The weary tradition of ut pictura poesis, so popular throughout the eighteenth century, had all but died by 1856 when John Ruskin published the third volume of Modern Painters, and it is thus striking to encounter a statement that "Painting is properly to be opposed to speaking or writing, but not to poetry. Both painting and speaking are methods of expression. Poetry is the employment of either for the noblest purposes" (5.31). In this same volume Ruskin again describes art as expression: "Great art is produced by men who feel acutely and nobly; and it is in some sort an expression of this personal feeling" (5.32). It is characteristic of Ruskin's relation to previous criticism that he has added a romantic emphasis on the expression of emotion to an older and rather unfashionable view that verse and painting are analogous arts. If we can perceive the manner in which Ruskin drew upon both these ways of considering art, we shall gain entrance at an important point to his ideas about painting and poetry. We shall, therefore, begin by examining the notion of ut pictura poesis, next consider the idea of art based on expression of emotion, and then investigate the ways in which these views, in the form Ruskin encountered them, occasionally conflicted.
Last modified 3 February 2008