John Ruskin and Gothic Revival

Subject: Literature
Type: Evaluation Essay
Pages: 8
Word count: 2326
Topics: Art History, Biography, Gothic Literature
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John Ruskin was born in London in February 8, 1819.  His parents were Scottish, with the father working as a wine merchant and the mother, a daughter of a minister, served as a member in an evangelical protestant church.  Runskin mother took upon herself the responsibility of educating him in his early school years. Both parents encouraged their son to pursue the already identified interest in Art, Literature, geology and other disciplines. In his later years Ruskin found tutorship from one of the pastor who was then joined by another teacher to help in English, mathematics and art.

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Ruskin spent most of his childhood life travelling around Britain together with his family. In 1833 Ruskin Family made their first series of trips around the continent. It was during this tour that Ruskin first experienced Gothic architecture at Aix-la-Chapelle and Lille upon visiting France. The family continued with the tour through the Alps all the way to Italy. The second trip saw the family travel through Switzerland, France, Italy and Australia, making a stop in Venice, a place that would have a significant impact in Ruskin later writings (BARNES, 2010).

Ruskin would later in 1836 enroll in King’s College London where he would attend lessons and lectures. In the following year he moved to Oxford and enrolled at Christ Church. It is here that he studied theology, Philosophy, Latin, and mathematics. While taking his studies at Oxford Ruskin continued to build his interest in art and even produced an essay dubbed “The Poetry of Architecture,” which was published in the Architectural Magazine 8 edition of 1837. The work revealed Ruskin interest in connecting the scenic with religion using the impression of ruin and the impression of lost paradise. In 1840, Ruskin suspended his studies at Oxford following a breakdown in his academic pursuit(Wilson, & Evans, 1955).

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He would later spend eighteen months trying to recover, a time during which he would also visit the royal academy on a daily basis to study the works of Joseph Mallord William Turner. He also spend this time growing his sketching skills. Ruskin family later came out to support his recovery by proposing a trip to Italy believing that the warmer climate would serve well in the process of recovery. This trip proved beneficial as it helped widen Ruskin insights on art and religion. During this journeys, Ruskin struggle with the idea of his parent wanting him to enter into a religious career when his own interest was in writing in the areas of geology and art.

Upon returning to England, Ruskin would later complete his study at oxford in 1842 and by December the very same year he embarked on art critique carrier with “Modern Painters” as pioneer work. In 1845, Ruskin returned to the continent and embarked on researching subsequent columns of his previous Modern Painters work. While making this trip Ruskin developed interest in medieval architecture and art that he later addressed in the 1849 The Seven Lamps of Architecture publication.

In 1848 Ruskin got married to Euphemia (Effie) Gray and stayed together for six years then got divorced.  In 1851, he started making Pre-Raphaelite circles that allowed him to meet people like Edward Burne-Jones, Dante Gabriel Rossetti and John Everett Millais. He later took up teaching work at Working Men’s College in Red Lion Square and also lectured at the Architectural Museum in Westminster.  He took part in the beautification of the Oxford Museum of Natural History that was greatly inspired by decorative scheme borrowed from the Veronese Gothic. 1851 realized another major event in Ruskin’s life; turner who was a great inspiration to Ruskin died.  Despite being named the executor of Turners will, Ruskin declined the offer citing his unwillingness to be part of the legal rows associated to the will. Even with this refusal, Ruskin still catalogued Turner’s over 3000 drawings which were given to the National Gallery.

The period marking this season saw Ruskin start publication of his ideas on Gothic architecture. One of his major contributions named, “The Nature of Gothic,” chapter from The Stones of Venice (1851–53)   became a pillar in Gothic art history. In this work, Ruskin redefined Gothic architecture. He rejected the previous definition which looked at “Gothic” as a derogatory term and instead enumerated the visual appearances that he felt described Gothic architecture. He addressed the distinctive view of “Gothic” which he presumes his readers as having: that of romantic literature, mysterious and shadowy.  In addressing his readers view on Gothic, Ruskin seeks to create self-awareness among his audience when viewing architecture and as a result lead them to a careful analysis and understanding of elements in the architecture. Ruskin explains that Gothic architecture exterior forms like the vaulted roof and pointed arch express elements which describe the belief of the primitive builders. He sees these elements as representing savageness, love of nature, love of change, obstinacy, disturbed imagination and generosity (Jokilehto, & Quill, 2001).

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Ruskin presents Gothic architecture as a vehicle by which the medieval architect found a way to express a Christian devotion and “extreme love of truth.” He sees this expression   as the driving force behind portraiture of every kind” showing the nature of the world. Ruskin argument held the view that Gothic style exemplified the unification of a culture, thanks to workmen who were striving towards the same goal. Additionally, he opposes the view that the beauty of Gothic building is a result of the happiness of the men who developed them (he introduces this concept in his previous work The Seven Lamps of Architecture). In his work, “The Nature of Gothic,” Ruskin opposes modern architecture on the grounds that modern claim on mechanical perfection degrades and devalues the people who work on such architecture. On the contrary, Ruskin claims the even the materials employed in Gothic architecture speak of the love of truth. Here he cites how Venetian Gothic decoration. Is completed using the natural grain of marble. Ruskin’s views agree with the architectural goal of the Gothic revival; the Pre-Raphaelite painters, most of whom had a good understanding of the author, also acknowledge Ruskin support for a reversion to medieval spirituality (Barringer, 2000).

Gothic revival, probably the most rational theory of Revivalism was influenced by five principle ideals namely, romanticism, rationalism, nationalism social reform and ecclesiology. Often considered as an offshoot of Romanticism, Gothic horror depicts many similar characteristics to those identified in Romanticism. First, both of them began in the 18th century England and greatly influenced the rise of novel and poetry as popular entertainment. Romanticism and Gothic horror influenced and informed one another as they were being developed such that many writers of Romanticism dabbled in horror or included supernatural aspects in their work. The nationalism ideal of the Gothic revival is founded on the argument that Gothic architecture was more indigenous to Northern Europe than Roman or Greek architecture. This argument kept going round and round and never came to a conclusion. Ruskin is even reported to have encouraged his countrymen to adopt Italian architecture, a type of Gothic not common in England. He did this to show what kind of classical architecture he abhorred. Ruskin influence was later seen in the constructed English Gothic Revival buildings which were predominantly Italian in appearance. The Italian Gothic became the style of choice when constructing the Ottawa Parliament building in 1859.  During this period it was a general believe that every culture needs to create its own unique style that work well with its climate and culture (Wilson, & Evans, 1955).

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In the 19th century, Gothic architecture became much associated with indigenous English style  and thus it was only much accepted that it was fitting to draw upon England’s own architectural heritage as opposed to imported style associated with Southern European continent. This was further supported by the idea that neoclassical architectural style was less suitable for England on the ground of being an architecture produced for the milder Mediterranean climate that was much different from that in the north. Gothic revival is also presented as having been influenced by the concern for churches and liturgical reforms, which were then the ideal planning problems characterizing the Revivalists schemes. The said schemes were ballasted with romantic sociology and romantic piety in response to the weakening of romantic attitude towards Gothic churches by the eighteen century novelists (Ruskin, 1974).

Gothic architecture brought out the feeling of harmony and fitness. During this period it was generally believed that connection existed between architectural expression and culture. Gothic architecture work was seen as being perfectly in agreements with the harmony and fitness needs of the people at that time. Such is the case that buildings were constructed with the hope that such buildings would revive some of the feelings and harmony believed to be absent in the modern society. Gothic architecture also served to express the honesty, a function that was inherent to the very construction. The case has it that its portrayal of honest laid in the idea that everything included in the architecture contributed to its construction. Additionally, Gothic ornaments were judiciously added to enrich and pronounce structural lines.

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There was also a strong political connotation attached to the Gothic Revival.  In this case, “radical” and “rational” neoclassical style almost became an indication of republicanism and liberalism. This is evidenced by its wide use in in the United States and to some extend in the Republican France.  Traditional and Spiritual Gothic revival came to a close association with conservatism, and monarchism that was evidenced by the styles picked when constructing government buildings for the Parliament Hill in Ottawa and the Parliament of the United Kingdom in London. Gothic revival was not just limited to architecture. The 12th-16th century Classical Gothic buildings served only as a source of inspiration to the 19th century designers in the different fields of work.  Elements of architecture like steep-sloping roofs, pointed arches, and fancy carvings such as lace ant lattice work were used widely in a range of Gothic revival objects. Examples of Gothic Revival influence is seen in heraldic motifs in court of arms, whimsical Gothic painted furniture’s in Pomfret’s house in Arlington Street, London (1740s).

Art and craft movement another important aspect of the Gothic Revival is said to have grown out of a several related strands in the mid-19th Century. First, it served as response to the social changes ensuing from effects of industrial revolution which began in Britain. Such is the case that the industrialization relocated large numbers of laborers into the cities. These cities, showing very little ability to deal with the influx of new comers, crowded them into dilapidated houses and subjected them to harsh and dangerous jobs. People often worked for long hours with very little pay. More over the cities became drenched regularly with pollution coming from the newly constructed factories. This problem served as the trigger for people like John Ruskin and Augustus Welby Northmore Pugin who used their writing and architectural skills to address the problems of industrialization. While addressing this issues, Ruskin and Pugin drew a contrast of the industrialization problems and Gothic era preceding   the revival, which to them depicted a pleasant era of piety and excellent morals as well as wholesome, green environment. Both agreed that their existed a close relation between the morality of a country and the style of its architecture, and the Gothic in their view signified the peak of human development (Calhoun, 2000).

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Pugin, a great admirer of Ruskin maintained a great liking not just for the medieval art but the general mediaeval ethos. He alluded that Gothic architecture came as a result of a pure society. In one of his work dubbed The True Principles of Pointed or Christian Architecture (1841), he points to the idea that contemporary craftsmen with interest in the styles of medieval workmanship need to also reproduce the methods involved.  Ruskin used his two publications namely The Stones of Venice (1853) and The Seven Lamps of Architecture (1849) to expand Pugin aforementioned ideas. Having witnessed his ideal architecture in Venice, Ruskin suggested that Gothic building surpassed all other architecture, citing the “sacrifice” of the stone –carvers exemplified in their intricate decoration of individual stones.

Conclusion

John Ruskin’s one of the champions of the gothic revival period is remembered for his great contributions to the architectural designs that characterized this period. Born in London in February 8, 1819, Ruskin, spent most of his life travelling around the world and was greatly influenced by the artwork he came across. He started his college education at the King’s College London in 1836 and later transferred to Oxford where he enrolled at Christ Church. It was here that he studied theology, Philosophy, Latin, and mathematics. While taking his studies at Oxford Ruskin continued to build his interest in art and even produced an essay dubbed “The Poetry of Architecture. Ruskin’s contributions include his publication on the subject of Gothic architecture named, “The Nature of Gothic,” chapter from The Stones of Venice (1851–53)   that became a pillar in Gothic art history. In this work, Ruskin sought to redefined Gothic architecture. Gothic revival was influenced by five principle ideals namely, romanticism, rationalism, nationalism social reform and ecclesiology. Art and craft movement another important aspect of the Gothic Revival grew out of a several related strands in the mid-19th Century. It majorly served as response to the social changes ensuing from effects of industrial revolution which began in Britain.

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Did you like this sample?
  1. BARNES, D. (2010). Historicizing the Stones: Ruskin’s The Stones of Venice and Italian Nationalism. Comparative Literature, 62(3), 246-261.
  2. Barringer, T. (2000).The Gothic Revival. Journal Of Design History, 13(4), 351-352.
  3. Calhoun, A. (2000). The arts & crafts movement  1870-1940. Auckland: Auckland Univ. Press.
  4. Jokilehto, J., & Quill, S. (2001). Ruskin’s Venice, the Stones Revisited. APT Bulletin, 32(1), 61.
  5. Ruskin, J. (1974). The stones of Venice. New York: Garland Pub.
  6. Wilson, J., & Evans, J. (1955). John Ruskin. Books Abroad, 29(4), 475.
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