurre at Rouen, where, however, the detail is massy
throughout, subdividing into rich meshes as it ascends. In
the bodies of buildings the prir.ciple is less safe, but its dis-
cussion is not connected with our present subject.

XIV. Finally, work may be wasted by being too good for
its material, or too fine to bear exposure ; and this, generally a
characteristic of late, especially of renaissance, work, is^er-
haps the worst fault of all. I do not know anything more
painful or pitiful than the kind of ivory carving with which
the Certosa of Pavia, and part of the CoUeone sepulchral
chapel at Bergamo, and other such buildings, are incrusted,
of which it is not possible so much as to think without ex-
haustion ; and a heavy sense of the misery it would be, to be
forced to look at it at all. And this is not from the quantity
of it, nor because it is bad work — much of it is inventive and
able ; but because it looks as if it were only fit to be put in
inlaid cabinets and velveted caskets, and as if it could not
bear one drifting shower or gnawing frost. We are afraid for
it, anxious about it, and tormented by it ; and we feel that a
massy shaft and a bold shadow would be worth it alL Never-
theless, even in cases like these, much depends on the accom-
plishment of the great ends of decoration. If the ornament
does its duty — if it is ornament, and its points of shade and
light tell in the general effect, we shall not be offended by
finding that the sculptor in his fulness of fancy has chosen to
give much more than these mere points of light, and has
composed them of groups of figures. But if the ornament
does not answer its purpose, if it have no distant, no truly
decorative power ; if generally seen it be a mere inci-ustation
and meaningless roughness, we shall only be chagrined by
finding when we look close, that the incrustation has cost
years of labor, and has milliong of figures find histories in it


PLATE I.— (Page 33 -Vol. V)
Ornajients from Rouen, St, Lo, and Venice.


and would be the better of being seen through a Stanhope
lens. Hence the greatness of the northern Gothic as con-
trasted with the latest ItaHan. It reaches nearly the same
extreme of detail ; but it never loses sight of its architectural
purpose, never fails in its decorative power ; not a leaflet in it
but speaks, and speaks far off, too ; and so long as this be
the case, there is no limit to the luxuriance in which such
work may legitimately and nobly be bestowed.

XV. No Umit : it is one of the affectations of architects to
speak of overcharged ornament. Ornament cannot be over-
charged if it be good, and is always overcharged when it is
bad. I haxe given, on the opposite page (fig. 1), one of the
smallest niches of the central gate of Eouen. That gate I
suppose to be the most exquisite piece of pure flamboyant
work existing ; for though I have spoken of the upper por-
tions, especially the receding window, as degenerate, the gate
itself is of a purer period, and has hardly any renaissance
taint. There are four strings of these niches (each with two
figures beneath it) round the porch, from the ground to the
top of the arch, with three intermediate rows of larger niches,
far more elaborate ; besides the six principal canopies of each
outer pier. The total number of the subordinate niches alone,
each worked like that in the plate, and each with a different
pattern of traceries in each compartment, is one hundred and
seventy-sis.* Yet in aU this ornament there is not one cusp,
one finial that is useless — not a stroke of the chisel is in vain ;
the grace and luxuriance of it all are visible — sensible rather
— even to the uninquiring eye ; and all its minuteness does
not diminish the majesty, while it increases the mystery, of
the noble and unbroken vault. It is not less the boast of
some styles that they can bear ornament, than of others that
they can do without it ; but we do not often enough reflect
that those very styles, of so haughty simplicity, owe part of
their pleasurableness to contrast, and would be wearisome if
universal. They are but the rests and monotones of the art ;
it is to its far happier, far higher, exaltation that we owe
those fair fronts of variegated mosaic, charged with wild fan-
cies and dark hosts of imagery, ihicker and quainter than


ever fiUficT the depth of midsummer dream ; those vaulted
gates, trellised with close leaves ; those ■window-labyrinths of
twisted tracery and starry light ; those misty masses of mul-
titudinous pinnacle and diademed tower ; the only witnesses,
perhaps that remain to us of the faith and fear of nations.
All else for which the builders sacrificed, has passed away —
all their living interests, and aims, and achievements. We
know not for what they labored, and we see no evidence of
their reward. Victory, wealth, authority, happiness — all have
departed, though bought by many a bitter sacrifice. But of
them, and their Hfe, and their toil upon the earth, one re-
ward, one evidence, is left to us in those gray heaps of deep-
wi-ought stone. They have taken vidth them to the grave
their powers, their honors, and their errors ; but they have
left us their adoration.



L There is a marked likeness between the virtues of man
and the enlightenment of the globe he inhabits — the same
diminishing gradation in vigor up to the limits of their do-
mains, the same essential separation from their contraries —
the same twilight at the meeting of the two : a something
wider belt than the line where the world rolls into night, that
strange twilight of the virtues ; that dusky debateable land,
wherein zeal becomes impatience, and temperance becomes
severity, and justice becomes cruelty, and faith superstition,
and each and all vanish into gloom.

Nevertheless, with the greater number of them, though
their dimness increases gradually, we may mark the moment
of their sunset ; and, happily, may turn the shadow back by
the way by which it had gone down : but for one, the line of
the horizon is irregular and undefined ; and this, too, the very
equator and girdle of them all — Truth ; that only one ol
which there are no degrees, but breaks and rents continually •,
that pillar of the earth, yet a cloudy pillai- ; that golden and
aarrow line, which the very powers and virtues that lean upon


it bend, which policy and prudence conceal, which kindness
and courtesy modify, which courage overshadows with his
shield, imagination covers with her wings, and charity dims
with her tears. How difficult must the maintenance of that
authority be, which, while it has to restrain the hostility of
all the worst principles of man, has also to restrain the dis-
orders of his best — which is continually assaulted by the one
and betrayed by the other, and which regards with the same
severity the lightest and the boldest violations of its law!
There are some faults slight iu the sight of love, some errors
sHght iQ the estimate of wisdom ; but truth forgives no
insult, and endures no stain.

We do not enough consider this ; nor enough dread the
slight and continual occasions of offence against her. We
are too much in the habit of looking at falsehood in its dark-
est associations, and through the color of its worst purposes.
That indignation which we profess to feel at deceit absolute,
is indeed only at deceit mahcious. We resent calumny, hj'-
pocrisy and treachery, because they harm us, not because they
are untrue. Take the detraction and the mischief from the
untruth, and we are little offended by it ; turn it into praise,
and we may be pleased with it. And yet it is not calumny
nor treachery that does the largest sum of mischief in the
world ; they are continually crushed, and are felt only in
being conquered. But it is the gHstening and softly spoken
lie ; the amiable fallacy ; the patriotic He of the historian, the
provident lie of the politician, the zealous lie of the partizan,
the merciful he of the friend, and the careless lie of each man
to himself, that cast that black mystery over humanity,
through which any man who pierces, we thank as we would
thank one who dug a well in a desert ; happy in that the
thirst for truth still remains with us, even when we have wil-
fully left the fountains of it.

It would be well if moralists less frequently confused the
greatness of a sin with its unpardonableness. The two charac-
ters are altogether distinct. The greatness of a fault depends
partly on the nature of the person against whom it ia com-
mitted, partly upon the extent of its consequences. Its par-


donableness depends, humanly speaking, on the degree ot
temptation to it. One class of circumstances determines the
weight of the attaching punishment ; the other, the claim to
remission of punishment : and since it is not easy for men to
estimate the relative weight, nor possible for them to know
the relative consequences, of crime, it is usually wise in them
to quit the care of such nice measurements, and to look to
the other and clearer condition of culpability ; esteeming
those faults worst which are committed under least tempta-
tion. I do not mean to diminish the blame of the injurious
and malicious sin, of the selfish and dehberate falsity ; yet it
seems to me, that the shortest way to check the darker forms
of deceit is to set watch more scrupulous against those which
have mingled, unregarded and unchastised, with the current
of our life. Do not let us lie at all. Do not think of one
falsity as harmless, and another as slight, and another as un-
intended. Cast them all aside : they may be light and acci-
dental ; but they are an ugly soot from the smoke of the pit,
for all that ; and it is better that our hearts should be swept
clean of them, without over care as to which is largest or
blackest. Speaking truth is like writing fair, and comes only
by practice ; it is less a matter of will than of habit, and 1
doubt if any occasion can be trivial which permits the practice
and formation of such a habit. To speak and act truth with
constancy and pr<«cision is nearly as difficult, and perhaps as
meritorious, as to speak it under intimidation or penalty ;
and it is a strange thought how many men there are, as I
trust, who would hold to it at the cost of fortune or life, for
one who would hold to it at the cost of a little daily trouble.
And seeing that of aU sin there is, perhaps, no one more flatly
opposite to the Almighty, no one more ' ' wanting the good of
virtue and of being," than this of lying, it is surely a strange
insolence to fall into the foulness of it on hght or on no temp-
tation, and surely becoming an honorable man to resolve that,
whatever semblances or fallacies the necessary course of liis
life may compel him to bear or to beheve, none shall distu»'j
the serenity of his voluntary actions, nor diminish the reality
oi his chosen deUghts.


n. If tliis be just and wise for truth's sake, much more is
it necessary for the sake of the dehghts over which she has in-
fluence. For, as I advocated the expression of the Spirit of
Sacrifice in the acts and pleasm-es of men, not as if thereby
those acts could further the cause of reUgion, but because
most assuredly they might therein be infinitely ennobled them-
selves, so I would have the Spirit or Lamp of Truth clear in
the hearts of our artists and handicraftsmen, not as if the
truthful practice of handicrafts could far advance the cause of
truth, but because I woidd fain see the handicrafts themselves
urged by the spiurs of chivalry : and it is, indeed, marvellous
to see what power and universality there is in this single prin-
ciple, and how in the consulting or forgetting of it lies half
the dignity or decline of every art and act of man. I have be-
fore endeavored to show its range and power in painting ; and
I believe a volume, instead of a chapter, might be written on
its authority over all that is great in architecture. But I must
be content with the force of instances few and famihar, beUev*
ing that the occasions of its manifestation may be more easily
discovered by a desire to be true, than embraced by an analy-
sis of truth.

Only it is very necessary in the outset to mark clearly
wherein consists the essence of fallacy as distinguished from

TTT For it might be at first thought that the whole king-
dom of imagination was one of deception also. Not so : the
action of the imagination is a voluntary summoning of the
conceptions of things absent or impossible ; and the pleasure
and nobility of the imagination partly consist in its knowledge
and contemplation of them as such, i.e. in the knowledge of
their actual absence or impossibility at the moment of their
apparent presence or reality. When the imagination deceives

Online LibraryJohn RuskinThe seven lamps of architecture; lectures on architecture and painting; The study of architecture → online text (page 3 of 32)