hroughout his works, Ruskin engages himself to make us see and understand better — two operations that he takes to be intimately and even essentially related. When other writers would use the terms "think" or "conceive," he employs visual terminology; and when one expects to encounter the words "understand," "grasp," or "think," he finds, instead, 'see'. Ruskin's theoretical statements, letters, and diaries all make abundantly clear that he assumed many psychological processes generally considered abstract to be visual and to proceed by means of visual images. Such assumptions do much to explain Ruskin's somewhat anachronistic adherence to the theory of visual imagination held by Hobbes, Locke, Addison, and Johnson — a view whose popularity Burke's On the Sublime of 1757 had greatly undermined in the second half of the eighteenth century. These assumptions also suggest how Ruskin could be so perceptive about the nature and meaning of allegorical images. He believed that most abstractions, in fact, are first formulated mythically or symbolically and that only later does the conscious reason play its part.
Therefore, he believes that all truth is comprehended visually, and to this axiom he joins the corollary that to learn anything one must experience it — see it — for oneself . At the heart of Ruskin's aesthetic theories, practical criticism, and instructions to young artists lies a heartfelt conviction that one can only learn things, one can only know them, by experiencing them for oneself. Such an emphasis might appear particularly paradoxical in the work of a critic like Ruskin so committed, particularly in his later career, to allegorical and symbolical art. But even in regard to such symbolic modes Ruskin, who combines visual and visionary epistemologies, sees no conflict. As he makes clear in his discussions of artistic [20/21] psychology and symbolic imagery, he believes that both visual and visionary truths are matters of direct experience, for, according to him, they are the way one actually encounters such truths . In other words, he believes that the greatest moral and spiritual truths appear, and have always appeared, to mankind in symbolic form, so that whereas visual truths arise in the exterior world and visionary ones in the interior one of the mind, both are matters of personal experience. According to Ruskin, then, the fact that one only truly learns things, particularly ideas, by experiencing them simultaneously explains the human value of symbolic and visionary art, his own word-painting, and painter}y realism.
For Ruskin the chief justification of realism as an artistic style thus resides in its forcing the artist to educate his eye and hand. Such a Ruskinian conception of realism as self-education furnishes the ultimate justification of his famous, if much misunderstood, injunction to young artists to "go to nature in all singleness of heart, and walk with her laboriously and trustingly, having no other thoughts but how best to penetrate her meaning, and remembering her instruction; rejecting nothing, selecting nothing, and scorning nothing . . . and rejoicing always in the truth" 13.624). Many readers have wondered how Ruskin, who had begun Modern Painters to proselytize Turner's late works of haze, swirling rain, and fantastic colours, could have ended his volume with such apparently contradictory instructions to the contemporary artist. Was it that the polemical origins of the work had led him astray? As Ruskin frequently reminds us in the course of this opening volume, he defends Turner's close knowledge of visual fact precisely because the critics of Blackwood's and The Times had attacked the artist's great works for being "unlike nature" . The 1844 preface to Modern Painters I thus explains: "For many a year we have heard nothing with respect to the works of Turner but accusations of their want of truth. To every observation on their power, sublimity, or beauty, there has been but one reply: They are not like nature. I therefore took my opponents on their own ground, and demonstrated, [21/22] by thorough investigation of actual facts, that Turner is like nature, and paints more of nature than any man who ever lived" (3.51-12) . Has Ruskin's understandable desire to show up the critics who so harshly treated his artistic idol led him so far from his original intentions that he forgets to defend Turner's works of the 1840s at all?
As is usually the case with Ruskin, the solution to an apparent gross inconsistency is readily seen once we look closely at the context in which it appears. Here Ruskin is most definitely not urging that all great art must take the form of realistic transcriptions of visual fact He is not even addressing his remarks to mature artists. Rather he addresses the student, the beginner, emphasizing that "from young artists nothing ought to be tolerated but simple bona fide imitation of nature . They have no business to ape the execution of masters . . . Their duty is neither to choose, nor compose, nor imagine, nor experimentalize; but to be humble and earnest in following the steps of nature, and tracing the finger of God" (3.623). Even though Ruskin (and the editors of the Library Edition) caution that he directs his remarks to beginning students, readers have frequently misunderstood his point and thought that Ruskin was here advancing a claim for the artistic superiority of extreme photographic naturalism as a painterly style. In fact, immediately after thus instructing the neophyte, Ruskin adds that when visual experience has nurtured the young artists" hand, eye, and imagination, "we will follow them wherever they choose to lead . . . They are then our masters, and fit to be so" (3.624). In other words, to paint like Turner, or even to paint a very different art that could rival his, one first had to begin with training eye and hand. One, however, cannot stop at this training stage.
Ruskin made such recommendations because he firmly believed "the imagination must be fed constantly by external nature" 14.288) or, as he put it in somewhat different terms: "I call the representation of facts the first end; because it is necessary to the other and must be attained before it. It is the foundation of all art; like real foundations, it may be little [22/23] thought of when a brilliant fabric is raised on it; but it must be there" (3.13S???). Such a conception of artistic development, in which symbolical or even visionary art is seen as growing forth from the visual, explains how Ruskin could have linked his defence of Turner with that of the Pre-Raphaelites, who were then painting shallow, static compositions in a hard-edge realism. His attitude towards the members of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood is summed up in his statements that even though they had not achieved art of the quality of Turner, they were beginners on the right track. He explains in the Addenda to his lecture "Pre-Raphaelitism" (1854):
It is true that so long as the Pre-Raphaelites only paint from nature, however carefully selected and grouped, their pictures can never have the character of the highest class of compositions. But, on the other hand, the shallow and conventional arrangements commonly called "compositions" by the artists of the present day, are infinitely farther from great art than the most patient work of the Pre-Raphaelites. That work is, even in its humblest form, a secure foundation, capable of infinite superstructure; a reality of true value, as far as it reaches, while the common artistic- effects and groupings are a vain effort at superstructure without foundation. [12.161-2]
In defending Turner, Ruskin has looked back to his earlier works to reveal that in them the painter had created the necessary foundation that enabled him later to erect a "brilliant fabric'; in defending the Pre-Raphaelites, a group of young men at the beginning of their careers, he only urged that they had thus far built the necessary foundation.
Ruskin makes personally achieved knowledge of visual fact the foundation of his art theory because he believes that it is only by trying to capture the external world in form and colour that the painter ever learns to apprehend it. Like E. H. Gombrich, he believes that we are more likely to see what we paint than paint what we see. Ruskin emphasizes that because [23/24] we behold the world by means of conventions, artists have an especially difficult time in seeing the world anew and for themselves since they must break free from both the conventions of everyday seeing and those of artistic representation. According to him, his Victorian contemporaries "permit, or even compell their painters and sculptors to work chiefly by rule, altering their models to fit their preconceived notions of what is right " . The sad result of such rules is that "when such artists look at a face, they do not give it the attention necessary to discern what beauty is already in its peculiar features; but only to see how best it may be altered into something for which they themselves have laid down the laws . Nature never unveils her beauty to such a gaze " (5.99) . Furthermore, the effects of such intellectually created rules do not stop with the work of art and the artist who produces it, for the effect is no less "evil on the mind of the general observer. The lover of ideal beauty, with all his conceptions narrowed by rule, never looks carefully enough upon the features which do not come under his law . . . to discern the inner beauty in them" (5.99). Not only do cultural conventions teach the spectator to judge paintings by a false standard that prevents his enjoyment of novel beauties but they also teach him to perceive, or mis-perceive, the world around him, thus lessening both his pleasure and his knowledge. Ruskin, who here anticipates the work of Gombrich, always insists that art provides the visual vocabularies with which people confront the world around them and by which they experience it. He thus points out, for instance, that "little as people in general are concerned with art, more of their ideas of sky are derived from pictures than from reality; and that if we could examine the conception formed in the minds of most educated persons when we talk of clouds, it would frequently be found composed of fragments of blue and white reminiscences of the old masters" (3.345-6). For Ruskin, therefore, both artist and audience must learn to perceive with an innocent eye, forgetting what something is supposed to look like and trying to see it without conventional visual [24/25] vocabularies. Unfortunately, one of the greatest barriers to new knowledge, new experience, of the world is that people see what they think they know to be there rather than what they see before them. As he points out in A Joy For Ever (1857), "one of the worst diseases to which the human creature is liable is its disease of thinking. If it would only just look at a thing instead of thinking what it must be like . . . we should all get on far better" (16.126).
Ruskin, one may point out, is one of the few critics and theoreticians in the history of Western art who have granted due importance to the roles of both visual thinking and the physical act of drawing or painting as a means of knowledge. His aesthetic theories here relate importantly to his political views because his recognition of the essential connection that joins the work of eye, hand, and mind in the artistic process leads to his emphasis on the essential dignity of labour. As he argues in The Stones of Venice, "it is only by labour that thought can be made healthy, and only by thought that labour can be made happy, and the two cannot be separated with impunity" (10.201) . According to him, contemporary painting, like Renaissance architecture and modern factory work, separated labour from thought and paid a heavy price for doing so.
Ruskin, whose personal experience convinced him that one could only sharpen one's perceptions of the external world by trying to draw it, came as a salutary correction to earlier art theory. In particular, the notion of ut pictura poesis — that painting and literature were sister arts possessing many of the same qualities and purposes - had been tried to raise the low status of the visual arts by emphasizing the intellectual nature of the artistic act. Writers, such as Reynolds, who worked with a restricting vocabulary that permitted them to distinguish only between manual and intellectual labour, inevitably gave short shrift to the physical and pre-conscious portions of the artistic process . When Ruskin creates a Romantic version of a sister-arts aesthetic, he replaces the great academician's distinction between intellectual and mechanical art with one [25/26] that emphasizes a third faculty, the imagination. In this way he can avoid the need to see art as either pure mechanical imitation or intellectualized creation. According to Ruskin, the artist who generalizes by convention fails to make contact with nature and beauty, and as a result his art atrophies. He therefore insists: "Generalization, as the word is commonly understood, is the act of a vulgar, incapable, and unthinking mind. To see in all mountains nothing but similar heaps of earth; in all rocks, nothing but similar concretions of solid matter; in all trees, nothing but similar accumulations of leaves, is no sign of high feeling or extended thought" (3.37; my italics). Ruskin does not, any more than Reynolds, wish art mechanically to transcribe nature, but he emphasizes that the act of generalization - as it is not commonly understood must be instinctive, unconscious, and imaginative, and it must be prepared for by years of learning to see with one 's hand and in one's art.
In Pre-Raphaelitism (1851), which argues that all great art derives from the artist's learning to see for himself, Ruskin makes the charge that his contemporaries stifled and corrupted young artists by forcing upon them conventionalized, generalized ideals:
We begin, in all probability, by telling the youth of fifteen or sixteen, that Nature is full of faults, and that he is to improve her; but that Raphael is perfection, and that the more he copies Raphael the better; that after much copying of Raphael, he is to try what he can do himself in a Raphaelesque, but yet original manner: that is to say, he is to try to do something very clever, all out of his own head, but yet this clever something is to be properly subjected to Raphaelesque rules, is to have a principal light occupying one-seventh of its space, and a principal shadow occupying one third of the same; that no two people's heads in the picture are to be turned the same way, and that all the personages represented are to possess ideal beauty of the highest order, which ideal beauty consists partly in a Greek [26/27] outline of nose, partly in proportions expressible in decimal fractions between the lips and chin; but mostly in that degree of improvement which the youth of sixteen is to bestow upon God's work in general. This I say is the kind of teaching which through various channels, Royal Academy lecturings, press criticisms, public enthusiasm, and not the least by solid weight of gold, we give to our young men. And we wonder we have no painters! 112.3534)
Ruskin scorns the Neoclassical ideal because, by placing man in a prideful, false relation to nature, it limits instead of enhancing vision. In particular, he believes that such premature reaching after an ideal prevents the young artist from learning to see for himself . And, as Ruskin emphasizes in Pre-Raphaelitism (1851), to see for oneself is the foundation of all great art: "every great man paints what he sees . . . And thus Pre-Raphaelitism and Raphaelitism, and Turnerism, are all one and the same, so far as education can influence them." Although very different men may employ their abilities to create different kinds of art, they are none the less "all the same in this, that Raphael himself, so far as he was great, and all who preceded or followed him who ever were great, became so by painting the truths around them as they appeared to each man's mind, not as he had bee n taught to see them, except by the God who made both him and them" (12.385).
Furthermore, like many Renaissance writers on art, Ruskin believes proportion, design, and artistic composition follow natural laws. But, unlike these earlier art theorists, he does not accept that such laws are reducible to a few central rules or proportions, such as the golden mean. Therefore, Ruskin holds, once again, that the only way the artist can learn either to perceive the beautiful or to compose pictures is by confronting nature in the act of representation. As he explains in A Joy For Ever (1857), "A student who can fix with precision the cardinal points of a bird's wing, extended in any fixed position, and can then draw the curves of its individual plumes without measurable error, has advanced further towards a [27/28] power of understanding the design of the great masters than he could by reading many volumes of criticism, or passing many months in undisciplined examination of works of art" (16.149). By attempting to capture nature's beauties in a drawing or painting, one sharpens one's perceptions of both nature and art.
Ruskin's attempts to teach his contemporaries how to see do not stop with the theoretical pronouncements he makes throughout his writings. These theories, which provide the foundation for his entire critical enterprise, are intended to defeat the opponents of Turner, to convince his other readers that Ruskin defends him in an obviously rational manner, and to urge young artists, professional and amateur alike, to forge a living relation with the world. Ideally, Ruskin wants every reader to test his ideas by trying to draw the infinite variety of nature himself, and in fact he wrote The Elements of Drawing (1857) to promote such a desire. However, realizing that most readers would have to be convinced by his verbal arguments, Ruskin employs his great gift of word-painting to provide his readers with the kind of visual relation to the world he would like them to develop.
Ruskin's word-painting, his characteristic educative and satiric technique in the early works, takes three forms, each more complex than the last. First of all, he employs what we may term an additive style, in which he describes a series of visual details one after another. For example, when describing how effectively Turner paints water in the first volume of Modern Painters, he proceeds by dividing his analysis into various visual facts. He thus first points out that Turner correctly represents the energy of a raging ocean by utilizing both the extension as well as the height of the waves. "All the size and sublimity of nature are given, not by the height, but by the breadth, of her masses; and Turner, by following her in her sweeping lines, while he does not lose the elevation of its surges, adds in a tenfold degree to their power" (3.564) . Next, he emphasizes the effect of weight that Turner has managed to create: "We have not a cutting, springing, elastic line; no jumping or leaping in the waves; that is the characteristic of [28/29] Chelsea Reach or Hampstead Ponds in a storm. But the surges roll and plunge with such prostration and hurtling of their mass against the shore, that we feel the rocks are shaking under them" (3.565). At this point, having quietly moved from abstract analysis to general description and then to a description of a specific event, he places us within the energies he describes. Immediately afterwards, he adds another "impression" when he instructs us, "observe how little, comparatively, they are broken by the wind: above the floating wood, and along the shore, we have indication of a line of torn spray; but it is a mere fringe along the ridge of the surge, no interference with its gigantic body. The wind has no power over its tremendous unity of force and weight" (3.565). Whereas earlier in this passage Ruskin merely mentioned the various visual facts that Turner's art had accurately recorded, he now has subtly moved us into the world of these facts, trying to make his readers see more accurately, see the kind the phenomena they would elsewise have neither confronted nor noticed at all. Ruskin concludes this portion of his description by pointing to yet another fact recorded by Turner's painting, after which he points out its implications. Although this passage has moved from a discussion of abstract qualities to a description of specific embodiments of them, Ruskin has not found it necessary to create a fully imagined space because he follows Turner's work so closely. Although more complex than most other instances of his additive style, this passage characteristically proceeds by adding one set of observed facts to previously mentioned ones.
In contrast, his second form of word-painting proceeds by creating a dramatized scene before us, after which it focuses our attention on a single element that moves through the space he has conjured up with language. For example, when writing about rain clouds, Ruskin explains how they first form and then move in relation to the earth below, and then, like the evangelical preacher and the Romantic poet, he cites his own experience: [29/30]
I remember once, when in crossing the Tête Noire, I had turned up the valley towards Trient, I noticed a rain-cloud form on the Glacier de Trient. With a west wind, it proceeded towards the Col de Balme, being followed by a prolonged wreath of vapour, always forming exactly at the same spot over the glacier. This long, serpent-like line of cloud went on at a great rate till it reached the valley leading down from the Col de Balme, under the slate rocks of the Croix de Fer. There it turned sharp round, and came down this valley, at right angles to its former progress, and finally directly contrary to it, till it came down within five hundred feet of the village, where it disappeared; the line behind always advancing, and always disappearing at the same spot. This continued for half an hour, the long line describing the curve of a horse-shoe; always coming into existence and always vanishing at exactly the same places; traversing the space between with enormous swiftness. This cloud, ten miles off, would have looked like a perfectly motionless wreath, in the form of a horse-shoe, hanging over the hills [3.395]
Ruskin thus sets us before his Alpine scene, permitting us to observe the movement of a single element within it. After he has concluded his examination of the moving cloud, he moves us farther away and tells us what it would look like — how we would experience it — from a different vantage point.
In such a passage of description Ruskin proceeds by placing us before a scene, making us spectators of an event. By permitting (or forcing) the reader to see with his eyes, he simultaneously achieves several goals: first, he furnishes us with a standard by which works of art purporting to convey natural fact can be tested; second, by permitting us access to his perceptions — by permitting us to see with his eyes — he allows (or forces) us to perceive specific natural facts we may never have noticed or understood before; third, by so doing, he makes one of his major points, namely, that the external world contains innumerable beautiful phenomena most people never [30/31] perceive or even realize exist; finally, by making this demonstration on his own pulses, as it were, Ruskin demonstrates to the reader his dependence upon him, for without Ruskin few readers would encounter these phenomena.
In Ruskin's third and most elaborate form of word-painting, he develops his role of Master of Experience even more fully. Now he sets us within the depicted scene itself, makes us participate in its energies, and here fulfils his own descriptions of imaginative art. Several passages in Modern Painters explain that both the novice and the painter without imagination must content themselves with a topographical art of visual fact. "The aim of the great inventive landscape painter," on the other hand, "must be to give the far higher and deeper truth of mental vision, rather than that of the physical facts, and to reach a representation which . . . shall yet be capable of producing on the far-away beholder's mind precisely the impression which the reality would have produced" (6.35). As the opening volume explains, in this higher form of art "the artist not only places the spectator, but . . . makes him a sharer in his own strong feelings and quick thoughts" (3.134). The great imaginative artist, in other words, grants us the privilege of momentarily seeing with his eyes and imaginative vision; we experience his phenomenological relation to the world.
Ruskin achieves this goal in language by employing what we may anachronistically term a cinematic prose; that is, he first places himself and his reader firmly in position, after which he generates a complete landscape by moving his centre of perception, or "camera eye," in one of two ways. He may move us progressively deeper into the landscape in a manner that anticipates cinematic use of the zoom lens, or he may move us laterally across the scene while remaining at a fixed distance from the subject — a technique that similarly anticipates the cinematic technique called panning. By thus first establishing his centre of observation and then directing its attention with patterned movement, Ruskin manages to do what is almost impossible - create a coherent visual space with language. [31/32] Such a procedure, which he employs when describing both works of art and the natural world they depict, appears, for instance, in his brilliant description of La Riccia in the first volume of Modern Painters and in many crucial passages in The Stones of Venice, including his magnificent tour of Saint Mark's, his aerial view of the Mediterranean Sea, and his narration of the approach to Torcello.
This narration of the approach to this then desolate island exemplifies a particularly pure form of such cinematic wordpainting because Ruskin strives to convey the experience of movement towards this lonely, deserted place. He begins by locating us in space:
Seven miles to the north of Venice, the banks of sand, which nearer the city rise little above low-water mark, attain by degrees a higher level, and knit themselves at last into fields of salt morass, raised here and there into shapeless mounds, and intercepted by narrow creeks of sea. One of the feeblest of these inlets, after winding for some time among buried fragments of masonry, and knots of sunburnt weeds whitened with webs of fucus, stays itself in an utterly stagnant pool beside a plot of greener grass covered with ground ivy and violets. (10.17; my emphasis)
As my italicising several words in this passage reveals, Ruskin infuses even this quiet, desolate scene with energy by here relying on active verbs and generally avoiding passives. These verbs provide a movement that leads the eye into the scene even as it creates it, and having created before the reader's eye the island of Torcello, Ruskin then self-consciously places himself and his reader in that scene:
On this mound is built a rude brick campanile, of the commonest Lombardic type, which if we ascend towards evening land there are none to hinder us, the door of its ruinous staircase swinging idly on its hinges), we may command from it one of the most notable scenes in this [32/33] wide world of ours. Far as the eye can reach, a waste of wild sea moor, of a lurid ashen grey; not like our northern moors with their jet-black pools and purple heath, but lifeless, the colour of sackcloth, with the corrupted sea-water soaking through the roots of its acrid weeds, and gleaming hither and thither through its snaky channels. No gathering of fantastic mists, nor coursing of clouds across it; but melancholy clearness of space in the warm sunset, oppressive, reaching to the horizon of its level gloom [10.17]
Having approached this desolate island and then climbed its abandoned bell tower with Ruskin, we find our gaze directed successively in each of the directions of the compass, after which he instructs us to look down at Torcello itself and notice the four small stone buildings, one of them a church, which "lie like a little company of ships becalmed on a far-away sea" (10.18) . After describing the buildings and the distant view of Venice more fully, he then guides our emotional reaction to what we have seen when he remarks that "the first strong impression which the spectator receives from the whole scene is, that whatever sin it may have been which has on this spot been visited with so utter a desolation, it could not at least have been ambition" (10.20).
Ruskin's perhaps surprising introduction of the notion that only punishment for sin could have produced such desolation reminds the reader that he has taken us to Torcello, as he has taken us to Venice itself, to explain in the manner of an Old Testament prophet how to read a warning for England in the fate of an earlier commercial and military power. Ruskin characteristically finds such warnings in the evidence of Venetian architecture and its relation to the workers who created it, for he argues that the movement from Gothic to Renaissance styles embodies Venetian secularization and a consequent turning away from the pious Christianity which, he believes, originally founded its strength. Therefore, when he takes us to Torcello, the first island on which the eventual founders of Venice settled in their flight from the mainland, he [33/34] wishes both to contrast it in its present desolation with its daughter, Venice, and to emphasize how Torcello's founders, who took literally the notion that the church was their ark of salvation, had a faith tragically long since lost. Therefore the remainder of the chapter concerns itself with examining the cathedral on the island and what it meant to its original builders. But to create this effect, Ruskin first skilfully employs his cinematic style to move us through the Venetian lagoon so that we experience the approach to this desolate place with some of the same feelings as the original settlers, who had fled mainland wars.
Such effective passages are thus hardly mere embellishments of his main argument, nor are they self-indulgent displays of virtuosity — though in his early works, particularly the first volume of Modern Painters, Ruskin certainly enjoyed such virtuosity. His word-painting is not even a tactic that he employs to smooth over the rough spots in an argument. Such writing in fact is central to Ruskin's conception of himself as critic and sage. Since he relies upon this cinematic prose to educate his audience's vision, teaching its members to see shapes, tone, colours, and visible fact they have often confronted but failed to observe, these descriptions are basic to his conception of himself as one who teaches others to see, experience, and understand. Such writing also serves to establish what the older rhetoricians called the speaker's ethos. The main problem for the Victorian sage is to convince others that he is worth listening to, that he is a man whose arguments — however strange they may at first appear — are the products of a sincere, honest, and above all reliable, mind. One of the first tasks of any speaker or writer is to establish himself before his audience as a believable, even authoritative, voice; and this Ruskin easily accomplishes by demonstrating that he has seen and has seen more than the critics who oppose him. His critics are blind, and he has vision.
These passages of highly wrought prose take their place as part of a larger structure of argument. They serve, in fact, as a major part of that complex rhythm of satire and Romantic [34/35] vision which characterizes the proceedings of the Victorian sage. In the earlier volumes of Modern Painters, where Ruskin employs it to defend Turner against the claims of older art, this rhythm takes the form of a satirical word-painting of a work by an old master followed by Ruskin's description of either a similar work by Turner or a scene the older work was supposed to represent. For example, in his chapter "Of the Truth of Colour" in the first volume of Modern Painters, he first looks at Gaspar Poussin's La Riccia in the National Gallery, after which he presents his own impressions of the original scene. Writing with heavy sarcasm, Ruskin easily conveys the impression that the painting so prized by the critics who treated Turner's advanced work cruelly does not concern itself with presenting the facts of a particular place:
It is a town on a hill, wooded with two-and-thirty bushes, of very uniform size, and possessing about the same number of leaves each. These bushes are all painted in with one dull opaque brown, becoming very slightly greenish towards the lights, and discover in one place a bit of rock, which of course would in nature have been cool and grey beside the lustrous hues of foliage, and which, therefore, being moreover completely in shade, is consistently and scientifically painted of a very clear, pretty, and positive brick red, the only thing like colour in the picture. The foreground is a piece of road which, in order to make allowance for its greater nearness, for its being completely in light, and, it may be presumed, for the quantity of vegetation usually present on carriage roads, is given in a very cool green grey; and the truth of the picture is completed by a number of dots in the sky on the right, with a stalk to them of a sober and similar brown. [3.277-8]
Immediately after presenting this harshly sarcastic rendering of the painting attributed to Gaspar Poussin, Ruskin employs his familiar strategy of citing his own experience of a scene ineptly presented in a work of visual art: [35/36]
Not long ago, I was slowly descending this very bit of carriage-road, the first turn after you leave Albano . . . It had been wild weather when I left Rome, and all across the Campagna the clouds were sweeping in sulphurous blue, with a clap of thunder or two, and breaking gleams of sun along the Claudian aqueduct lighting up the infinity of its arches like the bridge of chaos. But as I climbed the long slope of the Alban Mount, the storm swept finally to the north, and the noble outline of the domes of Albano, and the graceful darkness of its ilex grove, rose against pure streaks of alternate blue and amber; the upper sky gradually flushing through the last fragments of rain-cloud in deep palpitating azure, half aether and half dew. The noonday sun came slanting down the rocky slopes of La Riccia, and their masses of entangled and tall foliage, whose autumnal tints were mixed with the wet verdure of a thousand evergreens, were penetrated with it as with rain. I cannot call it colour, it was conflagration. Purple, and crimson, and scarlet, like the curtains of God's tabernacle, the rejoicing trees sank into the valley in showers of light, every separate leaf quivering with buoyant and burning life; each, as it turned to reflect or to transmit the sunbeam, first a torch and then an emerald. Far up into the recesses of the valley, the green vistas arched like the hollows of mighty waves of some crystalline sea, with the arbutus flowers dashed along their flanks for foam, and silver flakes of orange spray tossed into the air around them, breaking over the grey walls of rock into a thousand separate stars, fading and kindling alternately as the weak wind lifted and let them fall . Every glade of grass burned like the golden floor of heaven, opening in sudden gleams as the foliage broke and closed above it, as sheet-lightning opens in a cloud at sunset. [3.278-79]
In setting forth his satiric examination of La Riccia, Ruskin quickly dismisses the original work because he wishes to concentrate only on the element of colour, a point on which [36/37] he finds it particularly easy to praise Turner and to attack his predecessors. Here as elsewhere, Ruskin convinces us of his position by means of a superbly controlled alternation of vision and satire, preparing us for his polemic at each step of the way by allowing us to borrow his ideas and see. His skill at presenting us with his experience of landscape and landscape art continually makes us feel that his critical opponents and the painters he attacks both work from theory, from recipes, rather than from vision. [37/38]
Last modified June 2000