The Ruskin Museum, Coniston, Cumbria

The Ruskin Museum

Telling the Story of Coniston Since 1901

Tel: 01539 441164

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Ruskin on Gothic Architecture

‘The Gothic ornament stands out in prickly independence, & frosty fortitude, jutting into crockets, & freezing into pinnacles; here starting up into a monster, there germinating into a blossom; anon knitting itself into a branch, alternately thorny, bossy, and bristly, or writhed into every form of nervous entanglement; but even when most graceful, never for an instant languid, always quickset; erring, if at all, ever on the side of brusquerie.’
[The Stones of Venice]

‘There is one direction in which the Naturalism of the Gothic workman is peculiarly manifested . . .
I mean their peculiar fondness of the forms of vegetation.’
[The Stones of Venice]

‘When humanity and history were the main things in the architect’s mind, his broad surfaces were everything to him, and his limiting lines unimportant. But when construction became principal with him, and the story subordinate  –  the shaft and the arch rib became everything and the wall nothing.’
[Flamboyant Architecture in the Valley of the Somme]

‘The Gothic architecture arose in massy and mountainous strength, axe-hewn and iron-bound, block heaved upon block by the monk’s enthusiasm and the soldier’s force; and cramped and stanchioned into such weight of grisly wall, as might bury the anchoret in darkness, and beat back the utmost storm of battle, suffering but by the same narrow crosslet the passing of the sunbeam, or of the arrow. Gradually, as that monkish enthusiasm grew more thoughtful, and as the sound of war became more & more intermittent beyond the convent or keep, the stony pillar grew slender and the vaulted roof grew light, till they wreathed themselves into the semblance of the summer woods at their fairest . . .’
[The Stones of Venice: The Nature of Gothic]

‘For the very first requirement of Gothic architecture being that it shall admit the aid, and appeal to the admiration, of the rudest as well as the most refined minds, the richness of the work is . . . a part of its humility . . . That humility . . . the very life of the Gothic school, is shown not only in the imperfection, but in the accumulation, of ornament. The inferior rank of the workman is often shown as much in the richness, as the roughness, of his work; and if the co-operation of every hand,
and the sympathy of every heart, are to be received, we must be content to allow the redundance which disguises the failure of the feeble, and wins the regard of the inattentive. There are, however,
far nobler interests mingling, in the Gothic heart, with the rude love of decorative accumulation : a magnificent enthusiasm, which feels as if it never could do enough to reach the fullness of its ideal;
an unselfishness of sacrifice, which would rather cast fruitless labour before the altar than stand idle in the market; and, finally, a profound sympathy with the fullness & wealth of the material universe.’
[The Stones of Venice]