Decorative Initial In the second volume of Modern Painters Ruskin advanced his idiosyncratic, eclectic, and often puzzling theocentric system of aesthetics by which he hoped to explain the nature and demonstrate the importance of beauty. Beauty, he wrote, "is either the record of conscience, written in things external, or it is the symbolizing of Divine attributes in matter, or it is the felicity of living things, or the perfect fulfilment of their duties and functions. In all cases it is something Divine; either the approving voice of God, the glorious symbol of Him, the evidence of His kind presence, or the obedience to His will by Him induced and supported" (4.210). All beauty, then, relates to the nature of God, and, if properly understood, is theophany; but Typical Beauty — "the symbolizing of divine attributes in matter" — most directly partakes of the Holy.

A manuscript originally intended for the second volume of Modern Painters reveals that this conception of the beautiful came to Ruskin as he gazed wonderingly upon a storm in the Alps. One dark, still July evening he lay beside the fountain of Brevent in the valley of Chamonix.

Suddenly, there came in the direction of Dome du Goûter a crash — of prolonged thunder; and when I looked up, I saw the cloud cloven, as it were by the avalanche itself, whose white stream came bounding down the eastern slope of the mountain, like slow lightning. The vapour parted before its fall, pierced by the whirlwind of its motion; the gap widened, the dark shade melted away on either side; and, like a risen spirit casting off its garment of corruption, and flushed with eternity of life, the Aiguilles of the south broke through the black foam of the storm clouds. One by one, pyramid above pyramid, the mighty range of its companions shot off their shrouds, and took to themselves their glory — all fire — no shade — no dimness. Spire of ice — dome of snow — wedge of rock — all fire in the light of the sunset, sank into the hollows of the crags — and pierced through the prisms of the glaciers, and dwelt within them — as it does in clouds. The ponderous storm writhed and moaned beneath them, the forests wailed and waved in the evening wind, the steep river flashed and leaped along the valley; but the mighty pyramids stood calmly — in the very heart of the high heaven — a celestial city with walls of amethyst and gates of gold — filled with the light and clothed with the Peace of God. And then I learned — what till then I had not known — the real meaning of the word Beautiful. With all that I had ever seen before — there had come mingled the associations of humanity — the exertion of human power — the action of human mind. The image of self had not been effaced in that of God. . . . It was then that I understood that all which is the type of God's attributes . . . can turn the human soul from gazing upon itself . . . and fix the spirit . . . on the types of that which is to be its food for eternity; — this and this only is in the pure and right sense of the word beautiful. (4.364-365)

In The Darkening Glass: A Portrait of Ruskin's Genius (New York, 1961), John D. Rosenberg points out that this passage is "a Christian rendering of the Romantics' vision of nature" (19), and one might add that Ruskin's apocalyptic vision presses even further toward complete effacement of self in nature than Wordsworth's ever did. As Ruskin looked upon the serene peaks rising amid the tumult, he experienced "the absorption of soul and spirit — the prostration of all power — and the cessation of all will — before, and in the Presence of, the manifested Deity. It was then only that I understood that to become nothing might be to become more than Man" (4.364). His confrontation with the Holy, his sense of the glories of becoming nothing before God, led him directly to formulate a theory of the beautiful, which, denying the importance of human elements, derived all from the eternal, the unchanging, the infinite.

One may say of Ruskin's aesthetic theories what he said of the arts — that they are in some sort an expression of deeply felt emotion, the recasting of intensely felt experience. One such experience impelled him to create his theory of Typical Beauty, while another almost as powerful led him, a few years later, to change direction and admit the importance of association — a human element — in the beautiful. Although his most intensely felt emotional events, and not purely theoretical investigation, engendered his aesthetics, these views about beauty nonetheless bear the characteristic impress of Ruskin's thought; for, like his conception of the sister arts, they are derived in large part from neoclassical writings and serve a polemical purpose. In particular, his statements about the nature of beauty permit him to answer certain problems which an emotionally centered theory of art presents.

The difficulties Ruskin must solve appear first in the brief mentions of the beautiful which he makes in the opening volume of Modern Painters. In the chapter "Of Ideas of Beauty," he states that "any material object which can give us pleasure . . . without any direct and definite exertion of the intellect, I call in some way, or in some degree, beautiful" (3.109). The perception of beauty is thus an act of some non-intellectual part of the mind — non-intellectual, because he later states that ideas of beauty "are the subjects of moral, but not of intellectual perception" (3.111). Ruskin believes beauty, then, to be a disinterested pleasure which has an objective reality and which is perceived by the non-intellectual part of the mind. Although Ruskin, in contrast to many English aestheticians of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, believes that beauty is an objectively existing thing or quality, he yet speaks of "the emotions of the Beautiful and Sublime" (3.48). Emotion is subjective, and it is difficult to see how it could be thought to be objectively verifiable, since emotions, which are the product of the non-intellectual, the "moral" part of the mind, cannot, as can conceptual thought, be reasoned over or even compared with each other. If emotion is thus subjective, and if beauty is an emotion, it is difficult to see how Ruskin believes that beauty can be objective. He attempts to solve the problem of feeling in beauty by reasoning that all men perceive, or should perceive, certain qualities with the same emotion much in the same manner that all men find sugar sweet and wormwood bitter. Men react so, says Ruskin, because it is God's will and because all men have a divine element in their nature, but men do not receive pleasure from certain forms and colors "because they are illustrative of it [God's nature], nor from any perception that they are illustrative of it, but instinctively and necessarily, as we derive sensual pleasure from the scent of a rose" (3.109). By appealing to an order that is ultimately divine, Ruskin thus proves to his satisfaction, if not, alas, to ours, that aesthetic emotions are both uniform and essential. In other words, he has found a theological reason for claiming that "Ideas of beauty are among the noblest which can be presented to the human mind, invariably exalting and purifying it" (3.111). He has also found the perfect defense of art, for if it is allowed that beauty is the image of God, then it is also easily allowed that the painting and poetry which create, portray, and interpret this beauty are important as well.

According to the second volume of Modern Painters, Typical Beauty, "the symbolizing of Divine attributes in matter" (4.210), has six aspects or modes: (1) infinity, or the type of divine incomprehensibility; (2) unity, or the type of divine comprehensiveness; (3) repose, or the type of divine permanence; (4) symmetry, or the type of divine justice; (5) purity, or the type of divine energy; and (6) moderation, or the type of government by law. The traditional notions of beauty which Ruskin incorporates into his own aesthetics appear under these six headings, and their inclusion is appropriate, for Typical Beauty is an aspect of universal order and those traditional aesthetic theories which emphasize the orderliness of beauty, or its dependence upon order, here find a ready place.

The emphasis upon an order in nature and in the beautiful was current in the eighteenth century, and it was from eighteenth-century writings that Ruskin received the details of his theory. Many of the meanings of the central term of neoclassical criticism, "nature", refer to some kind of order. Nature, for example, often meant pattern or law which functioned as pattern, as was the case when nature was spoken of as Platonic essence imperfectly realized, or as generic type or mode. The sense of nature as an empirical reality to be observed in humankind, the universe, and the connections between the two is also frequently encountered in neoclassical criticism. Although it is thus possible to distinguish between the various usages of the term "nature" in the eighteenth century, it does not appear that many writers carefully separated the various meanings, or, indeed, that they were always aware of them. But whatever the critics intended by the term, they were generally in agreement that this nature was informed by an order which was to be imitated. All would have agreed with Pope's "Essay on Man" that

The gen'ral order, since the whole began,
Is kept in nature, and is kept in Man.

This general emphasis upon order in nature and its recreation or representation in art is related to the idea that the perception of order is itself pleasing and that order produces all or part of the phenomenon of beauty. De Piles, the French translator of Du Fresnoy's widely read Latin work on the sister arts, De Arte Graphica, supported his demand for order by citing the ancients: "Nothing pleases a Man so much as Order (says Xenophon); and Horace, in his Art of Poetry, lays it down as a rule " (London, 1750, 116). Francis Hutcheson, an aesthetician of the early eighteenth century, believed that order was such an important source of beauty that Locke and Newton, who had perceived new sources of order in man and nature, were rightfully to be considered as unveilers of the beautiful (See An Inquiry into our Ideas of Beauty and Virtue. London, 1726, 34). Even John Dennis, who was primarily concerned with the emotions of the violent sublime, emphasized the importance of order:

The work of every reasonable creature must derive its beauty from regularity, for reason is rule and order, and nothing can be irregular either in our conceptions or our actions any further than it swerves from rule, that is, from reason. As man is the more perfect the more he resembles his Creator, the works of men must needs be more perfect the more they resemble his Maker's. Now the works of God, though infinitely various, are extremely regular.

The universe is regular in all its parts, and it is to that exact regularity that it owes its admirable beauty. The microcosm owes the beauty and health both of its body and soul to order. ["The Grounds of Criticism in Poetry" (1704), Eighteenth-Century Critical Essays, I, 102.]

Ruskin, like Dennis, believes that order is a primary cause of the beautiful, or better, that order is itself beautiful. This belief lies at the center of Ruskin's theory of Typical Beauty. In outlining his theory, Ruskin shows that all forms of Typical Beauty please because these forms symbolize divine order in material things. Similarly, when he explains the individual forms of this kind of beauty, he shows that they relate to a vision of universal, pleasing order.

In his chapter on the beauty of unity Ruskin includes two of the most common traditional formulations of the idea that beauty is order. He first subscribes to the theory, popular throughout the eighteenth century, that the beautiful is a properly composed mixture of unity and variety, an idea which appears in various contexts and with varying emphases throughout the writings of his predecessors. In his Inquiry into our Ideas of Beauty and Virtue Francis Hutcheson, for example, who speaks not of unity but uniformity, states that beauty can be defined with much the same precision as that Newton attained with physical and mathematical science. According to Hutcheson, "What we call Beautiful in Objects, to speak in the Mathematical Style, seems to be in a compound Ratio of Uniformity and Variety; so that where the Uniformity of Bodys [sic] is equal, the Beauty is as the Variety; and where the Variety is equal, the Beauty is as the Uniformity" (17). Pretensions, such as Hutcheson's, to mathematical rigor are rare, and most writers do not present similarly careful definitions. Henry Fuseli merely states as part of his definition of the beautiful that it consists of the "union of the simple and the various." Many authors whom Ruskin knew, however, do stress either term of this aesthetic equation, depending on whether they wish to emphasize the pleasures of variety or those created by the unifying principle of order. In the Essay on Criticism, Pope, for instance, stresses the importance of order, and he thus emphasizes unity:

In Wit, as Nature, what affects our Hearts
Is not th'Exactness of peculiar Parts;
'Tis not a Lip, or Eye, we Beauty call,
But the joint force and full Result of all.
Thus when we view some well-proportion'd Dome,
(The World's just Wonder, and ev'n thine O Rome!)
No single Parts unequally surprize;
All comes united to th' admiring Eyes. [Twickenham Edition, eds. E. Audra and Aubrey Williams (London and New Haven, 1961), I, 267-268; ll. 243-250.]

Pope's concern with an ordering, embracing unity is present in other authors with whom Ruskin was familiar. Abbe Winckelmann, whose Reflections on the Painting and Sculpture of the Greeks Ruskin read either soon before or soon after writing Modern Painters, Volume II, held that unity is one of the ideas that "ennoble the more scattered and weaker beauties of our Nature" (trans. Henry Fuseli [London, 1765], 19). The degree to which Winckelmann's conception of beauty relies on harmony and unity is clear from his remark that "the bodies of the Greeks, as well as the works of their artists, were framed with more unity of system, a nobler harmony of parts, and a completeness of the whole" (16) greater than that found in any later art or people. Although Winckelmann's book is justly known for creating interest in Greek art, he presented this art to his contemporaries in terms of their own belief in the beauty of order and unity.

In setting forth the theory of unity amid variety, Ruskin emphasizes the first term, "unity," and this stress on the element of order is perhaps an intentioned contrast to the writings of his older friend and teacher, the artist J. D. Harding, whose Principles and Practice of Art (1845) had stated:

Variety is essential to beauty, and is so inseparable from it, that there can be no beauty where there is no variety. . . . As variety is indispensable to beauty, so perfect beauty requires that variety to be infinite. It is this infinite variety which constitutes the perfection of Nature, and the want of it which occasions every work of Art to be imperfect. [39]

According to Harding, who cites Hogarth's "line of beauty," the visible manifestation of this principle of variety is the curved line which thus must be the basis of all beautiful art [44-46; for an article with a more detailed discussion of Ruskin's relation to Harding]. Although Ruskin adds a final qualification to his teacher's praise of variety, he follows Harding's main points in his section on the Typical Beauty of infinity. Ruskin, for example, assumes "that all forms of acknowledged beauty are composed exclusively of curves will, I believe, be at once allowed. . . . What curvature is to lines, gradation is to shades and colours. It is their infinity, and divides them into an infinite number of degrees" (4.88,89). Throughout his own writings he emphasizes, in agreement with Harding, that the inexhaustible, infinite variety of nature is one of its most beautiful and important characteristics.

Snowtorm Snowtorm

Left: J. M. W. Turner, Snow Storm: Steamboat off a Harbour's Mouth Right: Slave Ship.
(Full title: Slavers Overthrowing the Dead and Dying — Typho[on]n Coming On)

Ruskin's theory of beautiful variety relates directly to his practice as an art critic, for he judges the beauty, as well as the truth, of a painting by its ability to convey impressions of nature's infinite change. Ruskin, who believes that nature never repeats herself (3.542), insists that "there is not one of her shadows, tints, or lines that is not in a state of perpetual variation: I do not mean in time, but in space. There is not a leaf in the world which has the same colour visible over its whole surface" (3.294). Therefore, unvaried color or tone in a painting that purports to convey an image of nature is both ugly and false, and he criticizes Salvator's Mercury and the Woodman and Claude's Sinon before Priam [National Gallery, London, Nos. 84 and 6] for portraying rocks and mountains with monotonous, unvarying browns. Turner, in contrast, had an "inimitable power" of varying color, "so as never to give a quarter of an inch of canvas without a change in it, a melody as well as a harmony of one kind or another" (3.293-294). In the first volume of Modern Painters he thus praises not only the intensity but also the infinite variation of Turner's palette. Drawing his examples of excellence from paintings the periodical critics had attacked, he lauds The Slave Ship, Snow Storm: Steamboat off a Harbour's Mouth, War, and Mercury and Argus. Of this last painting he writes:

In the Mercury and Argus, the pale and vaporous blue of the heated sky is broken with grey and pearly white, the gold colour of the light warming it more or less as it approaches or retires from the sun; but, throughout, there is not a grain of pure blue; all is subdued and warmed at the same time by the mingling grey and gold, up to the very zenith, where, breaking through the flaky mist, the transparent and deep azure of the sky is expressed with a single crumbling touch; the keynote of the whole is given, and every part of it passes at once far into glowing and aerial space. (3.292-293)

After he has described the truth and beauties of Turner's art, he reminds the reader of those paintings "with great names attached to them" (3.293) in which the sky is a monotonous panel of unvarying grey.

A page later Ruskin continues:

"A mass of mountain seen against the light, may at first appear all of one blue; and so it is, blue as a whole, by comparison with other parts of the landscape. But look how that blue is made up. There are black shadows in it under the crags, there are green shadows along the turf, there are grey half-lights upon the rocks, there are faint touches of stealthy warmth and cautious light along their edges; every bush, every stone, every tuft of moss has its voice in the matter, and joins with individual character in the universal will. Who is there who can do this as Turner will? The old masters would have settled the matter at once with a transparent, agreeable, but monotonous grey. . . . Turner only would give the uncertainty; the palpitating, perpetual change . . . the unity of action with infinity of agent. (3.294)

Ruskin's practice as an art critic suggests that however abstract the details of his theological aesthetic may at first appear, they were grounded in personal experience of nature and art. Like his drawing teacher, he believes that nature's infinite variety provides a treasure hoard from which every great artist borrows.

But in contrast to Harding, Ruskin believes that variety is not itself beautiful, and that "it is a mistake which has led to many unfortunate results, in matters respecting art, to insist on any inherent agreeableness of variety, without reference to a farther end" (4.96). After his praise of variety in the chapter on infinity, Ruskin adds as a qualification in the chapter on unity that it is only a unified, ordered variety which is beautiful: "It is therefore only harmonious and chordal variety, that variety which is necessary to secure and extend unity . . . which is rightly agreeable; and so I name not Variety as essential to beauty, because it is only so in a secondary and casual sense" (4.96-97). The final emphasis, for Ruskin, must be upon the divine element of unity, one of the most important laws of the universe. A beautiful object, a work of art, a healthy man, a functioning society, physical nature, and, ultimately, God are all perfected by the necessary presence of unity.

Now of that which is thus necessary to the perfection of all things, all appearance, sign, type, or suggestion must be beautiful, in whatever matter it may appear; and the appearance of some species of unity is, in the most determined sense of the word, essential to the perfection of beauty in lines, colours, or forms. (4.94)

In fact, it is from the need for this perfecting unity that Ruskin deduces the need for variety; for, according to him, if different things are to create a unity, "there must be difference of variety. . . . Hence, out of the necessity of Unity, arises that of Variety" (4.95-96). Thus unity, the order which is a symbol and manifestation of eternal order, is the major term in Ruskin's aesthetic formula, and he rarely emphasizes variety alone.

All great art necessarily embodies this "Essential Unity," which binds "things separately imperfect into a perfect whole" (4.95). In a fine painting every aspect of technique, expression, and subject contributes its strength to create a unified whole, a complete work of art. For example, the infinitely various hues of Turner's Mercury and Argus become beautiful not because the painter employs blues as well as "grey and pearly white," but because he makes every tint harmoniously build upon every other. Similarly, all lines, like all colours, must contribute to this essential "unity of Membership" (4.95). Ruskin's most extended discussion of this aspect of painting occurs in the fifth volume of Modern Painters, in which he explains the theory and practice of composition. His definition reveals that for him this highest of the artist's gifts creates beautiful unity: "Composition," he states, "may be best defined as the help of everything in the picture by everything else" (7.205), or, again, it "signifies an arrangement, in which everything in the work is thus consistent with all things else, and helpful to all else" (7.208-209). He next points out that "a great composition always has a leading emotional purpose, technically called its motive, to which all its lines and forms have some relation" (7.217), and he further explains that whereas undulating lines express action, horizontal or angular ones express rest and strength. After examining an example of repose, Ruskin sets out to elucidate the essential unity of "a composition in which the motive is one of tumult: that of the Fall of Shaffhausen" (7.22l; illus. facing 222). It is worth our while to quote most of this compositional study, because it not only demonstrates Ruskin to be an astonishingly perceptive critic of Turner, but also shows how directly he derived his theories of beauty from the practice of art:

The line of fall is straight and monotonous in reality. Turner wants to get the great concave sweep and rush of the river well felt, in spite of the unbroken form. The column of spray, rocks, mills, and bank, all radiate like a plume, sweeping round together in grand curves to the left, where the group of figures, hurried about the ferry boat, rises like a dash of spray; they also radiating: so as to form one perfectly connected cluster, with the two gens-d'armes and the millstones; the millstones at the bottom being the root of it; the two soldiers laid right and left to sustain the branch of figures beyond, balanced just as a tree bough would be.

One of the gens-d'armes is flirting with a young lady in a round cap and full sleeves, under pretence of wanting her to show him what she has in her bandbox. The motive of which flirtation is, so far as Turner is concerned in it, primarily the bandbox: this and the millstones below, give him a series of concave lines, which, concentrated by the recumbent soldiers, intensify the hollow sweep of the fall, precisely as the ring on the stone does the Loire eddies. These curves are carried out on the right by the small plate of eggs, laid to be washed at the spring; and, all these concave lines being a little too quiet and recumbent, the staggering casks are set on the left, and the ill-balanced milk-pail on the right, to give a general feeling of things being rolled over and over. The things which are to give this sense of rolling are dark, in order to hint at the way in which the cataract rolls boulders of rock; while the forms which are to give the sense of its sweeping force are white. The little spring, splashing out of its pine-trough, is to give contrast with the power of the fall, — while it carries out the general sense of splashing water. (7.221-222)

Turner's images of people, water, and rocks build toward one complete emotional impression of the scene; for in this work, as in all great painting, the most minute details contribute to a whole that is far greater than the sum of its parts.

After he has explained the theory of unity amid variety, Ruskin proceeds to his second aesthetic formulation of order, the theory that proportion is beauty. He derives proportion, the ordered relation of quantities, from a form of unity different from that mentioned in relation to the beauty of unity and variety. The beauty of unity and variety arises when a "harmonious and chordal variety" creates the unity of membership, "that unity of things separately imperfect [formed] into a perfect whole" (4.95). Proportion, on the other hand, creates a unity of sequence, a unity which is the ordering principle in changing, developing things. Following his usual procedure, Ruskin explains how this kind of Typical Beauty symbolizes a principle of the physical and moral world. Thus, the unity of sequence

is that of things that form links in chains, and steps in ascents, and stages in journeys; and this, in matter, is the unity of communicable forces in their continuance from one thing to another; and it is the passing upwards and downwards of beneficient effects among all things, the melody of sounds, the continuity of lines, and the orderly succession of motions and times; and in spiritual creatures it is their own constant building up, by true knowledge and continuous reasoning, to higher perfection, and the singleness and straightforwardness of their tendencies to more complete communion with God. (4.94-95)

The unity which results from this melodious variety appears throughout the world in which man lives, and in each case its manifestation is the simultaneous effect and symbol, or type, of universal and divinely created law. In the unity of sequence the pleasing effects of this kind of variety are "best exemplified by the melodies of music, wherein, by the differences of the notes, they are connected with each other in certain pleasant relations. This connection, taking place in quantities, is Proportion" (4.102). The proportions which inform the human body, works of art, and all beautiful things are, in Ruskin's terms, the music, or melody, of quantities, while melody in return is proportion in sound. When Ruskin thus discusses proportion and music as though they are manifestations of the same law of nature, he follows a tradition that had originated with Pythagoras and Plato, developed to its greatest complexity in the Italian Renaissance, and then, as its metaphysical and mathematical bases were forgotten in the eighteenth century, had gradually dissolved and died away. Although Ruskin did mention the Timaeus, the Platonic source of the older theories of proportion, in his section on the beauty of unity and variety, he apparently was unaware of its traditional importance to ideas of proportion, for he did not mention this dialogue in his own discussion of the subject. His knowledge of the theory of proportions at the time he wrote the second volume of Modern Painters was confined to statements of English and Continental writers who wished to emphasize the element of order in beauty. Many of the critics with whom Ruskin was familiar, including Addison, Johnson, and Winckelmann, made proportion an important part of the beautiful. In his series on "The Pleasures of the Imagination" (1712) Addison includes proportion as one of the sources of that secret delight caused by the beautiful, and in the second half of the century Dr. Johnson offered, as his Dictionary's first definition of the beautiful: "That assemblage of graces, or proportion of parts, which pleases the eye." Winckelmann, advocate of a calm, ordered, classical beauty, stated that "Beauty consists in harmony of the various parts of an individual," and from his insistence that "Nature keeps proportion," it seems clear that proportion is a major source of this harmony (Reflections, 259, 157).

Addison, Johnson, and Winckelmann are the eighteenth-century heirs to an almost vanished heritage of Italian architects and aesthetic theoreticians. In his Architectural Principles in the Age of Humanism (1949) Rudolph Wittkower has shown that Alberti, Palladio, and other fifteenth- and sixteenth-century Italian architects based their elaborate systems of proportion on Pythagorean conceptions of musical harmony known to them through Plato's Timaeus, Ficino's commentary on the Timaeus, and Boethius's medieval treatise De Musica (3rd. ed. (London, 1962; 23, 111-112. My discussions of proportion are dependent upon Professor Wittkower's study). Pythagoras's discovery that arithmetical and geometrical relationships were the organizing principle of the musical octave convinced him that number was the primary law of existence, the principle whose perception revealed the one in the many, the order amidst apparent disorder. Certain that these Pythagorean discoveries held the key to the universe, Renaissance architects believed that number, geometry, and music were varying appearances of one principle, and they therefore used these terms interchangeably, speaking of their buildings as spatial music. Alberti and Palladio assumed that the same musical and mathematical order informs nature and man and in so doing reflects the image of God in material things. Since the laws of harmonic number pervade all things, these theorists reasoned, these laws must also exist in the human soul. And because the human soul is an analogue, a minor image, of a major, all-pervading order, the soul instinctively responds to other manifestations of God's order and finds these other harmonies beautiful. A natural affinity of souls to each other permits man instinctively to enjoy harmony; but the human reason may also consciously discover the laws of this greater order, thus enabling man to recreate divine, natural harmony in human art and architecture. These architects correspondingly subscribe to mathematical definitions of beauty. Palladio, here following Alberti, states that "Beauty will result from the beautiful form and from the correspondence of the whole to the parts, of the parts amongst themselves, and of these again to the whole" (quoted by Wittkower, 21-22). For Alberti, Palladio, and other Renaissance theoreticians, the sources of this beautiful order were three simple mathematical ratios, those which produce the arithmetic, geometric, and "harmonic" means between two extremes. In practice these means were used to furnish the proper dimensions for details and other architectural elements (107-113). Sculptors and painters also tried, though with less success, to derive proportional systems from the human body that would reflect the same order of God in nature that the architects had discovered.

These theories were the source of eighteenth-century ideas that proportion was beauty. But although eighteenth-century painters, architects, and sculptors often worked from Renaissance copy-books of proportions, the artists were ignorant of the means by which the proportions were attained. As William Gilpin, who proclaimed the aesthetic of an irregular, "picturesque" beauty, pointed out in 1792: "The secret is lost. The ancients had it. . . . If we could only discover their principles of proportion." As the theoretical sources of proportion were forgotten, aestheticians began to offer other explanations for the relation between proportion and beauty. Hume, for example, who derived beauty from utility, thought that proportions are beautiful only when they are related to a useful end — See An Inquiry Concerning the Principles of Morals, 40-42 — while Alison, the Associationist, held that proportions are entirely arbitrary and beautiful only because they are familiar through custom and hence association (Essays on the Nature and Principles of Taste, II, 137). Edmund Burke, against whom Ruskin in part directed his discussion of the aesthetics of proportion, went even further and denied that proportions were beautiful. Burke's first argument against the identification of proportion and beauty is that "Proportion relates almost wholly to convenience, as every idea of order seems to do; and it must therefore be considered as a creature of the understanding, rather than a primary cause acting on the senses and imagination. It is not by the force of long attention and enquiry that we find any object to be beautiful" (92).This argument makes four points, none of which seems necessarily joined by logic to the others. First, Burke assumes that proportion relates to convenience, that is, that proportion is a matter of utility. This assumption that proportion must necessarily be connected to use reveals his ignorance of the older theories of proportion. Secondly, Burke makes the assumption, equally foreign to the old aesthetic, that order is similarly related to utility, and thirdly, he assumes that order is not enjoyed aesthetically without reference to use. Fourthly, he confuses the discovery of a proportion with its enjoyment when he states that proportions can only be perceived by the understanding, in contrast to beauty which is received and enjoyed instinctively. Burke's second major argument is that, since different species of animals have different proportions, and since each species has its own beauty, proportion therefore cannot contribute to beauty. In other words, Burke assumes, rather illogically, that since one proportion or set of proportions is not found in all beautiful things, proportion cannot be the basis of beauty. As a final touch Burke attempts his usual method of reducing the ideas of his opponents to absurdity with an attack on the proposition that proportions found in the human body are used in architecture:

It has been said long since, and echoed . . . that the proportions of building have been taken from those of the human body. To make this forced analogy complete, they represent a man with his arms raised and extended at full length, and then describe a sort of square, as it is formed by passing lines along the extremities of this strange figure. But it appears very clearly to me, that the human figure never supplied the architect with any of his ideas. For in the first place, men are very rarely seen in this strained posture. [100]

Burke's ingenuousness, whether assumed or actual, reveals the extent to which the older theories of proportion had been forgotten.

Ruskin does not answer this last objection of Burke, and he also ignores Burke's first argument, which he can do, because he has already shown that order is not related to utility and that it is instinctively perceived and enjoyed as beauty. In regard to his predecessor's second objection, however, Ruskin mentions the "curious error of Burke, in imagining that because he could not fix upon some one given proportion of lines as better than any other, therefore proportion had no value or influence at all. It would be as just to conclude that there is no such thing as melody in music, because no one melody can be fixed upon as best" (4.108). His use of a musical analogy demonstrates at once both how similar and unlike Ruskin's ideas of proportion are to those of the Renaissance. For Alberti and Palladio musical harmony is the incorporation of order, and so it is for Ruskin; but whereas the earlier theorists mention harmony in relation to proportion, Ruskin speaks of harmony in relation to his idea of unity amid variety. For Ruskin, proportion is represented not by harmony, but by melody; not by the ordering element that the reason perceives, but by the melodic connection created and perceived by the imagination. When Ruskin makes musical analogies, as he frequently does throughout Modern Painters, music represents not a rationally perceived and recreatable order, but the expression of the imagination that surpasses reason. There is an order, an emotional, imaginative order, in melody and proportion, but it is not the order of number.

In his discussion of Burke, Ruskin concentrates on his predecessor's relation of fitness to proportion, and he makes the admission that Burke was in part correct, that one kind of proportion, constructive proportion, is related to use. Constructive proportion, primarily of importance in architecture, is a ratio of the strength, quantity, and bearing purpose of materials. Though an appropriate ratio of these three factors will seem pleasant to the knowledgeable observer, the pleasure produced by this ratio arises from a conscious recognition of skill and is not an innate reaction such as that which characterizes the perception of beauty.

The second form of proportion, that with which Ruskin is primarily concerned, is apparent proportion, which "takes place between quantities for the sake of connection only, without any ultimate object or causal necessity" (4.102). This apparent proportion, a law of nature, "which is itself, seemingly, the end of operation to many of the forces of nature, is therefore at the root of all our delight in any beautiful form whatsoever" (4.107-108). Apparent proportion, then, which parallels in so many ways the proportional theories of the Renaissance, is that which creates the unity of sequence. Since Ruskin's theological and aesthetic explanations of proportion are so like those of Alberti and Palladio, it is particularly ironic that he should have so harshly condemned an architecture that incorporated his own beliefs about beauty. But the very irony of Ruskin's lack of recognition points out most clearly both how much traditional theories of aesthetic order had been forgotten by the nineteenth century, and how conservative was his emphasis upon the beauty of order.

This belief in the importance and beauty of order also informs Ruskin's brief chapter on the typical beauty of symmetry. Most Continental and English writers, such as Alberti, Congreve, and Johnson, who mention the relation of symmetry and beauty, consider symmetry as an aspect of proportion. In his "Discourse on the Pindaric Ode" (1706) William Congreve wrote that "Nothing can be called beautiful without proportion. When symmetry and harmony are wanting, neither the eye nor the ear can be pleased" (Eighteenth-Century Critical Essays, I, 146). In his statement Congreve, like most writers, apparently uses the terms synonymously, and in the Dictionary Dr. Johnson presents symmetry and proportion as synonyms. But Ruskin, unlike those who preceded him, differentiates between these two forms of aesthetic order: "Symmetry is the opposition of equal quantities to each other; proportion, the connection of unequal quantities with each other. The property of a tree sending out equal boughs on opposite sides is symmetrical; its sending out shorter and smaller towards the top, proportional" (4.125-126). Proportion, a relationship of changing, developing things, creates the unity of sequence, while symmetry, which is static, creates opposition and balance. In other words, proportion is kinetic order, symmetry static order. Ruskin emphasizes that this necessary "reciprocal balance" is formed not by the opposition of identical things, but by things which balance each other: "Absolute equality is not required, still less absolute similarity. A mass of subdued colour may be balanced by a point of a powerful one" (4.125). Ruskin professes to find it strange that such aesthetic balance could ever have been thought to be synonymous with proportion; but the explanation is simple and lies in the fact that whereas he considers symmetry alone to be a form of balance, earlier writers considered both symmetry and proportion to be so. In fact, this earlier identification of both terms appears in Aristotle's Nicomachean Ethics, an important source of Ruskin's moral conception of symmetry.

Following his usual procedure, Ruskin derives this form of aesthetic order from moral laws which, in turn, are derived from the nature of God. Accordingly, symmetry is the type of divine justice. Ruskin's suggestion that symmetry may in part be pleasurable because of its relation to Aristotle's notion of abstract justice provides the reader with several clues as to both the source and nature of Ruskin's moral conception of symmetry. First, there is his citation of the Aristotelian idea of abstract justice. In the Ethics Aristotle states that justice is receiving that which one deserves according to one's merit. The philosopher explains his conception of justice by comparing that which is just for two different people. Thus, since person A and person B should each receive what is commensurate with his merit, the rewards A' and B' will be related A + A' = B + B'. Aristotle concludes that "This, then, is what the just is — the proportional; the unjust is what violates the proportion" (Basic Works, ed. Richard McKeon, New York, 1941, 1007). Aristotle here presents proportion as balance, and the proportionate balance of rewards and merits as justice. Except for the fact that Ruskin writes of symmetry and not proportion, though he apparently means much the same as Aristotle, he follows the philosopher's notion of justice, and from this notion of justice — which he derives from divine nature — he explains the moral nature of symmetry.

The Ethics also explain Ruskin's theory of the typical beauty of symmetry. Aristotle's entire theory of virtues is based on the recognition of what W. D. Ross calls "the necessity of introducing system, or as Aristotle says, symmetry, into the manifold tendencies which exist within us"(Aristotle: A Complete Exposition of his Works and Thought , New York, 1959. 191-192. In his own translation Ross uses "proportionate" [Basic Works, 954]). The virtue of courage, for example, is a mean which balances the deficiency of cowardice against the excess of recklessness. While symmetry is itself thus not a virtue, it is a principle in all virtue. This conception of symmetry seems to enter Ruskin's notion of the typical beauty of symmetry. He states that symmetry "is rather a mode of arrangement of qualities than a quality itself" (4.126), and hence that it has little power over the mind unless connected with other beauties. Ruskin therefore relates symmetry to beauty as Aristotle relates it to forms of virtue — as a principle of order which creates the desired quality. Just as the symmetry of the mean is necessary for the dignity of man, so, too, symmetry is necessary for "the dignity of every form" (4.126) in art. Order, representative of moral order and ultimately derived from it, is the source of this beauty of symmetry:

Orderly balance and arrangement are essential to the perfect operation of the more earnest and solemn qualities of the Beautiful, as being heavenly in their nature, and contrary to the violence and disorganization of sin; so that the seeking of them, and submission to them, are characteristic of minds that have been subjected to high moral discipline. (4.126-127)

Ruskin thus adds an Evangelical Anglican flavor to his Aristotelian sources, relating the beauty of symmetry to the balance of divine justice and of right conduct among men.

From his theory of the typical beauty of symmetry Ruskin deduces the value of balance in art, praising in particular the symmetrical groupings that Giotto, Ghirlandajo, and Tintoretto employ. On the other hand, although he devotes much care to setting forth his theory of beautiful proportion, no such practical criteria follow from this mode of Typical Beauty. Because Ruskin believes that proportions "are as infinite . . . as possible airs in music" (8.163), he cannot advocate any one proportional system for the arts. The relation of this aspect of his aesthetic theory to his practice as a critic appears not in proscriptions for beauty but in his careful analyses of architecture. In The Stones of Venice, for instance, he details the measurements of San Donato in Murano, discovering that the distance between columns in the church's apse provides a modular which its builders employed throughout the building: the width of the aisle measures twice the interval between shafts, the transept three times, and the nave four (10.46). In addition, he determines other proportional gradations along the length of the shafts themselves. Thus, Ruskin's firm belief in the beauties of order encourages him to search for order in beautiful architecture, producing a method of critical, if not artistic, practice.

This same emphasis on order, appropriate and perhaps expectable in an aesthetic theory presented as part of a metaphysic, appears in the three remaining branches of Typical Beauty — repose, moderation, and purity. Whereas unity amid variety, proportion, and symmetry are themselves forms of order, repose and moderation are qualities produced by order or associated with it. Like the Solitary in Wordsworth's Excursion, that poem so beloved of Ruskin at this point in his career, he emphasizes

The universal instinct of repose,
The longing for confirmed tranquillity,
Inward and outward. [Works, V, 87]

Ruskin quotes these lines in a note to the chapter on repose, adding: "But compare carefully (for this is put into the mouth of one diseased in thought and erring in seeking) the opening of the ninth book; and observe the difference between the mildew of inaction — the slumber of Death; and the patience of the Saints — the rest of the Sabbath Eternal. Rev. xiv. 13" (4.117n).

All art, says Ruskin, must have an element of repose, the symbol of divine permanence. This element of repose may be "a simple appearance of permanence and quietness" (4.1l4), or else it may be repose proper, "the rest of things in which there is vitality or capability of motion actual or imagined" (4.1l4). Repose would seem to answer yearnings for peace, stability, and order, both in life and in art. "In architecture, in music, in acting, in dancing, in whatsoever art, great or mean, there are yet degrees of greatness or meanness entirely dependent on this single quality of repose" (4.119). Ruskin believes that repose symbolizes divine permanence, that aspect of God's nature which is in greatest contrast to the change and effort of human existence:

As opposed to passion, change, fulness, or laborious exertion, Repose is the especial and separating characteristic of the eternal mind and power. It is the "I am" of the Creator opposed to the "I become" of all creatures; it is the sign alike of the supreme knowledge which is incapable of surprise, the supreme power which is incapable of labour, the supreme volition which is incapable of change; it is the stillness of the beams of the eternal chambers laid upon the variable waters of ministering creatures. (4.113)

Here peacefulness and permanence are the aspects of order which please changing, changeable men, who always desire the calm of order.

In the experience which occasioned Ruskin's theory of typical beauty, it was the sight of the aiguilles standing "calmly" amid the writhing, moaning storm that brought him a vision of "the Peace of God" (4.364); and throughout his writings he delighted in impressions of repose. Rosenberg has suggested that

in art as in life he was most moved by the kind of beauty which possesses the unchanging . . . remoteness of death. . . Peace, youth, and death were always associated with Ruskin's moments of profoundest feeling: with the 'marble-like' beauty of the girl at Turin, who lay motionless on the sand, 'Like a dead Niobid'; with the girls at Winnington, immobile and innocent, as they listened to music; with the perfect repose of Della Quercia's figure of the sleeping Ilaria di Caretto, which he loved above all other statues. [The Darkening Glass, 205]

" Wallis' Chatterton

Left: Jacopo della Quercia, Ilaria di Caretto. Right: H. Wallis, The Death of Chatterton [Not in
print edition; click on picture for larger image.]

Ruskin's praise of della Quercia's sepulchral monument for Ilaria di Caretto, his careful attention to tomb sculpture in The Stones of Venice, and his strong approval of Wallis's Death of Chatterton and Millais's Ophelia all argue for Rosenberg's view. At the same time, Ruskin's love of the intense and infinitely various hues of nature (and of her prophet Turner) does not permit one to accept the idea that such beauty most moved him: one remembers that his vision of the Alps, like Turner's art, mixed tumult and calm, change and permanence, conflict and peace.

It is nonetheless true that his writings about art, society, and self frequently reveal an intense yearning for peace and permanence. He once wrote that "the Greek could stay in his triglyph furrow, and be at peace; but the work of the Gothic heart is fretwork still, and it can neither rest in, nor from, its labour, but must pass on, sleeplessly, until its love of change shall be pacified for ever in the change that must come alike on them that wake and them that sleep" (10.214). Ruskin had a Gothic heart but he continually desired to make himself at least partially a Greek. His writings on art, his entire works, indeed his life, appear in retrospect a peregrination without rest, a continuing voyage of exploration and discovery; for the goals of Ruskin's pilgrim's progress, like the ends of his holy war, frequently changed or vanished. In particular, Modern Painters, an emblem of changefulness, grew and recast itself, leading him through many areas of life and art of which he had at first been unaware. The publication of the second volume in 1846, and his subsequent revisions of the first, reveal his defense of art to be an ongoing, ever-changing work-in-progress which continually incorporated new discoveries, embodied developing attitudes, and ended, seventeen years after it had begun, far longer and far different than its author had at first expected. Certainly, in Modern Painters there are many central themes which in part determined its form — a form sometimes unexpected but always relevant to the main purposes. Certainly, an order, a unity of the kind Ruskin demanded, does exist in his work, but it is the order of a changing, growing thing like the unity of a living organism, like the unity of Ruskin's own life: complex and ever in transition.

It is no surprise, then, that a man aware of his own changefulness, a man pained at the cruel effects of time on men and their creations, should long for signs of permanence and peace in art. His praise of Dante, the ideal artist, who, though intensely emotional, stands unmoved, is thus not only Ruskin's revision of romantic conceptions of the poet, but also a much desired, if unattainable, ideal for himself.

This yearning for repose enters both his aesthetics and critical practice, coloring his preferences for subject, lighting, composition, and emotional effect. Ruskin, who delighted in images of the eternal rest of men and mountains, intensely disliked most portrayals of violence or violent emotion in art. He realized, like Lessing, that the power of art to fixate images of transient emotion led more frequently to the ludicrous and horrible than to the beautiful. Despising the Laocoön, he found the Elgin marbles, particularly the Theseus, ideal embodiments of the beauty of repose(4.119). Similarly, he criticized Raphael's attempt to portray acute anguish in The Massacre of the Innocents (4.204), and, among contemporaries, he criticized the morbidity of William Windus's Too Late (14.233-234). In Windus's rather unfortunate painting (see Plate 16), which he exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1859, we can observe the worst of Victorian pathos, the very thing Ruskin was trying to discourage: a young man has returned too late to his gaunt-cheeked beloved, who, dying of consumption, supports herself weakly by a cane, while the lover buries his head in his arms as a little girl looks at him with reproach.[Follow for a discussion of Ruskin's comment, its effect on the artist, and views of Ruskin's psychological state.]

Ruskin's other modes of Typical Beauty create the specific technical criteria of repose. In his chapter on infinity, Ruskin, who had only contempt for dramatic Rembrandtesque lighting, praised diffused lighting and "the preciousness of the luminous sky" (4.86). He also finds closely associated with this lighting the portrayal of a luminous distance exemplified by the painters of the early Florentine Renaissance (4.84-85). Similarly, both symmetry and proportion, which create a visual order in painting, aid the effect of repose.

Purity, which less obviously partakes of Ruskin's emphasis upon order, is the type of divine energy, and its best example is light — "not all light, but light possessing the universal qualities of beauty, diffused or infinite rather than in points; tranquil, not startling and variable; pure, not sullied or oppressed" (4.128). Purity, referable to God, cannot mean sinlessness, because, according to Ruskin, one cannot define God in negatives. He therefore explains that purity must signify some sort of energy, and from his remarks about the tranquil, constant nature of beautiful light it would appear that purity refers specifically to restrained divine energy. If this interpretation of his idea of purity is correct, then purity, thus taken to mean restrained energy, readily has a place in his aesthetic of order beside the other branches of Typical Beauty.

His remarks about diffused or infinite light further suggest that this mode of the beautiful is associated closely with the typical beauty of infinity; but whereas this other mode of beauty most concerns light considered as illumination, purity concerns light as color. Throughout his career Ruskin closely associates purity and color, several times undertaking theological justification of this connection. In the last volume of Modern Painters, for example, he insists that color "is the purifying or sanctifying element of material beauty" (7.417n), and he attempts to support his claim by the use in Leviticus of the scarlet hyssop as a purifying element in the sacrifice. Similarly, in the fourth volume, in which he also asserts the "sacredness of colour" (6.68), he both argues that God appointed blue, purple, scarlet, white, and gold for the tabernacle, and that He has made color accompany "all that is purest, most innocent, and most precious" (6.68).

Ruskin's criticism of individual paintings demonstrates that for him the beauty of purity is embodied in bright, clear, intense hues — in the reds and golds of medieval painting, in the palette of the Pre-Raphaelites, and, above all, in the scarlets, blues, and yellows of Turner. In particular, his favorite artist's Ulysses Deriding Polyphemus, The Slave Ship, San Benedetto, and Napoleon exemplify his conception of this mode of the beautiful. His preferences lead one to conclude that Ruskin, who considers color the visible embodiment of feeling, "the type of love" (7.419), believes that intense colors more suitably convey the emotional impression of a scene than do violent action or the depiction of faces under the influence of strong passions.

Nevertheless, as he explains in his chapter on moderation, the sixth and last branch of Typical Beauty, the painter's colors, though intense, must avoid the glaring and discordant. Like all other aspects of painting, color demands moderation, which Ruskin believes to be "the girdle and safeguard of all the rest, and in this respect the most essential of all" (4.139) forms of beauty. The appearance in material things of "self-restrained liberty" is beautiful, says Ruskin, because it is "the image of that acting of God with regard to all His creation, wherein, though free to operate in whatever arbitrary, sudden, violent, or inconstant ways He will, He yet, if we may reverently so speak, restrains in Himself this His omnipotent liberty, and works always in consistent modes, called by us laws" (4.138).

In the course of his discussion Ruskin mentions Richard Hooker's Laws of Ecclesiastical Polity, a work on which he modeled the style of the second volume of Modern Painters. In the tenth number of Fors Clavigera, which appeared in October 1871, Ruskin mentions his "affectation to write like Hooker and George Herbert" (27.168), and in the 1871 preface to Sesame and Lilies he mentions the imitation of Hooker in the second volume of Modern Painters (18.32). (See also Malcolm Mackenzie Ross, "Ruskin, Hooker, and 'the Christian Theoria,'" Essays in English Literature from the Renaissance to the Victorian Age (Toronto, 1963), 283-301.)

Even more important than Hooker as an influence, perhaps, is again Aristotle's Ethics; for the ideas of the mean, of symmetrical virtue, are in essence ideas of moderation. Ruskin insists on the moral and artistic superiority of moderate things to "the loose, the lawless, the exaggerated, the insolent, and the profane" (4.140) — to things, to men, to colors and forms which are disordered and hence unrelated to divine nature. According to him, one who would achieve this mode of the beautiful should emulate "the pure and severe curves of the draperies of the religious painters" (4.140). Similarly, in color "it is not red, but rose colour, which is most beautiful . . . and so of all colours; not that they may not sometimes be deep and full, but that there is a solemn moderation even in their very fulness, and a holy reference . . . to great harmonies by which they are governed" (4.140). Such a criterion for orderly, moderate color would seem to go against his praise of Turner's stridently red Napoleon, but since the hues of this work turned, losing all their harmony, within a decade after the artist laid them on his canvas (13.160), one cannot ascertain whether Ruskin argues inconsistently. The general principle remains: all elements of painting, even color which is the embodiment of feeling, require order and moderation.

Ruskin's theory of Typical Beauty is an Apollonian, classical aesthetic of order, and as such apparently incongruous with his romantic conceptions of painting and literature. His incorporation of the idea of infinity, long an important element in conceptions of a powerful, often violent sublime, shows the extent to which Ruskin avoids elements of disorder in his system of Typical Beauty. Rather than deriving some traditional form of overpowering beauty or sublimity from infinity, Ruskin tamely confines infinity to gradations in color and line, and in the following chapter on the beauty of unity these elements of variation are then made subservient to unity, a principle of order. The beauty of purity presents a similar example, for, again, rather than using the notion of divine energy and power to create a sublime aesthetic, Ruskin instead emphasizes a mild, calm beauty. This Apollonian beauty is all the more surprising, since Ruskin had stated in the previous volume that sublimity was not an aesthetic category separate from beauty but was contained in beauty. When we examine his conceptions of sublimity in the following chapter, we shall see that after Ruskin discovered he could find no place for the disordering elements of emotion in his theories of beauty, he made use of the sublime, in the manner of eighteenth-century writers, to accommodate the pleasures of the awesome, the terrific, and the vast.


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Last modified 25 July 2005