John Ruskin
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John Ruskin 1819 - 1900. Sublime Nature. “ Forms which are not taken from nature must be ugly…”. Biography . John Ruskin was born in 1819 in southern London and was the only son of Margaret and John James Ruskin.

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Sublime Nature

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Sublime nature

John Ruskin 1819 - 1900

Sublime Nature

  • “Forms which are not taken from nature must be ugly…”

Sublime nature


  • John Ruskin was born in 1819 in southern London and was the only son of Margaret and John James Ruskin.

  • His father was a wine importer, and one of the founding partners of Pedro Domecq and mother was a devout Evangelical Protestant.

  • Ruskin received his early education from home until the age of 12, and in 1836, he enrolled as a gentleman-commoner at Christ Church, Oxford.

  • In 1839, while at Christ Church, he won the Oxford Newdigate for poetry, and received his degree in 1842.

  • Married Euphemia Chalmers Gray in 1848, and 6 years later the marriage was annulled, and much controversy followed. During the time that he was married to Gray, he wrote and or published the following:

    • 1849 : The Seven Lamps in Architecture was published

    • 1851 : Volume I of The Stones of Venice was written

    • 1853 : Volume II and III of The Stones of Venice was written

  • Through out his lifetime, Ruskin wrote over 250 works, which covered architecture, art history, effects of pollution, geology, literary criticism, mythology, ornithology, and science.

  • Taught at Working Men’s College and later was elected to both Oxford Professorship and Slade Professorship.

  • John Ruskin died at his home in Brantwood on January 20, 1900.

  • Sublime nature

    The Seven Lamps in Architecture 1849


    The Lamp of Sacrifice

    The Lamp of Truth

    The Lamp of Power

    The Lamp of Beauty

    The Lamp of Life

    The Lamp of Memory

    The Lamp of Obedience

    Conceptual scheme of The Seven Lamps of Architecture. Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism

    Sublime nature

    Purpose and Meaning

    • The Seven Lamps of Architecture points the architect in a direction, and how architecture design should produce a meaning.

    • Ruskin himself, understands the skin of building and ornamentation, which he considers the most important element in architecture.

    • “Ornament is the expression of it’s creator state of mind.”

    • The seven lamps represent the seven original Christian churches and the lamps themselves act as laws for architects and the demands that architecture should meet.

    • When discussing materials, he is referring to the technical innovations from the industrial revolution. These innovations have responded at such a fast pace that they threaten to overwhelm the great ends of architecture

    • When designing, materials have a double reference:

      • The materials used should show the spirit of the building

      • The materials should show the moral condition of the workman

    Sublime nature

    The Lamp of Sacrifice

    • The focus is on the Biblical God, who demands obedience and love, and this is to be shown visibly in ornate churches.

    • The sacrifice that is demanded is one that is not in human terms, but a sacrifice of the materials in architecture.

    • Architecture is an expressive art and an aspiration towards God as he reveals himself throughout nature’s beauty.

    • Through the sacrifice of labor, materials, and craft, the structure is not to compel religious awe, but rather demonstrate the inward condition of the spirit.

    • “It is not the church we want, but the sacrifice; not the mention of admiration, but the act of adoration; not the gift, but the giving.”

    Sublime nature

    The Lamp of Truth

    • The architecture should show honest workmanship and openly display its materials, while remaining true to its medium- issues that rank high among advocates of a Gothic Revival

    • When a person is observing the buildings architecture, they should be able to see the relationship between the building’s actual and apparent construction

    • Architectural Deceits are broadly to be considered under three heads:

    • 1st: The suggestion of a mode of structure or support, other than the true one; as in pendants of late Gothic roofs.

    • 2nd: The painting of surfaces to represent some other material than that of which they actually consist (as in the marbling of wood), or the deceptive representation of sculptured ornament upon them.

    • 3rd: The use of cast or machine-made ornaments of any kind.

    • Ruskin does state that there is an exception to The Lamp of Truth:

    • “That the practice of cladding masonry walls with marble or other kinds of precious stones is justified by noting that it is generally understood that such precious metals will not be used for the whole thickness of a wall, so there is no deceit.”

    Sublime nature

    The Lamp of Power

    • The architecture of the building should be thought of as a shape, that has a structure of masses

    • The interest of the architecture will depend mostly upon the impression that it receives from human powers and society, and the image it bears of natural creation

    • The efforts, both physical or organizational, invested in the construction by its builders as seen in the Gothic Churches

    Plate VII:

    Pierced ornaments from Lisieux, Bayeux, Verona, and Padua.

    Sublime nature

    The Lamp of Beauty

    • In The Lamp of Beauty, he talks about figurative ornament, and this is dealing with the composition and color of the ornamentation of the architecture

    • Ornamentation should be from nature, rather than geometrical or abstract and should deal with color in relation to form

    • The beauty can best be enjoyed by one who is unconcerned with either practical or intellectual affairs, but rather, is in the spirit of the work

    • The relationship of the entire system of architectural decoration may then be expressed:

    • 1.Organic form dominant. True, independent sculptures, and alt-relievo; rich capitals, and moldings; to be elaborate in completion of form, not abstract, and either to be left in pure white marble, or most cautiously touched with color in points and borders only, in a system not concurrent with their forms

    • 2. Organic form sub-dominant. Basso-relievo or intaglio. To be more abstract in proportion to the reduction of depth; to be also more rigid and simple in contour; to be touched with color more boldly and in an increased degree, exactly in proportion to the reduced depth and fullness of form, but still in a system non-concurrent with their forms

    • 3. Organic form abstracted to outline. Monochrome design, still farther reduced to simplicity of contour, and therefore admitting for the first time the color to be concurrent with its outlines; that is to say, as its name imports, the entire figure to be detached in one color from a ground of another

    • 4. Organic forms entirely lost. Geometrically patterns or variable clouding in the most vivid color

    Sublime nature

    The Lamp of Beauty


    Here Ruskin refers to the vertical dimensions, symmetry to the horizontal; that proportion does not exist between equal things. You must have at least three things, one that is dominant over the others; symmetry is balancing equal quantities rather than mirroring the left side to the right side

    “But symmetry is not abstraction. Leaves may be carved in the most regular order, and yet be meanly imitative; or, on the other hand, they maybe thrown wild and loose, and yet be highly architectural in their separate treatment

    Sublime Nature

    Plate XIII:

    Portions of an arcade on the south side of the Cathedral of Ferrara.

    Sublime nature

    The Lamp of Life

    • The building itself should be planned and constructed by human hands, making the allowances and alterations, and stamping the finished work with their own mark

    • Association is with joy and happiness of masons and stone carvers, who with considered freedom in the execution of their tasks once raised the building is shown in Plate XII

    • Fig. 1 Shows a singular instance both of rude execution and defied symmetry.

    • Fig. 4 Shows perfect execution of the sculpture and

    • Plate XII:

    • Fragments from Abbeville, Lucca, Venice, and Pisa

    Sublime nature

    The Lamp of Life

    The Crystal Palace was built from pre-fabricated iron and glass and so Ruskin felt that the worker couldn’t take pride in this building. To Ruskin, this was like “slavery”

    In the sketch of sculptures, Ruskin is showing the time and craftsmanship that went into this Gothic Cathedral

    The Industrial Revolution was very much disliked by Ruskin

    Sublime Nature

    Plate XIV:

    Sculptures from the Cathedral of Rouen

    Crystal Palace from the Great Exhibition of 1851

    Sublime nature

    The Lamp of Memory

    • These architectural structures should be constructed for the ages, and should inevitably embody the culture of that area.

    • In time, the architecture should speak of its own history as it should be intertwined with that of human institutions, like a family, city, or state.

    • Another reason that Ruskin is apposed to iron and glass is because it does not age like clay, wood, or stone. These three materials over time will weather and eventually have the “Golden Stain” of time.

    • Ruskin was opposed to restoration and in fact, he states:

    • “We have no right whatever to touch them. They are not ours. They belong partly to those who built them, and partly to all the generations of mankind who follow. Take proper care of your monuments, and you will not need to restore them.”

    Sublime nature

    The Lamp of Obedience

    • Ruskin shows how all the forms of noble architecture has some sort of embodiment of the polity, life, history, and religious faith of Nations.

      • Polity owes its stability

      • Life is the happiness

      • History is its continuance to stand over time

      • Faith is acceptance

  • These lamps are principles and they should be considered the same as the laws that man lives by

  • Ruskin suggests adopting certain styles and they include:

    • The Pisan Romanesque

    • The early Gothic of Western Italian Republics

    • The Venetian Gothic in its purist development

    • The English earliest decorated

  • Of these four, Ruskin chooses the last style, because it is the most natural of the four

  • Sublime nature

    Sublime Nature

    The End

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