Niche from the central gate of Rouen
R. P. Cuff, engraver
3 x 3 inches
From Plate I, The Seven Lamps of Architecture in Works, 8.16
According to the "Index to the Plates" (8.xvi), this plate refers to the pp. 52 and 123. See below for pasages.
Scanned image and text by George P. Landow
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Ruskin's discussion in The Seven Lamps of Architecture
[I]t is one of the affectations of architects to speak of overcharged ornament. Ornament cannot be over- charged if it be good, and is always overcharged when it is bad. I have given, on the opposite page (Fig. 1), one of the smallest niches of the central gate of Rouen. That gate I suppose to be the most exquisite piece of pure flamboyant work existing ; for though I have spoken of the upper portions, especially the receding window, as degenerate, 2 the gate itself is of a purer period, and has hardly any renaissance taint. There are four strings of these niches (each with two figures beneath it) round the porch, from the ground to the top of the arch, with three intermediate rows of larger niches, far more elaborate ; besides the six principal canopies of each outer pier. The total number of the subordinate niches alone, each worked like that in the plate, and each with a different pattern of traceries in each compartment, is one hundred and seventy-six.* Yet in all this ornament there is not one cusp, one finial, that is use- less not a stroke of the chisel is in vain; the grace and luxuriance of it all are visible sensible rather even to the uninquiring eye ; and all its minuteness does not diminish the majesty, while it increases the mystery, of the noble and un- broken vault. It is not less the boast of some styles that they can bear ornament, than of others that they can do without it ; but we do not often enough reflect that those very styles, of so haughty simplicity, owe part of their pleasurableness to con- trast, and would be wearisome if universal. They are but the rests and monotones of the art ; it is to its far happier, far higher, exaltation that we owe those fair fronts of variegated mosaic, charged with wild fancies and dark hosts of imagery, thicker and quainter than ever filled the depth of midsummer dream ; those vaulted gates, trellised with close leaves ; those window-labyrinths of twisted tracery and starry light; those misty masses of multitudinous pinnacle and diademed tower ; the only witnesses, perhaps, that remain to us of the faith and fear of nations. All else for which the builders sacrificed, has passed away all their living interests, and aims, and achieve- ments. We know not for what they laboured, and we see no evidence of their reward. Victory, wealth, authority, happi- ness all have departed, though bought by many a bitter sacrifice. But of them, and their life and their toil upon the earth, one reward, one evidence, is left to us in those gray heaps l of deep- wrought stone. They have taken with them to the grave their powers, their honours, and their errors; but they have left us their adoration.
* I have certainly not examined the seven hundred and four traceries (four to each niche) so as to be sure that none are alike ; but they have the aspect of continual variation, and even the roses of the pendants of the small groined niche roofs are all of different patterns. (I now italicise this last sentence, for it is the best illustration in the whole book, of the loving and religious labour on which it so frequently insists. [52-53]
A Second Reference
the feeling of breadth being retained in minor ornaments, long after it had been lost in the main design, and sometimes capriciously renewing itself throughout, as in the cylindrical niches and pedestals which enrich the porches of Caudebec 1 and Rouen. Fig. 1, Plate I., is the simplest of those of Rouen ; in the more elaborate there are four projecting sides, divided by buttresses into eight rounded compartments of tracery ; even the whole bulk of the outer pier is treated with the same feeling; and though composed partly of concave recesses, partly of square shafts, partly of statues and tabernacle work, arranges itself as a whole into one richly rounded tower. 
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. 2 June 2010.
Last modified 2 June 2010