Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Ruskin--Part XIV

How many Ruskin posts are there going to be? I don't know. The sections "The Spite of the Proud", and the one after it, "The Street of the Tombs" were both outstanding after their manner and very persuasive. This is not to say that I am completely won over to a preference for the Gothic over the Renaissance, and will forever shun the false pleasures of the latter, but, unless I can be even more persuasively shown that Ruskin understood nothing about any of this, I will probably always be more wary of their real sensibilities than I would have been otherwise. Ruskin really starts to break out with specific superlatives in these chapters. "The perfect type of the Gothic tomb" in general, he proclaims, was reached in the thirteenth century, and the Italian style superior to that developed in England, those of Italy "kept massive, smooth and gloomy,--heavy-lidded dungeons, of stone, like rock tombs,--but bearing on their surface, sculptured with tender and narrow lines, the emblem of the cross, not presumptuously nor proudly, but dimly graven upon their granite, like the hope which the human heart holds, but hardly perceives, in its heaviness."

Fig. 1--Church of St Paul & John, Venice. Where the most interesting examples of the simple sarcophagus tombs are to be found in that city.

These are just notes for me to refer to should I have occasion to return to that part of the world as a tourist some day, especially as I will probably be past the age at that point where I can expect to do a lot of damage in the area of nightlife:

"...the consummate form of the Gothic tomb occurs in the monument of Can Grande della Scala in Verona."

Another perfect tomb of the Gothic style is cited in "the second chapel counting from right to left, at the west end of the Church of Frari (Venice)...It is a knight's; but there is no inscription upon it, and his name is unknown."

Fig 2--Monument of Can Grande della Scala, Verona

"...the tomb of the Doge Andrea Dandolo in St Mark's...and that of St Isidore in another chapel of St Mark's...are, on the whole, the best existing examples of Venetian monumental sculpture." I was unable to find any pictures of these. If I were really diligent I would do searches in the Italian language, which would probably turn up more than I am able to find doing it this way, but that is something I really don't have time for at this stage.

Four pages later however we find, in the choir of the Church of St John and Paul, "the richest monument of the Gothic period in Venice; that of the Doge Michele Morosini, who died in 1382."

Fig 3--If you do a photo search for "John Ruskin girls" this comes up. Upon further inquiry, I have discovered that this woman is a Canadian film actress named Liane Balaban. After the first two pictures I saw of her I thought I was in love, but being able nowadays to pull up anybody you want on Youtube--though I only found about 5 'hits' for Liane, her career has not really taken off--I did not like her quite so much. She is trying, but she comes off as being pretty much just like everyone else of her particular type--sort of urban, sort of cosmopolitan, sort of educated, sort of artistic, sort of clever, sort of sexy, all without quite being any of these things enough to the core to knock one backwards. Her mother is Catholic and her father is a Jewish emigrant from Uzbekistan, which sounds like a vigorous combination, and she is from Toronto, which for some reason I always think is promising. I think all Canadian women are promising when I find out where they are from, but have any ever come through for me and lived up to my imagination? No! Yet the place maintains an aura of romance for me that I cannot destroy.

Ruskin refers in so many places to the greatness of Carlo Zeno in the history of Venice--he dates its decline practically from the moment this leader drew his final breath--that I thought I ought to do a whole piece just on him. At the very least I should issue a formal statement regarding my thoughts on such a personage. I don't have a good sense of who he was, however, beyond being an almost perfectly-realized representative of a culture that had reached an especially realized fullness of time in his youth and maturity. Such people are to my mind more worth studying than any other kind; they are what every civilization is, or ought to be, working towards the attainment of, the type of which every great artist and scholar awaits the arrival. That said, I haven't been able to get around to doing the research for this analysis.

I made a very cryptic note, which I believed is intended to be a comparison with our own present situation, regarding the expectation of the wealthy to devote their fortunes to the war effort (in times of such crises), not profiteer. Michael Morosini, who was chosen as Doge over the Carlo Zeno himself and set the decline of the republic in motion, had tripled his fortune during a war that had recently concluded by speculating in real estate during the period of uncertainty.

Fig. 4--Inside the Church of the Frari, Venice. This is not the tomb that Ruskin liked though.

Ruskin speaks with such intimate feeling about these people from the 14th century, and in a way that makes them seem so civilized and and advanced and fully-rounded as characters, that one begins to forget that they didn't exactly live yesterday. The 1300s was a long time ago.

With regard to the changes in attitude and feeling that Ruskin so laments in art history, surely he knew it would be inevitable that artists would eventually want to do something different, even if it were inferior (or maybe not. Perhaps this idea is a prejudice of us moderns, and there is no inherent reason why human beings should ever try to do thing differently, especially if there possibility of its being an improvement on what came before it. Some sensible people do think this way, too, and do their best to imitate the style of their masters. However, the fine in fine arts hints at a delicacy and subtlety in perception and experience and knowing that changes and transmits itself through the form, and from which the form must take its life or fail. Right?)

Fig. 5--This Is One of Liane Balaban's movies. I was still crushing on her at this point. Then I watched a little preview of this movie on the Internet. My interest was piqued because it's about teenage girls in some nowhere town in Newfoundland where its freezing and there is a significant Catholic population, which has some similarities to parts of my own life, but it looked pretty badly written, and it looks like Liane can't act much either, certainly not enough to give a mediocre film some respectability. (The reason she came up on the search by the way is because this film appears on a list on the same page with a film called "The Passion of John Ruskin"--God only knows what that is about--which does not seem to gotten much of a release, even on video.

A subtle, but symbolic development in the transformation of Venice from virtuous to decadent state is demonstrated by the changing nature of the battle-shields of the nobility. In the earlier period, of course, the shields were actually used in war, "and therefore there was no need to add dignity to their form by external development", but as firearms rendered this equipment obsolete in the 15th and 16th centuries shields became fields for elaborate decoration and engraving, usually regarding the glory of their owners' family. Ruskin thought that this ornamentation greatly diminished the dignity which had belonged to the formerly much plainer but more useful shields.

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