While seemingly spending his energies in a passionate description of how exactly to use color and light and how the painters Turner and Poussin either succeed or fail to do so, Ruskin delivers more than a simple painting appraisal. He subtly layers his assessment with religious undertones, which he reveals have higher purpose only at the very end. He completes his prose with a rather abrupt change in view; while his entire dialogue had argued over the use and importance of color and light, he ends his lecture on a different note:

The hue is a beautiful auxiliary in working out the great impression to be conveyed, but is not the source nor the essence of that impression; it is little more than a visible melody, given to raise and assist the mind in the reception of nobler ideas as sacred passages of sweet sound, to prepare the feelings for the reading of the mysteries of God. [168-170]

He indicates that although conveyed by the combination of color and light, the meaning of the work, the attempt to capture the full glory of nature, has little to do with simple artistic pleasure. He feels that the painting should "raise and assist the mind in the reception of nobler ideasÉthe mysteries of God." Although this switch to religion may seem to come out of nowhere, Ruskin had given earlier clues as to the religious implications of natureŐs beauty when he wrote that "every glade of grass burned like the golden floor of heaven." (153) Also, Ruskin foreshadows the idea that one should use this art to contemplate the greater workings of God when he meditates that "there is no climate, no place, and scarcely an hour, in which nature does not exhibit colour which no mortal effort can imitate or approach." (154) His thought that no mortal can convey properly the effects of nature indicates that one must contemplate, as he seems to, the higher workings of God in nature.

Questions

Now we have been speaking hitherto of what is constant and necessary in nature, of the ordinary effects of daylight on ordinary colours, and we repeat again, that no gorgeousness of the pallet can reach even these. But it is a widely different thing when nature herself takes a colouring fit, and does something extraordinary, something really to exhibit her power. She has a thousand ways and means of rising above herself, but incomparably the noblest manifestations of her capability of colour are in these sunsets among the high clouds. [158]

1. This passage from "On the Truth of Colour" portrays nature as her own force, with power separate from any other influence. Does Ruskin implicate nature as a separate entity, outside of God? Or does he still categorize nature as a force under GodŐs command, simply given free range to create beautiful landscapes? If it seems unclear, why would Ruskin fail to clarify the relationship between nature and God?

2. Why does Ruskin not mention, other than subtle foreshadowing, the importance of spiritual contemplation from the beginning, before his lecture on color and light? Why does he wait until the very end? What does this accomplish?

3. In the final passage, quoted above, Ruskin makes a color/music analogy. What purpose does this analogy serve? Does it refer to hymnal songs that raise the mind to God as he argues these paintings should, or simply music in general? Why use music as the analogy to color as opposed to something else?

4. Ruskin struggled throughout his life with his own religious beliefs. A staunch Evangelical as he had been raised, in 1848 he began to doubt his faith and eventually reject religion altogether in 1858 before finally combining the two into a odd and highly personalized version of Christianity. "Modern Painters" from which "On the Truth of Color" comes from, written between 1843 and 1860, would then fall in the time frames of his firm belief, period of doubt, and complete loss of religion. What in this work would suggest he firmly believes in Christianity? What indicates his doubts? Does anything seem to imply that he has lost faith altogether but perhaps wishes to find it once again?


Victorian Overview John Ruskin Leading Questions

Last modified 14 April 2009