"The Palace of Art"

“The Palace of Art” takes a turn toward the pastoral in its fourth mood-room, with a meditation on a sweeping landscape as viewed from afar. Unlike the first two scenes—each of which contained a human figure in action in the foreground of the described environment—and the third room in which human civilization played an important role in the allegory, the fourth room instead focuses on the natural landscape and the weather unfolding above it. The “herds upon an endless plain" suggest the possibility of a rural human presence, but the ambiguity of the broadly painted depiction leaves humans' presence uncertain.

The natural elements of land, water and wind again act out the drama of the scene, but in quite different roles than the ones they played in the coastal battle in the previous room. The “full-fed river winding slowly” retains some implied erosive power, yet the “endless plain” spreads across the environment in much the same way the endless sea dominates the iron coast. The contrast between the land's role in this stanza and the previous one moderates the severe tone of the conflict as initially presented.

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And one, a full-fed river winding slow
By herds upon an endless plain,
The ragged rims of thunder brooding low,
With shadow-streaks of rain.

"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."

From Modern Painters, vol. 1 (1843) by John Ruskin.

Val d'Aosta

Val d'Aosta (1858) - John Brett