Sculptures from the Bas-reliefs of the North door of the Cathedral of Rouen drawn by John Ruskin and engraved by R. P. Cuff. 1855. 4 x 6 7/8 inches. Plate XIV, The Seven Lamps of Architecture in Works, 8.217. Scanned image and text by George P. Landow. [Photograph of the original carving (2010)] [You may use this image without prior permission for any scholarly or educational purpose as long as you (1) credit the photographer and (2) link your document to this URL].

According to the "Index to the Plates" (8.xvii), the following passage discusses this plate:

It is evident that, for architectural appliances, such masculine handling, likely as it must be to retain its effectiveness when higher finish would be injured by time, must always be the most expedient; and as it is impossible, even were it desirable, that the highest finish should be given to the quantity of work which covers a large building, it will be understood how precious the Intelligence must become, which renders incompletion itself a means of additional expression; and how great must be the difference, when the touches are rude and few, between those of a careless and those of a regardful mind. It is not easy to retain anything of their character in a copy ; yet the reader will find one or two illustrative points in the examples, given in Plate XIV., from the bas-reliefs of the north door of Rouen Cathedral. There are three square pedestals under the three main niches on each side of it, and one in the centre; each of these being on two sides decorated with five quatrefoiled panels. There are thus seventy quatrefoils in the lower ornament of the gate alone, without counting those of the outer course round it, and of the pedestals outside: each quatrefoil is filled with a bas-relief, the whole reaching to something above a man's height. A modern architect would, of course, have made all the five quatrefoils of each pedestal-side equal: not so the Mediaeval. The general form being apparently a quatrefoil composed of semicircles on the sides of a square, it will be found on examination that none of the arcs are semicircles, and none of the basic figures squares. The latter are rhomboids, having their acute or obtuse angles uppermost according to their larger or smaller size ; and the arcs upon their sides slide into such places as they can get in the angles of the enclosing parallelogram, leaving intervals, at each of the four angles, of various shapes, which are filled each by an animal. The size of the whole panel being thus varied, the lowest two of the five are tall, the next two short, and the uppermost a little higher than the lowest ; while in the course of bas-reliefs which surrounds the gate, calling either of the lowest two (which are equal) , and either of the next two b, and the fifth and sixth c and d, then d the largest): c :: c : a :: a : b. It is wonderful how much of the grace of the whole depends on these variations.

Each of the angles, it was said, is filled by an animal. There are thus 70 x 4 = 280 animals, all different, in the mere fillings of the intervals of the bas-reliefs. 1 Three of these in- tervals, with their beasts, actual size, the curves being traced upon the stone, I have given in Plate XIV.

I say nothing of their general design, or of the lines of the wings and scales, which are perhaps, unless in those of the central dragon, not much above the usual commonplaces of good ornamental work; but there is an evidence in the features of thoughtfulness and fancy which is not common, at least now-a-days. The upper creature on the left is biting something, the form of which is hardly traceable in the defaced stone but biting he is; and the reader cannot but recognise in the peculiarly reverted eye the expression which is never seen, as I think, but in the eye of a dog gnawing something in jest, and preparing to start away with it: the meaning of the glance, so far as it can be marked by the mere incision of the chisel, will be felt by comparing it with the eye of the couchant figure on the right, in its gloomy and angry brooding. The plan of this head, and the nod of the cap over its brow, are fine ; but there is a little touch above the hand especially well meant : the fellow is vexed and puzzled in his malice; and his hand is pressed hard on his cheek bone, and the flesh of the cheek is wrinkled under the eye by the pressure. The whole, indeed, looks wretchedly coarse, when it is seen on a scale in which it is naturally compared with delicate figure etchings; but considering it as a mere filling of an interstice on the outside of a cathedral gate, and as one of more than three hundred (for in my estimate I did not include the outer pedestals), it proves very noble vitality in the art of the time. [pp. 216-17]

References

Ruskin, John. Works, "The Library Edition." eds. E. T. Cook and Alexander Wedderburn. 39 vols. London: George Allen, 1903-1912.

Ruskin, John. The Seven Lamps of Architecture in Works, vol. 8. Hathi Trust Digital Library. Web. 6 June 2010.


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Last modified 24 June 2010