27 Jan 2023


John Ruskin’s ‘The Stones of Venice"

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Academic level: College

Paper type: Book Report

Words: 1241

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John Ruskin’s ‘The Stones of Venice, a treatise on Venetian art, was first published in 1851 through to 1853 and further in Boston by Estes and Lauriat Publishers. The treatise outlines the architecture of Venice in three volumes that seek to reconcile the chronological periods from the Byzantine ages through the Gothic ages into the renaissance period. Being a historian registering interests in social reformation, John Ruskin focuses on striking a comparative approach between a nations architecture and form in which it is built in relation to its character. In this regard, he advances the ideology that throughout the change of times, the transition that has come with change in architectural preferences within the above-mentioned chronological times is correlated with the waxing or waning of man’s morality over time. It is on this premise that he advances the ideology that the expressions of a nation’s architecture speak volumes about its moral and spiritual standing. This paper reviews Ruskin’s stand on these issues while reviewing the treatises. 

In the first volume of the treatise, ‘The Foundations’ is set out in thirty chapters that seek to espouse the structural aspects surrounding the arch from the foundational structure to the roof in a comparative style with the human morality and its chronological evolution. This is simultaneous to the evolving architectural structures in Venice. 

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Chapter 1 – ‘The Quarry’, is unique compared to other chapters in the treatise as it is the only chapter that talks about the city of Venice while the rest are focused on architectural analysis. Here, Ruskin brings out an analysis of the structural details in Venice while making comparison of the same to the principles set out in his previous works. For instance, it is clear how Ruskin relates the fall of Tyre to its punishment that was integral to its sinful way. He proceeds to compare this fall to the ‘bleaching rocks between the sunshine and the sin that were once “as in Eden, the garden of God.”’ In this regard, comparing the fading of the rocks to the deterioration of Tyre, premised on its sinful ways (John Ruskin, 15). Still within the course of striking a balance between the architectural structures of Rome and Venice, Ruskin at the end of the chapter invites the reader into consideration of the moral standings then in order to establish the future of Venice. This is pursuant to establishing whether God has numbered the city or whether he is due to finish it (John Ruskin, 48). 

Chapter 2 – ‘The Virtues of Architecture’: In this chapter, Ruskin establishes the premise of the ideology he advances while comparing the architectural structures to human character. He bases these virtues to religious beliefs from scriptures such as the Bible (John Ruskin, 50). He goes ahead to outline the three architectural virtues that are required for every building. These include the building being able to act well and carry out the purpose for which it was built, the building being able to speak well and create an impression of the best words it was intended to say and that it looks attractive enough to please people by virtue of its presence. 

Chapter 3 – ‘The six Divisions of Architecture’: In this chapter, Ruskin sets out the six divisions of Architecture in the chronological order in which they appear to have advanced through. He attributes the first order to being a plain arch and compares the same to Roman Arches from their historical trail (John Ruskin, 61). The second is painted with the imagery of having a pointed outer edge of the arch.it is in this second order that the transition towards the gothic era is manifested. In the third order, the arches are depicted to be pointed both in the inner and outer edges. The third order is attributed to lasting two centuries before its transition to the fourth order in the fifteenth century. The fourth order portrayed a more gothic nature due to the arch being pointed with a turf oil shape being placed in the Arch. The sixth order was not any different from the fifth but for the additional finial added above the point of the arch (John Ruskin, 62). The essence of putting to examination the chronological orders in which the Arch’s innovation has been through is establishing the three historical times of Byzantine, Gothic and the Renaissance period, and the impacts the times have had to the innovation on the structure of the Arch vis-à-vis the change in people’s morality. 

Chapter 4 – ‘The Wall Base’: Here Ruskin attributes the wall base as being the place where the true excellence of an arch or a building lies (John Ruskin, 63). This is attributed to the fact that it is the wall base that forms the foundation of the arch and the strength of the arch entirely depends on it including the duration it will persist the trying temptations of the forces of gravity before it succumbs to the same. 

Chapter 5 – ‘The Wall Veil’: Here, Ruskin seeks to describe the wall veil in a manner that writes of the ordinary impression that the wall veil is the ‘peak or tower’ (John Ruskin, 69). He goes ahead to represent the veil as the chief feature which he has concluded to be the part of the wall with which the perfection of the wall could be attributed to (John Ruskin,68). 

Chapter 6 – ‘The Wall Cornice’: In this chapter, he presents the cornice as the part of the wall that carries the roof. In this regard, he represents it as that part of the wall that would act as the roof suppose there was no additional roof (John Ruskin, 72). Chapter 7 – ‘The Pier Base’: In this chapter, Ruskin represents the pier base as the foundational part of the wall that is structured to bear with vertical pressure from the gravitational forces threatening the collapse of the arch (John Ruskin, 80). This being the part of the wall that determines the amount of weight the wall should be able to bear. He goes ahead to demonstrate an experimental analysis to establish the manner in which the pier base operates. 

Chapter 8 – ‘The Shaft’: In this chapter, Ruskin demonstrates the vital nature of the shaft as being the part of the wall that every other thing depends on. To this extent, he further enunciates that it should therefore bear a good ‘quantity of material’ whether it is adopted as a square shaft or a cylindrical shaft (John Ruskin, 108). He finally goes ahead to create an allusion with Pilate II representing the shaft as a true shaft being treated as a ‘meeting of jambs’ and as such as a ‘rich independent shaft’ (John Ruskin, 110). 

From chapter nine to the last Chapter, Ruskin continues to elaborate the structure of the arch to the structure of the arch in first illustrating the concept regarding the capital under chapter nine, the arch line, the masonry and the arch load involved in the entire process of structuring an arch wall. He further crowns the epitome of the structure with an in depth illustration of the roof, the essence it bears in the entire structure including the roof cornice, the buttress and the form of aperture throughout to chapter fifteen. He further illustrates the concept of filling the aperture and the vital role it plays in the entire structure and a relation, which he establishes with biblical allusions to that effect. Finally, in chapter twenty-eight to the last chapter, Ruskin makes illustrations as to the importance of the archivolt and aperture and the roof together with the vestibule in the structure of the arch; all of which are subject of the last three chapters. 

Summarily, John Ruskin demonstrates a comprehensive and satisfactory ideology of the way human morality relates to the architectural structures in Venice. The ultimate one being the comparison of the modern Christian societal morality that the renaissance period that reflects the decline of human character as well as loss of the level of appreciation of architectural art inn Venice and across the world. This is in addition to ideologies he advances about the renaissance’s view where workers build to please others rather than to glorify God hence the eroded originality. 


Ruskin, J. (2008). Stones of Venice . Retrieved from Biblioteca Virtual Universal: https://paesaggisensibili.files.wordpress.com/2016/09/ruskin_-the-stone-of-venice.pdf 

Ruskin, J. (2015). The Stones of Venice . Retrieved from Archive.org: John Ruskin, The Stones of Venice. 1853. https://archive.org/stream/stonesofvenice01rusk#page/56/mode/2up 

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