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Stones of Venice [introductions] by John Ruskin

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[Illustration: John Ruskin.]







This volume is the first of a series designed by the Author with the
purpose of placing in the hands of the public, in more serviceable form,
those portions of his earlier works which he thinks deserving of a
permanent place in the system of his general teaching. They were at
first intended to be accompanied by photographic reductions of the
principal plates in the larger volumes; but this design has been
modified by the Author's increasing desire to gather his past and
present writings into a consistent body, illustrated by one series of
plates, purchasable in separate parts, and numbered consecutively. Of
other prefatory matter, once intended,--apologetic mostly,--the reader
shall be spared the cumber: and a clear prospectus issued by the
publisher of the new series of plates, as soon as they are in a state of

The second volume of this edition will contain the most useful matter
out of the third volume of the old one, closed by its topical index,
abridged and corrected.


_3rd May_, 1879.



I. The Quarry

II. The Throne

III. Torcello

IV. St. Mark's

V. The Ducal Palace





SECTION I. Since the first dominion of men was asserted over the ocean,
three thrones, of mark beyond all others, have been set upon its sands:
the thrones of Tyre, Venice, and England. Of the First of these great
powers only the memory remains; of the Second, the ruin; the Third,
which inherits their greatness, if it forget their example, may be led
through prouder eminence to less pitied destruction.

The exaltation, the sin, and the punishment of Tyre have been recorded
for us, in perhaps the most touching words ever uttered by the Prophets
of Israel against the cities of the stranger. But we read them as a
lovely song; and close our ears to the sternness of their warning: for
the very depth of the Fall of Tyre has blinded us to its reality, and we
forget, as we watch the bleaching of the rocks between the sunshine and
the sea, that they were once "as in Eden, the garden of God."

Her successor, like her in perfection of beauty, though less in
endurance of dominion, is still left for our beholding in the final
period of her decline: a ghost upon the sands of the sea, so weak--so
quiet,--so bereft of all but her loveliness, that we might well doubt,
as we watched her faint reflection in the mirage of the lagoon, which
was the City, and which the Shadow.

I would endeavor to trace the lines of this image before it be for ever
lost, and to record, as far as I may, the warning which seems to me to
be uttered by every one of the fast-gaining waves, that beat, like
passing bells, against the STONES OF VENICE.

SECTION II. It would be difficult to overrate the value of the lessons
which might be derived from a faithful study of the history of this
strange and mighty city: a history which, in spite of the labor of
countless chroniclers, remains in vague and disputable outline,--barred
with brightness and shade, like the far away edge of her own ocean,
where the surf and the sand-bank are mingled with the sky. The inquiries
in which we have to engage will hardly render this outline clearer, but
their results will, in some degree, alter its aspect; and, so far as
they bear upon it at all, they possess an interest of a far higher kind
than that usually belonging to architectural investigations. I may,
perhaps, in the outset, and in few words, enable the general reader to
form a clearer idea of the importance of every existing expression of
Venetian character through Venetian art, and of the breadth of interest
which the true history of Venice embraces, than he is likely to have
gleaned from the current fables of her mystery or magnificence.

SECTION III. Venice is usually conceived as an oligarchy: She was so
during a period less than the half of her existence, and that including
the days of her decline; and it is one of the first questions needing
severe examination, whether that decline was owing in any wise to the
change in the form of her government, or altogether as assuredly in
great part, to changes, in the character of the persons of whom it was

The state of Venice existed Thirteen Hundred and Seventy-six years, from
the first establishment of a consular government on the island of the
Rialto, [Footnote: Appendix I., "Foundations of Venice."] to the moment
when the General-in-chief of the French army of Italy pronounced the
Venetian republic a thing of the past. Of this period, Two Hundred and
Seventy-six years [Footnote: Appendix II., "Power of the Doges."] were
passed in a nominal subjection to the cities of old Venetia, especially
to Padua, and in an agitated form of democracy, of which the executive
appears to have been entrusted to tribunes, [Footnote: Sismondi, Hist.
des Rp. Ital., vol. i. ch. v.] chosen, one by the inhabitants of each
of the principal islands. For six hundred years, [Footnote: Appendix
III., "Serrar del Consiglio."] during which the power of Venice was
continually on the increase, her government was an elective monarchy,
her King or doge possessing, in early times at least, as much
independent authority as any other European sovereign, but an authority
gradually subjected to limitation, and shortened almost daily of its
prerogatives, while it increased in a spectral and incapable
magnificence. The final government of the nobles, under the image of a
king, lasted for five hundred years, during which Venice reaped the
fruits of her former energies, consumed them,--and expired.

SECTION IV. Let the reader therefore conceive the existence of the
Venetian state as broadly divided into two periods: the first of nine
hundred, the second of five hundred years, the separation being marked
by what was called the "Serrar del Consiglio;" that is to say, the final
and absolute distinction of the nobles from the commonalty, and the
establishment of the government in their hands to the exclusion alike of
the influence of the people on the one side, and the authority of the
doge on the other.

Then the first period, of nine hundred years, presents us with the most
interesting spectacle of a people struggling out of anarchy into order
and power; and then governed, for the most part, by the worthiest and
noblest man whom they could find among them, [Footnote: "Ha saputo
trovar modo che non uno, non pochi, non molti, signoreggiano, ma molti
buoni, pochi migliori, e insiememente, _un ottimo solo_." (_Sansovino_,)
Ah, well done, Venice! Wisdom this, indeed.] called their Doge or Leader,
with an aristocracy gradually and resolutely forming itself around him,
out of which, and at last by which, he was chosen; an aristocracy owing
its origin to the accidental numbers, influence, and wealth of some among
the families of the fugitives from the older Venetia, and gradually
organizing itself, by its unity and heroism, into a separate body.

This first period includes the rise of Venice, her noblest achievements,
and the circumstances which determined her character and position among
European powers; and within its range, as might have been anticipated,
we find the names of all her hero princes,--of Pietro Urseolo, Ordalafo
Falier, Domenico Michieli, Sebastiano Ziani, and Enrico Dandolo.

SECTION V. The second period opens with a hundred and twenty years, the
most eventful in the career of Venice--the central struggle of her
life--stained with her darkest crime, the murder of Carrara--disturbed
by her most dangerous internal sedition, the conspiracy of
Falier--oppressed by her most fatal war, the war of Chiozza--and
distinguished by the glory of her two noblest citizens (for in this
period the heroism of her citizens replaces that of her monarchs),
Vittor Pisani and Carlo Zeno.

I date the commencement of the Fall of Venice from the death of Carlo
Zeno, 8th May, 1418; [Footnote: Daru, liv. xii. ch. xii.] the _visible_
commencement from that of another of her noblest and wisest children, the
Doge Tomaso Mocenigo, who expired five years later. The reign of Foscari
followed, gloomy with pestilence and war; a war in which large
acquisitions of territory were made by subtle or fortunate policy in
Lombardy, and disgrace, significant as irreparable, sustained in the
battles on the Po at Cremona, and in the marshes of Caravaggio. In 1454,
Venice, the first of the states of Christendom, humiliated herself to the
Turk in the same year was established the Inquisition of State,
[Footnote: Daru, liv. xvi. cap. xx. We owe to this historian the
discovery of the statutes of the tribunal and date of its establishment.]
and from this period her government takes the perfidious and mysterious
form under which it is usually conceived. In 1477, the great Turkish
invasion spread terror to the shores of the lagoons; and in 1508 the
league of Cambrai marks the period usually assigned as the commencement
of the decline of the Venetian power; [Footnote: Ominously signified by
their humiliation to the Papal power (as before to the Turkish) in 1509,
and their abandonment of their right of appointing the clergy of their
territories.] the commercial prosperity of Venice in the close of the
fifteenth century blinding her historians to the previous evidence of the
diminution of her internal strength.

SECTION VI. Now there is apparently a significative coincidence between
the establishment of the aristocratic and oligarchical powers, and the
diminution of the prosperity of the state. But this is the very question
at issue; and it appears to me quite undetermined by any historian, or
determined by each in accordance with his own prejudices. It is a triple
question: first, whether the oligarchy established by the efforts of
individual ambition was the cause, in its subsequent operation, of the
Fall of Venice; or (secondly) whether the establishment of the oligarchy
itself be not the sign and evidence, rather than the cause, of national
enervation; or (lastly) whether, as I rather think, the history of
Venice might not be written almost without reference to the construction
of her senate or the prerogatives of her Doge. It is the history of a
people eminently at unity in itself, descendants of Roman race, long
disciplined by adversity, and compelled by its position either to live
nobly or to perish:--for a thousand years they fought for life; for
three hundred they invited death: their battle was rewarded, and their
call was heard.

SECTION VII. Throughout her career, the victories of Venice, and, at
many periods of it, her safety, were purchased by individual heroism;
and the man who exalted or saved her was sometimes (oftenest) her king,
sometimes a noble, sometimes a citizen. To him no matter, nor to her:
the real question is, not so much what names they bore, or with what
powers they were entrusted, as how they were trained; how they were made
masters of themselves, servants of their country, patient of distress,
impatient of dishonor; and what was the true reason of the change from
the time when she could find saviours among those whom she had cast into
prison, to that when the voices of her own children commanded her to
sign covenant with Death. [Footnote: The senate voted the abdication of
their authority by a majority of 512 to 14. (Alison, ch. xxiii.)]

SECTION VIII. On this collateral question I wish the reader's mind to be
fixed throughout all our subsequent inquiries. It will give double
interest to every detail: nor will the interest be profitless; for the
evidence which I shall be able to deduce from the arts of Venice will be
both frequent and irrefragable, that the decline of her political
prosperity was exactly coincident with that of domestic and individual

I say domestic and individual; for--and this is the second point which I
wish the reader to keep in mind--the most curious phenomenon in all
Venetian history is the vitality of religion in private life, and its
deadness in public policy. Amidst the enthusiasm, chivalry, or
fanaticism of the other states of Europe, Venice stands, from first to
last, like a masked statue; her coldness impenetrable, her exertion only
aroused by the touch of a secret spring. That spring was her commercial
interest,--this the one motive of all her important political acts, or
enduring national animosities. She could forgive insults to her honor,
but never rivalship in her commerce; she calculated the glory of her
conquests by their value, and estimated their justice by their facility.
The fame of success remains; when the motives of attempt are forgotten;
and the casual reader of her history may perhaps be surprised to be
reminded, that the expedition which was commanded by the noblest of her
princes, and whose results added most to her military glory, was one in
which while all Europe around her was wasted by the fire of its
devotion, she first calculated the highest price she could exact from
its piety for the armament she furnished, and then, for the advancement
of her own private interests, at once broke her faith [Footnote: By
directing the arms of the Crusaders against a Christian prince. (Daru,
liv. iv. ch. iv. viii.)] and betrayed her religion.

SECTION IX. And yet, in the midst of this national criminality, we shall
be struck again and again by the evidences of the most noble individual
feeling. The tears of Dandolo were not shed in hypocrisy, though they
could not blind him to the importance of the conquest of Zara. The habit
of assigning to religion a direct influence over all _his own_ actions,
and all the affairs of _his own_ daily life, is remarkable in every great
Venetian during the times of the prosperity of the state; nor are
instances wanting in which the private feeling of the citizens reaches
the sphere of their policy, and even becomes the guide of its course
where the scales of expediency are doubtfully balanced. I sincerely trust
that the inquirer would be disappointed who should endeavor to trace any
more immediate reasons for their adoption of the cause of Alexander III.
against Barbarossa, than the piety which was excited by the character of
their suppliant, and the noble pride which was provoked by the insolence
of the emperor. But the heart of Venice is shown only in her hastiest
councils; her worldly spirit recovers the ascendency whenever she has
time to calculate the probabilities of advantage, or when they are
sufficiently distinct to need no calculation; and the entire subjection
of private piety to national policy is not only remarkable throughout the
almost endless series of treacheries and tyrannies by which her empire
was enlarged and maintained, but symbolized by a very singular
circumstance in the building of the city itself. I am aware of no other
city of Europe in which its cathedral was not the principal feature. But
the principal church in Venice was the chapel attached to the palace of
her prince, and called the "Chiesa Ducale." The patriarchal church,
[Footnote: Appendix 4, "San Pietro di Castello."] inconsiderable in size
and mean in decoration, stands on the outermost islet of the Venetian
group, and its name, as well as its site, is probably unknown to the
greater number of travellers passing hastily through the city. Nor is it
less worthy of remark, that the two most important temples of Venice,
next to the ducal chapel, owe their size and magnificence, not to
national effort, but to the energy of the Franciscan and Dominican monks,
supported by the vast organization of those great societies on the
mainland of Italy, and countenanced by the most pious, and perhaps also,
in his generation, the most wise, of all the princes of Venice,
[Footnote: Tomaso Mocenigo, above named, Section V.] who now rests
beneath the roof of one of those very temples, and whose life is not
satirized by the images of the Virtues which a Tuscan sculptor has placed
around his tomb.

SECTION X. There are, therefore, two strange and solemn lights in which
we have to regard almost every scene in the fitful history of the Rivo
Alto. We find, on the one hand, a deep, and constant tone of individual
religion characterizing the lives of the citizens of Venice in her
greatness; we find this spirit influencing them in all the familiar and
immediate concerns of life, giving a peculiar dignity to the conduct
even of their commercial transactions, and confessed by them with a
simplicity of faith that may well put to shame the hesitation with which
a man of the world at present admits (even if it be so in reality) that
religious feeling has any influence over the minor branches of his
conduct. And we find as the natural consequence of all this, a healthy
serenity of mind and energy of will expressed in all their actions, and
a habit of heroism which never fails them, even when the immediate
motive of action ceases to be praiseworthy. With the fulness of this
spirit the prosperity of the state is exactly correspondent, and with
its failure her decline, and that with a closeness and precision which
it will be one of the collateral objects of the following essay to
demonstrate from such accidental evidence as the field of its inquiry
presents. And, thus far, all is natural and simple. But the stopping
short of this religious faith when it appears likely to influence
national action, correspondent as it is, and that most strikingly, with
several characteristics of the temper of our present English
legislature, is a subject, morally and politically, of the most curious
interest and complicated difficulty; one, however, which the range of my
present inquiry will not permit me to approach, and for the treatment of
which I must be content to furnish materials in the light I may be able
to throw upon the private tendencies of the Venetian character.

SECTION XI. There is, however, another most interesting feature in the
policy of Venice which will be often brought before us; and which a
Romanist would gladly assign as the reason of its irreligion; namely,
the magnificent and successful struggle which she maintained against the
temporal authority of the Church of Rome. It is true that, in a rapid
survey of her career, the eye is at first arrested by the strange drama
to which I have already alluded, closed by that ever memorable scene in
the portico of St. Mark's, [Footnote:
"In that temple porch,
(The brass is gone, the porphyry remains,)
Did BARBAROSSA fling his mantle off,
And kneeling, on his neck receive the foot
Of the proud Pontiff--thus at last consoled
For flight, disguise, and many an aguish shake
On his stony pillow."

I need hardly say whence the lines are taken: Rogers' "Italy" has, I
believe, now a place in the best beloved compartment of all libraries,
and will never be removed from it. There is more true expression of the
spirit of Venice in the passages devoted to her in that poem, than in all
else that has been written of her.] the central expression in most men's
thoughts of the unendurable elevation of the pontifical power; it is true
that the proudest thoughts of Venice, as well as the insignia of her
prince, and the form of her chief festival, recorded the service thus
rendered to the Roman Church. But the enduring sentiment of years more
than balanced the enthusiasm of a moment; and the bull of Clement V.,
which excommunicated the Venetians and their doge, likening them to
Dathan, Abiram, Absalom, and Lucifer, is a stronger evidence of the great
tendencies of the Venetian government than the umbrella of the doge or
the ring of the Adriatic. The humiliation of Francesco Dandolo blotted
out the shame of Barbarossa, and the total exclusion of ecclesiastics
from all share in the councils of Venice became an enduring mark of her
knowledge of the spirit of the Church of Rome, and of her defiance of it.

To this exclusion of Papal influence from her councils, the Romanist
will attribute their irreligion, and the Protestant their success.
[Footnote: At least, such success as they had. Vide Appendix 5, "The
Papal Power in Venice."]

The first may be silenced by a reference to the character of the policy
of the Vatican itself; and the second by his own shame, when he reflects
that the English legislature sacrificed their principles to expose
themselves to the very danger which the Venetian senate sacrificed
theirs to avoid.

SECTION XII. One more circumstance remains to be noted respecting the
Venetian government, the singular unity of the families composing
it,--unity far from sincere or perfect, but still admirable when
contrasted with the fiery feuds, the almost daily revolutions, the
restless successions of families and parties in power, which fill the
annals of the other states of Italy. That rivalship should sometimes be
ended by the dagger, or enmity conducted to its ends under the mask of
law, could not but be anticipated where the fierce Italian spirit was
subjected to so severe a restraint: it is much that jealousy appears
usually unmingled with illegitimate ambition, and that, for every
instance in which private passion sought its gratification through
public danger, there are a thousand in which it was sacrificed to the
public advantage. Venice may well call upon us to note with reverence,
that of all the towers which are still seen rising like a branchless
forest from her islands, there is but one whose office was other than
that of summoning to prayer, and that one was a watch-tower only
[Footnote: Thus literally was fulfilled the promise to St. Mark,--Pax
e.] from first to last, while the palaces of the other cities of Italy
were lifted into sullen fortitudes of rampart, and fringed with forked
battlements for the javelin and the bow, the sands of Venice never sank
under the weight of a war tower, and her roof terraces were wreathed
with Arabian imagery, of golden globes suspended on the leaves of
lilies. [Footnote: The inconsiderable fortifications of the arsenal are
no exception to this statement, as far as it regards the city itself.
They are little more than a semblance of precaution against the attack
of a foreign enemy.]

SECTION XIII. These, then, appear to me to be the points of chief
general interest in the character and fate of the Venetian people. I
would next endeavor to give the reader some idea of the manner in which
the testimony of Art bears upon these questions, and of the aspect which
the arts themselves assume when they are regarded in their true
connection with the history of the state.

1st. Receive the witness of Painting.

It will be remembered that I put the commencement of the Fall of Venice
as far back as 1418.

Now, John Bellini was born in 1423, and Titian in 1480. John Bellini,
and his brother Gentile, two years older than he, close the line of the
sacred painters of Venice. But the most solemn spirit of religious faith
animates their works to the last. There is no religion in any work of
Titian's: there is not even the smallest evidence of religious temper or
sympathies either in himself, or in those for whom he painted. His
larger sacred subjects are merely themes for the exhibition of pictorial
rhetoric,--composition and color. His minor works are generally made
subordinate to purposes of portraiture. The Madonna in the church of the
Frari is a mere lay figure, introduced to form a link of connection
between the portraits of various members of the Pesaro family who
surround her.

Now this is not merely because John Bellini was a religious man and
Titian was not. Titian and Bellini are each true representatives of the
school of painters contemporary with them; and the difference in their
artistic feeling is a consequence not so much of difference in their own
natural characters as in their early education: Bellini was brought up
in faith; Titian in formalism. Between the years of their births the
vital religion of Venice had expired.

SECTION XIV. The _vital_ religion, observe, not the formal. Outward
observance was as strict as ever; and doge and senator still were
painted, in almost every important instance, kneeling before the Madonna
or St. Mark; a confession of faith made universal by the pure gold of
the Venetian sequin. But observe the great picture of Titian's in the
ducal palace, of the Doge Antonio Grimani kneeling before Faith: there
is a curious lesson in it. The figure of Faith is a coarse portrait of
one of Titian's least graceful female models: Faith had become carnal.
The eye is first caught by the flash of the Doge's armor. The heart of
Venice was in her wars, not in her worship.

The mind of Tintoret, incomparably more deep and serious than that of
Titian, casts the solemnity of its own tone over the sacred subjects
which it approaches, and sometimes forgets itself into devotion; but the
principle of treatment is altogether the same as Titian's: absolute
subordination of the religious subject to purposes of decoration or

The evidence might be accumulated a thousandfold from the works of
Veronese, and of every succeeding painter,--that the fifteenth century
had taken away the religious heart of Venice.

SECTION XV. Such is the evidence of Painting. To collect that of
Architecture will be our task through many a page to come; but I must
here give a general idea of its heads.

Philippe de Commynes, writing of his entry into Venice in 1495, says,--

"Chascun me feit seoir au meillieu de ces deux ambassadeurs qui est
l'honneur d'Italie que d'estre au meillieu; et me menerent au long de la
grant rue, qu'ilz appellent le Canal Grant, et est bien large. Les
gallees y passent travers et y ay veu navire de quatre cens tonneaux
ou plus pres des maisons: et est la plus belle rue que je croy qui soit
en tout le monde, et la mieulx maisonnee, et va le long de la ville. Les
maisons sont fort grandes et haultes, et de bonne pierre, et les
anciennes toutes painctes; les aul tres faictes depuis cent ans: toutes
ont le devant de marbre blanc, qui leur vient d'Istrie, cent mils de
la, et encores maincte grant piece de porphire et de sarpentine sur le
devant.... C'est la plus triumphante cit que j'aye jamais veue et qui
plus faict d'honneur ambassadeurs et estrangiers, et qui plus
saigement se gouverne, et o le service de Dieu est le plus
sollennellement faict: et encores qu'il y peust bien avoir d'aultres
faultes, si croy je que Dieu les a en ayde pour la reverence qu'ilz
portent au service de l'Eglise." [Footnote: Mmoires de Commynes, liv.
vii. ch. xviii.]

SECTION XVI. This passage is of peculiar interest, for two reasons.
Observe, first, the impression of Commynes respecting the religion of
Venice: of which, as I have above said, the forms still remained with
some glimmering of life in them, and were the evidence of what the real
life had been in former times. But observe, secondly, the impression
instantly made on Commynes' mind by the distinction between the elder
palaces and those built "within this last hundred years; which all have
their fronts of white marble brought from Istria, a hundred miles away,
and besides, many a large piece of porphyry and serpentine upon their

On the opposite page I have given two of the ornaments of the palaces
which so struck the French ambassador. [Footnote: Appendix 6,
"Renaissance Ornaments."] He was right in his notice of the distinction.
There had indeed come a change over Venetian architecture in the
fifteenth century; and a change of some importance to us moderns: we
English owe to it our St. Paul's Cathedral, and Europe in general owes
to it the utter degradation or destruction of her schools of
architecture, never since revived. But that the reader may understand
this, it is necessary that he should have some general idea of the
connection of the architecture of Venice with that of the rest of
Europe, from its origin forwards.

SECTION XVII. All European architecture, bad and good, old and new, is
derived from Greece through Rome, and colored and perfected from the
East. The history of architecture is nothing but the tracing of the
various modes and directions of this derivation. Understand this, once
for all: if you hold fast this great connecting clue, you may string all
the types of successive architectural invention upon it like so many
beads. The Doric and the Corinthian orders are the roots, the one of all
Romanesque, massy-capitaled buildings--Norman, Lombard, Byzantine, and
what else you can name of the kind; and the Corinthian of all Gothic,
Early English, French, German, and Tuscan. Now observe: those old Greeks
gave the shaft; Rome gave the arch; the Arabs pointed and foliated the
arch. The shaft and arch, the frame-work and strength of architecture,
are from the race of Japheth: the spirituality and sanctity of it from
Ismael, Abraham, and Shem.

SECTION XVIII. There is high probability that the Greek received his
shaft system from Egypt; but I do not care to keep this earlier
derivation in the mind of the reader. It is only necessary that he
should be able to refer to a fixed point of origin, when the form of the
shaft was first perfected. But it may be incidently observed, that if
the Greeks did indeed receive their Doric from Egypt, then the three
families of the earth have each contributed their part to its noblest
architecture: and Ham, the servant of the others, furnishes the
sustaining or bearing member, the shaft; Japheth the arch; Shem the
spiritualization of both.

SECTION XIX. I have said that the two orders, Doric and Corinthian, are
the roots of all European architecture. You have, perhaps, heard of five
orders; but there are only two real orders, and there never can be any
more until doomsday. On one of these orders the ornament is convex:
those are Doric, Norman, and what else you recollect of the kind. On the
other the ornament is concave: those are Corinthian, Early English,
Decorated, and what else you recollect of that kind. The transitional
form, in which the ornamental line is straight, is the centre or root of
both. All other orders are varieties of those, or phantasms and
grotesques altogether indefinite in number and species. [Footnote:
Appendix 7, "Varieties of the Orders."]

SECTION XX. This Greek architecture, then, with its two orders, was
clumsily copied and varied by the Romans with no particular result,
until they begun to bring the arch into extensive practical service;
except only that the Doric capital was spoiled in endeavors to mend it,
and the Corinthian much varied and enriched with fanciful, and often
very beautiful imagery. And in this state of things came Christianity:
seized upon the arch as her own; decorated it, and delighted in it;
invented a new Doric capital to replace the spoiled Roman one: and all
over the Roman empire set to work, with such materials as were nearest
at hand, to express and adorn herself as best she could. This Roman
Christian architecture is the exact expression of the Christianity of
the time, very fervid and beautiful--but very imperfect; in many
respects ignorant, and yet radiant with a strong, childlike light of
imagination, which flames up under Constantine, illumines all the shores
of the Bosphorus and the Aegean and the Adriatic Sea, and then
gradually, as the people give themselves up to idolatry, becomes
Corpse-light. The architecture sinks into a settled form--a strange,
gilded, and embalmed repose: it, with the religion it expressed; and so
would have remained for ever,--so _does_ remain, where its languor has
been undisturbed. [Footnote: The reader will find the _weak_ points of
Byzantine architecture shrewdly seized, and exquisitely sketched, in the
opening chapter of the most delightful book of travels I ever opened,--
Curzon's "Monasteries of the Levant."] But rough wakening was ordained.

Section XXI. This Christian art of the declining empire is divided into
two great branches, western and eastern; one centred at Rome, the other
at Byzantium, of which the one is the early Christian Romanesque,
properly so called, and the other, carried to higher imaginative
perfection by Greek workmen, is distinguished from it as Byzantine. But
I wish the reader, for the present, to class these two branches of art
together in his mind, they being, in points of main importance, the
same; that is to say, both of them a true continuance and sequence of
the art of old Rome itself, flowing uninterruptedly down from the
fountain-head, and entrusted always to the best workmen who could be
found--Latins in Italy and Greeks in Greece; and thus both branches may
be ranged under the general term of Christian Romanesque, an
architecture which had lost the refinement of Pagan art in the
degradation of the empire, but which was elevated by Christianity to
higher aims, and by the fancy of the Greek workmen endowed with brighter
forms. And this art the reader may conceive as extending in its various
branches over all the central provinces of the empire, taking aspects
more or less refined, according to its proximity to the seats of
government; dependent for all its power on the vigor and freshness of
the religion which animated it; and as that vigor and purity departed,
losing its own vitality, and sinking into nerveless rest, not deprived
of its beauty, but benumbed and incapable of advance or change.

SECTION XXII. Meantime there had been preparation for its renewal. While
in Rome and Constantinople, and in the districts under their immediate
influence, this Roman art of pure descent was practised in all its
refinement, an impure form of it--a patois of Romanesque--was carried by
inferior workmen into distant provinces; and still ruder imitations of
this patois were executed by the barbarous nations on the skirts of the
empire. But these barbarous nations were in the strength of their youth;
and while, in the centre of Europe, a refined and purely descended art
was sinking into graceful formalism, on its confines a barbarous and
borrowed art was organizing itself into strength and consistency. The
reader must therefore consider the history of the work of the period as
broadly divided into two great heads: the one embracing the elaborately
languid succession of the Christian art of Rome; and the other, the
imitations of it executed by nations in every conceivable phase of early
organization, on the edges of the empire, or included in its now merely
nominal extent.

SECTION XXIII. Some of the barbaric nations were, of course, not
susceptible of this influence; and when they burst over the Alps,
appear, like the Huns, as scourges only, or mix, as the Ostrogoths, with
the enervated Italians, and give physical strength to the mass with
which they mingle, without materially affecting its intellectual
character. But others, both south and north of the empire, had felt its
influence, back to the beach of the Indian Ocean on the one hand, and to
the ice creeks of the North Sea on the other. On the north and west the
influence was of the Latins; on the south and east, of the Greeks. Two
nations, pre-eminent above all the rest, represent to us the force of
derived mind on either side. As the central power is eclipsed, the orbs
of reflected light gather into their fulness; and when sensuality and
idolatry had done their work, and the religion of the empire was laid
asleep in a glittering sepulchre, the living light rose upon both
horizons, and the fierce swords of the Lombard and Arab were shaken over
its golden paralysis.

SECTION XXIV. The work of the Lombard was to give hardihood and system
to the enervated body and enfeebled mind of Christendom; that of the
Arab was to punish idolatry, and to proclaim the spirituality of
worship. The Lombard covered every church which he built with the
sculptured representations of bodily exercises--hunting and war.
[Footnote: Appendix 8, "The Northern Energy."] The Arab banished all
imagination of creature form from his temples, and proclaimed from their
minarets, "There is no god but God." Opposite in their character and
mission, alike in their magnificence of energy, they came from the
North, and from the South, the glacier torrent and the lava stream: they
met and contended over the wreck of the Roman empire; and the very
centre of the struggle, the point of pause of both, the dead water of
the opposite eddies, charged with embayed fragments of the Roman wreck,

The Ducal palace of Venice contains the three elements in exactly equal
proportions--the Roman, Lombard, and Arab. It is the central building of
the world.

SECTION XXV. The reader will now begin to understand something of the
importance of the study of the edifices of a city which includes, within
the circuit of some seven or eight miles, the field of contest between
the three pre-eminent architectures of the world:--each architecture
expressing a condition of religion; each an erroneous condition, yet
necessary to the correction of the others, and corrected by them.

SECTION XXVI. It will be part of my endeavor, in the following work, to
mark the various modes in which the northern and southern architectures
were developed from the Roman: here I must pause only to name the
distinguishing characteristics of the great families. The Christian
Roman and Byzantine work is round-arched, with single and
well-proportioned shafts; capitals imitated from classical Roman;
mouldings more or less so; and large surfaces of walls entirely covered
with imagery, mosaic, and paintings, whether of scripture history or of
sacred symbols.

The Arab school is at first the same in its principal features, the
Byzantine workmen being employed by the caliphs; but the Arab rapidly
introduces characters half Persepolitan, half Egyptian, into the shafts
and capitals: in his intense love of excitement he points the arch and
writhes it into extravagant foliations; he banishes the animal imagery,
and invents an ornamentation of his own (called Arabesque) to replace
it: this not being adapted for covering large surfaces, he concentrates
it on features of interest, and bars his surfaces with horizontal lines
of color, the expression of the level of the Desert. He retains the
dome, and adds the minaret. All is done with exquisite refinement.

SECTION XXVII. The changes effected by the Lombard are more curious
still, for they are in the anatomy of the building, more than its
decoration. The Lombard architecture represents, as I said, the whole of
that of the northern barbaric nations. And this I believe was, at first,
an imitation in wood of the Christian Roman churches or basilicas.
Without staying to examine the whole structure of a basilica, the reader
will easily understand thus much of it: that it had a nave and two
aisles, the nave much higher than the aisles; that the nave was
separated from the aisles by rows of shafts, which supported, above,
large spaces of flat or dead wall, rising above the aisles, and forming
the upper part of the nave, now called the clerestory, which had a
gabled wooden roof.

These high dead walls were, in Roman work, built of stone; but in the
wooden work of the North, they must necessarily have been made of
horizontal boards or timbers attached to uprights on the top of the nave
pillars, which were themselves also of wood. [Footnote: Appendix 9,
"Wooden Churches of the North."] Now, these uprights were necessarily
thicker than the rest of the timbers, and formed vertical square
pilasters above the nave piers. As Christianity extended and
civilization increased, these wooden structures were changed into stone;
but they were literally petrified, retaining the form which had been
made necessary by their being of wood. The upright pilaster above the
nave pier remains in the stone edifice, and is the first form of the
great distinctive feature of Northern architecture--the vaulting shaft.
In that form the Lombards brought it into Italy, in the seventh century,
and it remains to this day in St. Ambrogio of Milan, and St. Michele of

SECTION XXVIII. When the vaulting shaft was introduced in the clerestory
walls, additional members were added for its support to the nave piers.
Perhaps two or three pine trunks, used for a single pillar, gave the
first idea of the grouped shaft. Be that as it may, the arrangement of
the nave pier in the form of a cross accompanies the superimposition of
the vaulting shaft; together with corresponding grouping of minor shafts
in doorways and apertures of windows. Thus, the whole body of the
Northern architecture, represented by that of the Lombards, may be
described as rough but majestic work, round-arched, with grouped shafts,
added vaulting shafts, and endless imagery of active life and fantastic

SECTION XXIX. The glacier stream of the Lombards, and the following one
of the Normans, left their erratic blocks, wherever they had flowed; but
without influencing, I think, the Southern nations beyond the sphere of
their own presence. But the lava stream of the Arab, even after it
ceased to flow, warmed the whole of the Northern air; and the history of
Gothic architecture is the history of the refinement and
spiritualization of Northern work under its influence. The noblest
buildings of the world, the Pisan-Romanesque, Tuscan (Giottesque)
Gothic, and Veronese Gothic, are those of the Lombard schools
themselves, under its close and direct influence; the various Gothics of
the North are the original forms of the architecture which the Lombards
brought into Italy, changing under the less direct influence of the

SECTION XXX. Understanding thus much of the formation of the great
European styles, we shall have no difficulty in tracing the succession
of architectures in Venice herself. From what I said of the central
character of Venetian art, the reader is not, of course, to conclude
that the Roman, Northern, and Arabian elements met together and
contended for the mastery at the same period. The earliest element was
the pure Christian Roman; but few, if any, remains of this art exist at
Venice; for the present city was in the earliest times only one of many
settlements formed on the chain of marshy islands which extend from the
mouths of the Isonzo to those of the Adige, and it was not until the
beginning of the ninth century that it became the seat of government;
while the cathedral of Torcello, though Christian Roman in general form,
was rebuilt in the eleventh century, and shows evidence of Byzantine
workmanship in many of its details. This cathedral, however, with the
church of Santa Fosca at Torcello, San Giacomo di Rialto at Venice, and
the crypt of St. Mark's, forms a distinct group of buildings, in which
the Byzantine influence is exceedingly slight; and which is probably
very sufficiently representative of the earliest architecture on the

SECTION XXXI. The Ducal residence was removed to Venice in 809, and the
body of St. Mark was brought from Alexandria twenty years later. The
first church of St. Mark's was, doubtless, built in imitation of that
destroyed at Alexandria, and from which the relics of the saint had been
obtained. During the ninth, tenth, and eleventh centuries, the
architecture of Venice seems to have been formed on the same model, and
is almost identical with that of Cairo under the caliphs, [Footnote:
Appendix 10, "Church of Alexandria."] it being quite immaterial whether
the reader chooses to call both Byzantine or both Arabic; the workmen
being certainly Byzantine, but forced to the invention of new forms by
their Arabian masters, and bringing these forms into use in whatever
other parts of the world they were employed.

To this first manner of Venetian architecture, together with such
vestiges as remain of the Christian Roman, I shall devote the first
division of the following inquiry. The examples remaining of it consist
of three noble churches (those of Torcello, Murano, and the greater part
of St. Mark's), and about ten or twelve fragments of palaces.

SECTION XXXII. To this style succeeds a transitional one, of a character
much more distinctly Arabian: the shafts become more slender, and the
arches consistently pointed, instead of round; certain other changes,
not to be enumerated in a sentence, taking place in the capitals and
mouldings. This style is almost exclusively secular. It was natural for
the Venetians to imitate the beautiful details of the Arabian
dwelling-house, while they would with reluctance adopt those of the
mosque for Christian churches.

I have not succeeded in fixing limiting dates for this style. It appears
in part contemporary with the Byzantine manner, but outlives it. Its
position is, however, fixed by the central date, 1180, that of the
elevation of the granite shafts of the Piazetta, whose capitals are the
two most important pieces of detail in this transitional style in
Venice. Examples of its application to domestic buildings exist in
almost every street of the city, and will form the subject of the second
division of the following essay.

SECTION XXXIII. The Venetians were always ready to receive lessons in
art from their enemies (else had there been no Arab work in Venice). But
their especial dread and hatred of the Lombards appears to have long
prevented them from receiving the influence of the art which that people
had introduced on the mainland of Italy. Nevertheless, during the
practice of the two styles above distinguished, a peculiar and very
primitive condition of pointed Gothic had arisen in ecclesiastical
architecture. It appears to be a feeble reflection of the Lombard-Arab
forms, which were attaining perfection upon the continent, and would
probably, if left to itself, have been soon merged in the Venetian-Arab
school, with which it had from the first so close a fellowship, that it
will be found difficult to distinguish the Arabian ogives from those
which seem to have been built under this early Gothic influence. The
churches of San Giacopo dell' Orio, San Giovanni in Bragora, the
Carmine, and one or two more, furnish the only important examples of it.
But, in the thirteenth century, the Franciscans and Dominicans
introduced from the continent their morality and their architecture,
already a distinct Gothic, curiously developed from Lombardic and
Northern (German?) forms; and the influence of the principles exhibited
in the vast churches of St. Paul and the Frari began rapidly to affect
the Venetian-Arab school. Still the two systems never became united; the
Venetian policy repressed the power of the church, and the Venetian
artists resisted its example; and thenceforward the architecture of the
city becomes divided into ecclesiastical and civil: the one an
ungraceful yet powerful form of the Western Gothic, common to the whole
peninsula, and only showing Venetian sympathies in the adoption of
certain characteristic mouldings; the other a rich, luxuriant, and
entirely original Gothic, formed from the Venetian-Arab by the influence
of the Dominican and Franciscan architecture, and especially by the
engrafting upon the Arab forms of the most novel feature of the
Franciscan work, its traceries. These various forms of Gothic, the
_distinctive_ architecture of Venice, chiefly represented by the
churches of St. John and Paul, the Frari, and San Stefano, on the
ecclesiastical side, and by the Ducal palace, and the other principal
Gothic palaces, on the secular side, will be the subject of the third
division of the essay.

SECTION XXXIV. Now observe. The transitional (or especially Arabic)
style of the Venetian work is centralized by the date 1180, and is
transformed gradually into the Gothic, which extends in its purity from
the middle of the thirteenth to the beginning of the fifteenth century;
that is to say, over the precise period which I have described as the
central epoch of the life of Venice. I dated her decline from the year
1418; Foscari became doge five years later, and in his reign the first
marked signs appear in architecture of that mighty change which Philippe
de Commynes notices as above, the change to which London owes St.
Paul's, Rome St. Peter's, Venice and Vicenza the edifices commonly
supposed to be their noblest, and Europe in general the degradation of
every art she has since practised.

SECTION XXXV. This change appears first in a loss of truth and vitality
in existing architecture all over the world. (Compare "Seven Lamps,"
chap. ii.)

All the Gothics in existence, southern or northern, were corrupted at
once: the German and French lost themselves in every species of
extravagance; the English Gothic was confined, in its insanity, by a
strait-waistcoat of perpendicular lines; the Italian effloresced on the
main land into the meaningless ornamentation of the Certosa of Pavia and
the Cathedral of Como, (a style sometimes ignorantly called Italian
Gothic), and at Venice into the insipid confusion of the Porta della
Carta and wild crockets of St. Mark's. This corruption of all
architecture, especially ecclesiastical, corresponded with, and marked
the state of religion over all Europe,--the peculiar degradation of the
Romanist superstition, and of public morality in consequence, which
brought about the Reformation.

SECTION XXXVI. Against the corrupted papacy arose two great divisions of
adversaries, Protestants in Germany and England, Rationalists in France
and Italy; the one requiring the purification of religion, the other its
destruction. The Protestant kept the religion, but cast aside the
heresies of Rome, and with them her arts, by which last rejection he
injured his own character, cramped his intellect in refusing to it one
of its noblest exercises, and materially diminished his influence. It
may be a serious question how far the Pausing of the Reformation has
been a consequence of this error.

The Rationalist kept the arts and cast aside the religion. This
rationalistic art is the art commonly called Renaissance, marked by a
return to pagan systems, not to adopt them and hallow them for
Christianity, but to rank itself under them as an imitator and pupil. In
Painting it is headed by Giulio Romano and Nicolo Poussin; in
Architecture by Sansovino and Palladio.

SECTION XXXVII. Instant degradation followed in every direction,--a
flood of folly and hypocrisy. Mythologies ill understood at first, then
perverted into feeble sensualities, take the place of the
representations of Christian subjects, which had become blasphemous
under the treatment of men like the Caracci. Gods without power, satyrs
without rusticity, nymphs without innocence, men without humanity,
gather into idiot groups upon the polluted canvas, and scenic
affectations encumber the streets with preposterous marble. Lower and
lower declines the level of abused intellect; the base school of
landscape [Footnote: Appendix II, "Renaissance Landscape."] gradually
usurps the place of the historical painting, which had sunk into
prurient pedantry,--the Alsatian sublimities of Salvator, the
confectionery idealities of Claude, the dull manufacture of Gaspar and
Canaletto, south of the Alps, and on the north the patient devotion of
besotted lives to delineation of bricks and fogs, fat cattle and
ditchwater. And thus Christianity and morality, courage, and intellect,
and art all crumbling together into one wreck, we are hurried on to the
fall of Italy, the revolution in France, and the condition of art in
England (saved by her Protestantism from severer penalty) in the time of
George II.

SECTION XXXVIII. I have not written in vain if I have heretofore done
anything towards diminishing the reputation of the Renaissance landscape
painting. But the harm which has been done by Claude and the Poussins is
as nothing when compared to the mischief effected by Palladio, Scamozzi,
and Sansovino. Claude and the Poussins were weak men, and have had no
serious influence on the general mind. There is little harm in their
works being purchased at high prices: their real influence is very
slight, and they may be left without grave indignation to their poor
mission of furnishing drawing-rooms and assisting stranded conversation.
Not so the Renaissance architecture. Raised at once into all the
magnificence of which it was capable by Michael Angelo, then taken up by
men of real intellect and imagination, such as Scamozzi, Sansovino,
Inigo Jones, and Wren, it is impossible to estimate the extent of its
influence on the European mind; and that the more, because few persons
are concerned with painting, and, of those few, the larger number regard
it with slight attention; but all men are concerned with architecture,
and have at some time of their lives serious business with it. It does
not much matter that an individual loses two or three hundred pounds in
buying a bad picture, but it is to be regretted that a nation should
lose two or three hundred thousand in raising a ridiculous building. Nor
is it merely wasted wealth or distempered conception which we have to
regret in this Renaissance architecture: but we shall find in it partly
the root, partly the expression, of certain dominant evils of modern
times--over-sophistication and ignorant classicalism; the one destroying
the healthfulness of general society, the other rendering our schools
and universities useless to a large number of the men who pass through

Now Venice, as she was once the most religious, was in her fall the most
corrupt, of European states; and as she was in her strength the centre
of the pure currents of Christian architecture, so she is in her decline
the source of the Renaissance. It was the originality and splendor of
the palaces of Vicenza and Venice which gave this school its eminence in
the eyes of Europe; and the dying city, magnificent in her dissipation,
and graceful in her follies, obtained wider worship in her decrepitude
than in her youth, and sank from the midst of her admirers into the

SECTION XXXIX. It is in Venice, therefore, and in Venice only that
effectual blows can be struck at this pestilent art of the Renaissance.
Destroy its claims to admiration there, and it can assert them nowhere
else. This, therefore, will be the final purpose of the following essay.
I shall not devote a fourth section to Palladio, nor weary the reader
with successive chapters of vituperation; but I shall, in my account of
the earlier architecture, compare the forms of all its leading features
with those into which they were corrupted by the Classicalists; and
pause, in the close, on the edge of the precipice of decline, so soon as
I have made its depths discernible. In doing this I shall depend upon
two distinct kinds of evidence:--the first, the testimony borne by
particular incidents and facts to a want of thought or of feeling in the
builders; from which we may conclude that their architecture must be
bad:--the second, the sense, which I doubt not I shall be able to excite
in the reader, of a systematic ugliness in the architecture itself. Of
the first kind of testimony I shall here give two instances, which may
be immediately useful in fixing in the reader's mind the epoch above
indicated for the commencement of decline.

SECTION XL. I must again refer to the importance which I have above
attached to the death of Carlo Zeno and the doge Tomaso Mocenigo. The
tomb of that doge is, as I said, wrought by a Florentine; but it is of
the same general type and feeling as all the Venetian tombs of the
period, and it is one of the last which retains it. The classical
element enters largely into its details, but the feeling of the whole is
as yet unaffected. Like all the lovely tombs of Venice and Verona, it is
a sarcophagus with a recumbent figure above, and this figure is a
faithful but tender portrait, wrought as far as it can be without
painfulness, of the doge as he lay in death. He wears his ducal robe and
bonnet--his head is laid slightly aside upon his pillow--his hands are
simply crossed as they fall. The face is emaciated, the features large,
but so pure and lordly in their natural chiselling, that they must have
looked like marble even in their animation. They are deeply worn away by
thought and death; the veins on the temples branched and starting; the
skin gathered in sharp folds; the brow high-arched and shaggy; the
eye-ball magnificently large; the curve of the lips just veiled by the
light mustache at the side; the beard short, double, and sharp-pointed:
all noble and quiet; the white sepulchral dust marking like light the
stern angles of the cheek and brow.

This tomb was sculptured in 1424, and is thus described by one of the
most intelligent of the recent writers who represent the popular feeling
respecting Venetian art.

"Of the Italian school is also the rich but ugly (ricco ma non
bel) sarcophagus in which repose the ashes of Tomaso Mocenigo.
It may be called one of the last links which connect the
declining art of the Middle Ages with that of the Renaissance,
which was in its rise. We will not stay to particularize the
defects of each of the seven figures of the front and sides,
which represent the cardinal and theological virtues; nor will
we make any remarks upon those which stand in the niches above
the pavilion, because we consider them unworthy both of the age
and reputation of the Florentine school, which was then with
reason considered the most notable in Italy." [Footnote:
Selvatico, "Architettura di Venezia," p. 147.]

It is well, indeed, not to pause over these defects; but it might have
been better to have paused a moment beside that noble image of a king's

SECTION XLI. In the choir of the same church, St. Giov. and Paolo, is
another tomb, that of the Doge Andrea Vendramin. This doge died in 1478,
after a short reign of two years, the most disastrous in the annals of
Venice. He died of a pestilence which followed the ravage of the Turks,
carried to the shores of the lagoons. He died, leaving Venice disgraced
by sea and land, with the smoke of hostile devastation rising in the
blue distances of Friuli; and there was raised to him the most costly
tomb ever bestowed on her monarchs.

SECTION XLII. If the writer above quoted was cold beside the statue of
one of the fathers of his country, he atones for it by his eloquence
beside the tomb of the Vendramin. I must not spoil the force of Italian
superlative by translation.

"Quando si guarda a quella corretta eleganza di profili e di
proporzioni, a quella squisitezza d'ornamenti, a quel certo
sapore antico che senza ombra d' imitazione traspareda tutta l'
opera"--&c. "Sopra ornatissimo zoccolo fornito di squisiti
intagli s' alza uno stylobate"--&c. "Sotto le colonne, il
predetto stilobate si muta leggiadramente in piedistallo, poi
con bella novita di pensiero e di effetto va coronato da un
fregio il piu gentile che veder si possa"--&c. "Non puossi
lasciar senza un cenno l' _arca dove_ sta chiuso il doge;
capo lavoro di pensiero e di esecuzione," etc.

There are two pages and a half of closely printed praise, of which the
above specimens may suffice; but there is not a word of the statue of
the dead from beginning to end. I am myself in the habit of considering
this rather an important part of a tomb, and I was especially interested
in it here, because Selvatico only echoes the praise of thousands. It is
unanimously declared the chef d'oeuvre of Renaissance sepulchral work,
and pronounced by Cicognara (also quoted by Selvatico).

"Il vertice a cui l'arti Veneziane si spinsero col ministero del
scalpello,"--"The very culminating point to which the Venetian
arts attained by ministry of the chisel."

To this culminating point, therefore, covered with dust and cobwebs, I
attained, as I did to every tomb of importance in Venice, by the
ministry of such ancient ladders as were to be found in the sacristan's
keeping. I was struck at first by the excessive awkwardness and want of
feeling in the fall of the hand towards the spectator, for it is thrown
off the middle of the body in order to show its fine cutting. Now the
Mocenigo hand, severe and even stiff in its articulations, has its veins
finely drawn, its sculptor having justly felt that the delicacy of the
veining expresses alike dignity and age and birth. The Vendramin hand is
far more laboriously cut, but its blunt and clumsy contour at once makes
us feel that all the care has been thrown away, and well it may be, for
it has been entirely bestowed in cutting gouty wrinkles about the
joints. Such as the hand is, I looked for its fellow. At first I thought
it had been broken off, but, on clearing away the dust, I saw the
wretched effigy had only _one_ hand, and was a mere block on the
inner side. The face, heavy and disagreeable in its features, is made
monstrous by its semi-sculpture. One side of the forehead is wrinkled
elaborately, the other left smooth; one side only of the doge's cap is
chased; one cheek only is finished, and the other blocked out and
distorted besides; finally, the ermine robe, which is elaborately
imitated to its utmost lock of hair and of ground hair on the one side,
is blocked out only on the other: it having been supposed throughout the
work that the effigy was only to be seen from below, and from one side.

SECTION XLIII. It was indeed to be seen by nearly every one; and I do
not blame--I should, on the contrary, have praised--the sculptor for
regulating his treatment of it by its position; if that treatment had
not involved, first, dishonesty, in giving only half a face, a monstrous
mask, when we demanded true portraiture of the dead; and, secondly, such
utter coldness of feeling, as could only consist with an extreme of
intellectual and moral degradation: Who, with a heart in his breast,
could have stayed his hand as he drew the dim lines of the old man's
countenance--unmajestic once, indeed, but at least sanctified by the
solemnities of death--could have stayed his hand, as he reached the bend
of the grey forehead, and measured out the last veins of it at so much
the zecchin.

I do not think the reader, if he has feeling, will expect that much
talent should be shown in the rest of his work, by the sculptor of this
base and senseless lie. The whole monument is one wearisome aggregation
of that species of ornamental flourish, which, when it is done with a
pen, is called penmanship, and when done with a chisel, should be called
chiselmanship; the subject of it being chiefly fat-limbed boys sprawling
on dolphins, dolphins incapable of swimming, and dragged along the sea
by expanded pocket-handkerchiefs.

But now, reader, comes the very gist and point of the whole matter. This
lying monument to a dishonored doge, this culminating pride of the
Renaissance art of Venice, is at least veracious, if in nothing else, in
its testimony to the character of its sculptor. _He was banished from
Venice for forgery_ in 1487. [Footnote: Selvatico, p. 221.]

SECTION XLIV. I have more to say about this convict's work hereafter;
but I pass at present, to the second, slighter, but yet more interesting
piece of evidence, which I promised.

The ducal palace has two principal faades; one towards the sea, the
other towards the Piazzetta. The seaward side, and, as far as the
seventh main arch inclusive, the Piazzetta side, is work of the early
part of the fourteenth century, some of it perhaps even earlier; while
the rest of the Piazzetta side is of the fifteenth. The difference in
age has been gravely disputed by the Venetian antiquaries, who have
examined many documents on the subject, and quoted some which they never
examined. I have myself collated most of the written documents, and one
document more, to which the Venetian antiquaries never thought of
referring,--the masonry of the palace itself.

SECTION XLV. That masonry changes at the centre of the eighth arch from
the sea angle on the Piazzetta side. It has been of comparatively small
stones up to that point; the fifteenth century work instantly begins
with larger stones, "brought from Istria, a hundred miles away."
[Footnote: The older work is of Istrian stone also, but of different
quality.] The ninth shaft from the sea in the lower arcade, and the
seventeenth, which is above it, in the upper arcade, commence the series
of fifteenth century shafts. These two are somewhat thicker than the
others, and carry the party-wall of the Sala del Scrutinio. Now observe,
reader. The face of the palace, from this point to the Porta della
Carta, was built at the instance of that noble Doge Mocenigo beside
whose tomb you have been standing; at his instance, and in the beginning
of the reign of his successor, Foscari; that is to say, circa 1424. This
is not disputed; it is only disputed that the sea faade is earlier; of
which, however, the proofs are as simple as they are incontrovertible:
for not only the masonry, but the sculpture, changes at the ninth lower
shaft, and that in the capitals of the shafts both of the upper and
lower arcade: the costumes of the figures introduced in the sea faade
being purely Giottesque, correspondent with Giotto's work in the Arena
Chapel at Padua, while the costume on the other capitals is
Renaissance-Classic: and the lions' heads between the arches change at
the same point. And there are a multitude of other evidences in the
statues of the angels, with which I shall not at present trouble the

SECTION XLVI. Now, the architect who built under Foscari, in 1424
(remember my date for the decline of Venice, 1418), was obliged to
follow the principal forms of the older palace. But he had not the wit
to invent new capitals in the same style; he therefore clumsily copied
the old ones. The palace has seventeen main arches on the sea faade,
eighteen on the Piazzetta side, which in all are of course carried by
thirty-six pillars; and these pillars I shall always number from right
to left, from the angle of the palace at the Ponte della Paglia to that
next the Porta della Carta. I number them in this succession, because I
thus have the earliest shafts first numbered. So counted, the 1st, the
18th, and the 36th, are the great supports of the angles of the palace;
and the first of the fifteenth century series, being, as above stated,
the 9th from the sea on the Piazzetta side, is the 26th of the entire
series, and will always in future be so numbered, so that all numbers
above twenty-six indicate fifteenth century work, and all below it,
fourteenth century, with some exceptional cases of restoration.

Then the copied capitals are: the 28th, copied from the 7th; the 29th,
from the 9th; the 30th, from the 10th; the 31st, from the 8th; the 33d,
from the 12th; and the 34th, from the 11th; the others being dull
inventions of the 15th century, except the 36th; which is very nobly

SECTION XLVII. The capitals thus selected from the earlier portion of
the palace for imitation, together with the rest, will be accurately
described hereafter; the point I have here to notice is in the copy of
the ninth capital, which was decorated (being, like the rest, octagonal)
with figures of the eight Virtues:--Faith, Hope, Charity, Justice,
Temperance, Prudence, Humility (the Venetian antiquaries call it
Humanity!), and Fortitude. The Virtues of the fourteenth century are
somewhat hard-featured; with vivid and living expression, and plain
every-day clothes of the time. Charity has her lap full of apples
(perhaps loaves), and is giving one to a little child, who stretches his
arm for it across a gap in the leafage of the capital. Fortitude tears
open a lion's jaws; Faith lays her hand on her breast, as she beholds
the Cross; and Hope is praying, while above her a hand is seen emerging
from sunbeams--the hand of God (according to that of Revelations, "The
Lord God giveth them light"); and the inscription above is, "Spes optima
in Deo."

SECTION XLVIII. This design, then, is, rudely and with imperfect
chiselling, imitated by the fifteenth century workmen: the Virtues have
lost their hard features and living expression; they have now all got
Roman noses, and have had their hair curled. Their actions and emblems
are, however, preserved until we come to Hope: she is still praying, but
she is praying to the sun only: _The hand of God is gone_.

Is not this a curious and striking type of the spirit which had then
become dominant in the world, forgetting to see God's hand in the light
He gave; so that in the issue, when the light opened into the
Reformation on the one side, and into full knowledge of ancient
literature on the other, the one was arrested and the other perverted?

SECTION XLIX. Such is the nature of the accidental evidence on which I
shall depend for the proof of the inferiority of character in the
Renaissance workmen. But the proof of the inferiority of the work itself
is not so easy, for in this I have to appeal to judgments which the
Renaissance work has itself distorted. I felt this difficulty very
forcibly as I read a slight review of my former work, "The Seven Lamps,"
in "The Architect:" the writer noticed my constant praise of St. Mark's:
"Mr. Ruskin thinks it a very beautiful building! We," said the
Architect, "think it a very ugly building." I was not surprised at the
difference of opinion, but at the thing being considered so completely a
subject of opinion. My opponents in matters of painting always assume
that there _is_ such a thing as a law of right, and that I do not
understand it: but my architectural adversaries appeal to no law, they
simply set their opinion against mine; and indeed there is no law at
present to which either they or I can appeal. No man can speak with
rational decision of the merits or demerits of buildings: he may with
obstinacy; he may with resolved adherence to previous prejudices; but
never as if the matter could be otherwise decided than by a majority of
votes, or pertinacity of partisanship. I had always, however, a clear
conviction that there _was_ a law in this matter: that good
architecture might be indisputably discerned and divided from the bad;
that the opposition in their very nature and essence was clearly
visible; and that we were all of us just as unwise in disputing about
the matter without reference to principle, as we should be for debating
about the genuineness of a coin, without ringing it. I felt also assured
that this law must be universal if it were conclusive; that it must
enable us to reject all foolish and base work, and to accept all noble
and wise work, without reference to style or national feeling; that it
must sanction the design of all truly great nations and times, Gothic or
Greek or Arab; that it must cast off and reprobate the design of all
foolish nations and times, Chinese or Mexican, or modern European: and
that it must be easily applicable to all possible architectural
inventions of human mind. I set myself, therefore, to establish such a
law, in full belief that men are intended, without excessive difficulty,
and by use of their general common sense, to know good things from bad;
and that it is only because they will not be at the pains required for
the discernment, that the world is so widely encumbered with forgeries
and basenesses. I found the work simpler than I had hoped; the
reasonable things ranged themselves in the order I required, and the
foolish things fell aside, and took themselves away so soon as they were
looked in the face. I had then, with respect to Venetian architecture,
the choice, either to establish each division of law in a separate form,
as I came to the features with which it was concerned, or else to ask
the reader's patience, while I followed out the general inquiry first,
and determined with him a code of right and wrong, to which we might
together make retrospective appeal. I thought this the best, though
perhaps the dullest way; and in these first following pages I have
therefore endeavored to arrange those foundations of criticism, on which
I shall rest in my account of Venetian architecture, in a form clear and
simple enough to be intelligible even to those who never thought of
architecture before. To those who have, much of what is stated in them
will be well known or self-evident; but they must not be indignant at a
simplicity on which the whole argument depends for its usefulness. From
that which appears a mere truism when first stated, they will find very
singular consequences sometimes following,--consequences altogether
unexpected, and of considerable importance; I will not pause here to
dwell on their importance, nor on that of the thing itself to be done;
for I believe most readers will at once admit the value of a criterion
of right and wrong in so practical and costly an art as architecture,
and will be apt rather to doubt the possibility of its attainment than
dispute its usefulness if attained. I invite them, therefore, to a fair
trial, being certain that even if I should fail in my main purpose, and
be unable to induce in my reader the confidence of judgment I desire, I
shall at least receive his thanks for the suggestion of consistent
reasons, which may determine hesitating choice, or justify involuntary
preference. And if I should succeed, as I hope, in making the Stones of
Venice touchstones, and detecting, by the mouldering of her marble,
poison more subtle than ever was betrayed by the rending of her crystal;
and if thus I am enabled to show the baseness of the schools of
architecture and nearly every other art, which have for three centuries
been predominant in Europe, I believe the result of the inquiry may be
serviceable for proof of a more vital truth than any at which I have
hitherto hinted. For observe: I said the Protestant had despised the
arts, and the Rationalist corrupted them. But what has the Romanist done
meanwhile? He boasts that it was the papacy which raised the arts; why
could it not support them when it was left to its own strength? How came
it to yield to Classicalism which was based on infidelity, and to oppose
no barrier to innovations, which have reduced the once faithfully
conceived imagery of its worship to stage decoration? [Footnote:
Appendix XII., "Romanist Modern Art."] Shall we not rather find that
Romanism, instead of being a promoter of the arts, has never shown itself
capable of a single great conception since the separation of
Protestantism from its side? [Footnote: Perfectly true: but the whole
vital value of the truth was lost by my sectarian ignorance.
Protestantism (so far as it was still Christianity, and did not consist
merely in maintaining one's own opinion for gospel) could not separate
itself from the Catholic Church. The so-called Catholics became
themselves sectarians and heretics in casting them out; and Europe was
turned into a mere cockpit, of the theft and fury of unchristian men of
both parties; while innocent and silent on the hills and fields, God's
people in neglected peace, everywhere and for ever Catholics, lived and
died.] So long as, corrupt though it might be, no clear witness had been
borne against it, so that it still included in its ranks a vast number of
faithful Christians, so long its arts were noble. But the witness was
borne--the error made apparent; and Rome, refusing to hear the testimony
or forsake the falsehood, has been struck from that instant with an
intellectual palsy, which has not only incapacitated her from any further
use of the arts which once were her ministers, but has made her worship
the shame of its own shrines, and her worshippers their destroyers. Come,
then, if truths such as these are worth our thoughts; come, and let us
know, before we enter the streets of the Sea city, whether we are indeed
to submit ourselves to their undistinguished enchantment, and to look
upon the last changes which were wrought on the lifted forms of her
palaces, as we should on the capricious towering of summer clouds in the
sunset, ere they sank into the deep of night; or, whether, rather, we
shall not behold in the brightness of their accumulated marble, pages on
which the sentence of her luxury was to be written until the waves should
efface it, as they fulfilled--"God has numbered thy kingdom, and finished




SECTION I. In the olden days of travelling, now to return no more, in
which distance could not be vanquished without toil, but in which that
toil was rewarded, partly by the power of deliberate survey of the
countries through which the journey lay, and partly by the happiness of
the evening hours, when, from the top of the last hill he had
surmounted, the traveller beheld the quiet village where he was to rest,
scattered among the meadows beside its valley stream; or, from the
long-hoped-for turn in the dusty perspective of the causeway, saw, for
the first time, the towers of some famed city, faint in the rays of
sunset--hours of peaceful and thoughtful pleasure, for which the rush of
the arrival in the railway station is perhaps not always, or to all men,
an equivalent,--in those days, I say, when there was something more to
be anticipated and remembered in the first aspect of each successive
halting-place, than a new arrangement of glass roofing and iron girder,
there were few moments of which the recollection was more fondly
cherished by the traveller than that which, as I endeavored to describe
in the close of the last chapter, brought him within sight of Venice, as
his gondola shot into the open lagoon from the canal of Mestre. Not but
that the aspect of the city itself was generally the source of some
slight disappointment, for, seen in this direction, its buildings are
far less characteristic than those of the other great towns of Italy;
but this inferiority was partly disguised by distance, and more than
atoned for by the strange rising of its walls and towers out of the
midst, as it seemed, of the deep sea, for it was impossible that the
mind or the eye could at once comprehend the shallowness of the vast
sheet of water which stretched away in leagues of rippling lustre to the
north and south, or trace the narrow line of islets bounding it to the
east. The salt breeze, the white moaning sea-birds, the masses of black
weed separating and disappearing gradually, in knots of heaving shoal,
under the advance of the steady tide, all proclaimed it to be indeed the
ocean on whose bosom the great city rested so calmly; not such blue,
soft, lake-like ocean as bathes the Neapolitan promontories, or sleeps
beneath the marble rocks of Genoa, but a sea with the bleak power of our
own northern waves, yet subdued into a strange spacious rest, and
changed from its angry pallor into a field of burnished gold, as the sun
declined behind the belfry tower of the lonely island church, fitly
named "St. George of the Seaweed." As the boat drew nearer to the city,
the coast which the traveller had just left sank behind him into one
long, low, sad-colored line, tufted irregularly with brushwood and
willows: but, at what seemed its northern extremity, the hills of Arqua
rose in a dark cluster of purple pyramids, balanced on the bright mirage
of the lagoon; two or three smooth surges of inferior hill extended
themselves about their roots, and beyond these, beginning with the
craggy peaks above Vicenza, the chain of the Alps girded the whole
horizon to the north--a wall of jagged blue, here and there showing
through its clefts a wilderness of misty precipices, fading far back
into the recesses of Cadore, and itself rising and breaking away
eastward, where the sun struck opposite upon its snow, into mighty
fragments of peaked light, standing up behind the barred clouds of
evening, one after another, countless, the crown of the Adrian Sea,
until the eye turned back from pursuing them, to rest upon the nearer
burning of the campaniles of Murano, and on the great city, where it
magnified itself along the waves, as the quick silent pacing of the
gondola drew nearer and nearer. And at last, when its walls were
reached, and the outmost of its untrodden streets was entered, not
through towered gate or guarded rampart, but as a deep inlet between two
rocks of coral in the Indian sea; when first upon the traveller's sight
opened the long ranges of columned palaces,--each with its black boat
moored at the portal,--each with its image cast down, beneath its feet,
upon that green pavement which every breeze broke into new fantasies of
rich tessellation; when first, at the extremity of the bright vista, the
shadowy Rialto threw its colossal curve slowly forth from behind the
palace of the Camerlenghi; that strange curve, so delicate, so
adamantine, strong as a mountain cavern, graceful as a bow just bent;
when first, before its moonlike circumference was all risen, the
gondolier's cry, "Ah! Stali," [Footnote: Appendix I, "The Gondolier's
Cry."] struck sharp upon the ear, and the prow turned aside under the
mighty cornices that half met over the narrow canal, where the plash of
the water followed close and loud, ringing along the marble by the
boat's side, and when at last that boat darted forth upon the breadth of
silver sea, across which the front of the Ducal palace, flushed with its
sanguine veins, looks to the snowy dome of Our Lady of Salvation,
[Footnote: Appendix II, "Our Lady of Salvation."] it was no marvel that
the mind should be so deeply entranced by the visionary charm of a scene
so beautiful and so strange, as to forget the darker truths of its
history and its being. Well might it seem that such a city had owed her
existence rather to the rod of the enchanter, than the fear of the
fugitive; that the waters which encircled her had been chosen for the
mirror of her state, rather than the shelter of her nakedness; and that
all which in nature was wild or merciless,--Time and Decay, as well as
the waves and tempests,--had been won to adorn her instead of to
destroy, and might still spare, for ages to come, that beauty which
seemed to have fixed for its throne the sands of the hour-glass as well
as of the sea.

SECTION II. And although the last few eventful years, fraught with
change to the face of the whole earth, have been more fatal in their
influence on Venice than the five hundred that preceded them; though the
noble landscape of approach to her can now be seen no more, or seen only
by a glance, as the engine slackens its rushing on the iron line; and
though many of her palaces are for ever defaced, and many in desecrated
ruins, there is still so much of magic in her aspect, that the hurried
traveller, who must leave her before the wonder of that first aspect has
been worn away, may still be led to forget the humility of her origin,
and to shut his eyes to the depth of her desolation. They, at least, are
little to be envied, in whose hearts the great charities of the
imagination lie dead, and for whom the fancy has no power to repress the
importunity of painful impressions, or to raise what is ignoble, and
disguise what is discordant, in a scene so rich in its remembrances, so
surpassing in its beauty. But for this work of the imagination there
must be no permission during the task which is before us. The impotent
feeling of romance, so singularly characteristic of this century, may
indeed gild, but never save the remains of those mightier ages to which
they are attached like climbing flowers; and they must be torn away from
the magnificent fragments, if we would see them as they stood in their
own strength. Those feelings, always as fruitless as they are fond, are
in Venice not only incapable of protecting, but even of discerning, the
objects of which they ought to have been attached. The Venice of modern
fiction and drama is a thing of yesterday, a mere efflorescence of
decay, a stage dream which the first ray of daylight must dissipate into
dust. No prisoner, whose name is worth remembering, or whose sorrow
deserved sympathy, ever crossed that "Bridge of Sighs," which is the
centre of the Byronic ideal of Venice; no great merchant of Venice ever
saw that Rialto under which the traveller now passes with breathless
interest: the statue which Byron makes Faliero address as of one of his
great ancestors was erected to a soldier of fortune a hundred and fifty
years after Faliero's death; and the most conspicuous parts of the city
have been so entirely altered in the course of the last three centuries,
that if Henry Dandolo or Francis Foscari could be summoned from their
tombs, and stood each on the deck of his galley at the entrance of the
Grand Canal, that renowned entrance, the painter's favorite subject, the
novelist's favorite scene, where the water first narrows by the steps of
the Church of La Salute,--the mighty Doges would not know in what spot
of the world they stood, would literally not recognize one stone of the
great city, for whose sake, and by whose ingratitude, their gray hairs
had been brought down with bitterness to the grave. The remains of
_their_ Venice lie hidden behind the cumbrous masses which were the
delight of the nation in its dotage; hidden in many a grass-grown court,
and silent pathway, and lightless canal, where the slow waves have
sapped their foundations for five hundred years, and must soon prevail
over them for ever. It must be our task to glean and gather them forth,
and restore out of them some faint image of the lost city, more gorgeous
a thousand-fold than that which now exists, yet not created in the
day-dream of the prince, nor by the ostentation of the noble, but built
by iron hands and patient hearts, contending against the adversity of
nature and the fury of man, so that its wonderfulness cannot be grasped
by the indolence of imagination, but only after frank inquiry into the
true nature of that wild and solitary scene, whose restless tides and
trembling sands did indeed shelter the birth of the city, but long
denied her dominion.

SECTION III. When the eye falls casually on a map of Europe, there is no
feature by which it is more likely to be arrested than the strange
sweeping loop formed by the junction of the Alps and the Apennines, and
enclosing the great basin of Lombardy. This return of the mountain chain
upon itself causes a vast difference in the character of the
distribution of its dbris on its opposite sides. The rock fragments and
sediment which the torrents on the north side of the Alps bear into the
plains are distributed over a vast extent of country, and, though here
and there lodged in beds of enormous thickness, soon permit the firm
substrata to appear from underneath them; but all the torrents which
descend from the southern side of the High Alps, and from the northern
slope of the Apennines, meet concentrically in the recess or mountain
bay which the two ridges enclose; every fragment which thunder breaks
out of their battlements, and every grain of dust which the summer rain
washes from their pastures, is at last laid at rest in the blue sweep of
the Lombardic plain; and that plain must have risen within its rocky
barriers as a cup fills with wine, but for two contrary influences which
continually depress, or disperse from its surface, the accumulation of
the ruins of ages.

SECTION IV. I will not tax the reader's faith in modern science by
insisting on the singular depression of the surface of Lombardy, which
appears for many centuries to have taken place steadily and continually;
the main fact with which we have to do is the gradual transport, by the
Po and its great collateral rivers, of vast masses of the finer sediment
to the sea. The character of the Lombardic plains is most strikingly
expressed by the ancient walls of its cities, composed for the most part
of large rounded Alpine pebbles alternating with narrow courses of
brick; and was curiously illustrated in 1848, by the ramparts of these
same pebbles thrown up four or five feet high round every field, to
check the Austrian cavalry in the battle under the walls of Verona. The
finer dust among which these pebbles are dispersed is taken up by the
rivers, fed into continual strength by the Alpine snow, so that, however
pure their waters may be when they issue from the lakes at the foot of
the great chain, they become of the color and opacity of clay before
they reach the Adriatic; the sediment which they bear is at once thrown
down as they enter the sea, forming a vast belt of low land along the
eastern coast of Italy. The powerful stream of the Po of course builds
forward the fastest; on each side of it, north and south, there is a
tract of marsh, fed by more feeble streams, and less liable to rapid
change than the delta of the central river. In one of these tracts is
built RAVENNA, and in the other VENICE.

SECTION V. What circumstances directed the peculiar arrangement of this
great belt of sediment in the earliest times, it is not here the place
to inquire. It is enough for us to know that from the mouths of the
Adige to those of the Piave there stretches, at a variable distance of
from three to five miles from the actual shore, a bank of sand, divided
into long islands by narrow channels of sea. The space between this bank
and the true shore consists of the sedimentary deposits from these and
other rivers, a great plain of calcareous mud, covered, in the
neighborhood of Venice, by the sea at high water, to the depth in most
places of a foot or a foot and a half, and nearly everywhere exposed at
low tide, but divided by an intricate network of narrow and winding
channels, from which the sea never retires. In some places, according to
the run of the currents, the land has risen into marshy islets,
consolidated, some by art, and some by time, into ground firm enough to
be built upon, or fruitful enough to be cultivated: in others, on the
contrary, it has not reached the sea-level; so that, at the average low
water, shallow lakelets glitter among its irregularly exposed fields of
seaweed. In the midst of the largest of these, increased in importance
by the confluence of several large river channels towards one of the
openings in the sea bank, the city of Venice itself is built, on a
clouded cluster of islands; the various plots of higher ground which
appear to the north and south of this central cluster, have at different
periods been also thickly inhabited, and now bear, according to their
size, the remains of cities, villages, or isolated convents and
churches, scattered among spaces of open ground, partly waste and
encumbered by ruins, partly under cultivation for the supply of the

SECTION VI. The average rise and fall of the tide is about three feet
(varying considerably with the seasons; [Footnote: Appendix III, "Tides
of Venice."]) but this fall, on so flat a shore, is enough to cause
continual movement in the waters, and in the main canals to produce a
reflux which frequently runs like a mill stream. At high water no land
is visible for many miles to the north or south of Venice, except in the
form of small islands crowned with towers or gleaming with villages:
there is a channel, some three miles wide, between the city and the
mainland, and some mile and a half wide between it and the sandy
breakwater called the Lido, which divides the lagoon from the Adriatic,
but which is so low as hardly to disturb the impression of the city's
having been built in the midst of the ocean, although the secret of its
true position is partly, yet not painfully, betrayed by the clusters of
piles set to mark the deep-water channels, which undulate far away in
spotty chains like the studded backs of huge sea-snakes, and by the
quick glittering of the crisped and crowded waves that flicker and dance
before the strong winds upon the unlifted level of the shallow sea. But
the scene is widely different at low tide. A fall of eighteen or twenty
inches is enough to show ground over the greater part of the lagoon; and
at the complete ebb the city is seen standing in the midst of a dark
plain of seaweed, of gloomy green, except only where the larger branches
of the Brenta and its associated streams converge towards the port of
the Lido. Through this salt and sombre plain the gondola and the
fishing-boat advance by tortuous channels, seldom more than four or five
feet deep, and often so choked with slime that the heavier keels furrow
the bottom till their crossing tracks are seen through the clear sea
water like the ruts upon a. wintry road, and the oar leaves blue gashes
upon the ground at every stroke, or is entangled among the thick weed
that fringes the banks with the weight of its sullen waves, leaning to
and fro upon the uncertain sway of the exhausted tide. The scene is
often profoundly oppressive, even at this day, when every plot of higher
ground bears some fragment of fair building: but, in order to know what
it was once, let the traveller follow in his boat at evening the
windings of some unfrequented channel far into the midst of the
melancholy plain; let him remove, in his imagination, the brightness of
the great city that still extends itself in the distance, and the walls
and towers from the islands that are near; and so wait, until the bright
investiture and, sweet warmth of the sunset are withdrawn from the
waters, and the black desert of their shore lies in its nakedness
beneath the night, pathless, comfortless, infirm, lost in dark languor
and fearful silence, except where the salt runlets plash into the
tideless pools, or the seabirds flit from their margins with a
questioning cry; and he will be enabled to enter in some sort into the
horror of heart with which this solitude was anciently chosen by man for
his habitation. They little thought, who first drove the stakes into the
sand, and strewed the ocean reeds for their rest, that their children
were to be the princes of that ocean, and their palaces its pride; and
yet, in the great natural laws that rule that sorrowful wilderness, let
it be remembered what strange preparation had been made for the things
which no human imagination could have foretold, and how the whole
existence and fortune of the Venetian nation were anticipated or
compelled, by the setting of those bars and doors to the rivers and the
sea. Had deeper currents divided their islands, hostile navies would
again and again have reduced the rising city into servitude; had
stronger surges beaten their shores, all the richness and refinement of
the Venetian architecture must have been exchanged for the walls and
bulwarks of an ordinary sea-port. Had there been no tide, as in other
parts of the Mediterranean, the narrow canals of the city would have
become noisome, and the marsh in which it was built pestiferous. Had the
tide been only a foot or eighteen inches higher in its rise, the
water-access to the doors of the palaces would have been impossible:
even as it is, there is sometimes a little difficulty, at the ebb, in
landing without setting foot upon the lower and slippery steps: and the
highest tides sometimes enter the courtyards, and overflow the entrance
halls. Eighteen inches more of difference between the level of the flood
and ebb would have rendered the doorsteps of every palace, at low water,
a treacherous mass of weeds and limpets, and the entire system of
water-carriage for the higher classes, in their easy and daily
intercourse, must have been done away with. The streets of the city
would have been widened, its network of canals filled up, and all the
peculiar character of the place and the people destroyed.

SECTION VII. The reader may perhaps have felt some pain in the contrast
between this faithful view of the site of the Venetian Throne, and the
romantic conception of it which we ordinarily form; but this pain, if he
have felt it, ought to be more than counterbalanced by the value of the
instance thus afforded to us at once of the inscrutableness and the
wisdom of the ways of God. If, two thousand years ago, we had been
permitted to watch the slow settling of the slime of those turbid rivers
into the polluted sea, and the gaining upon its deep and fresh waters of
the lifeless, impassable, unvoyageable plain, how little could we have
understood the purpose with which those islands were shaped out of the
void, and the torpid waters enclosed with their desolate walls of sand!
How little could we have known, any more than of what now seems to us
most distressful, dark, and objectless, the glorious aim which was then
in the mind of Him in whose hand are all the corners of the earth! how
little imagined that in the laws which were stretching forth the gloomy
margins of those fruitless banks, and feeding the bitter grass among
their shallows, there was indeed a preparation, and _the only preparation
possible_, for the founding of a city which was to be set like a golden
clasp on the girdle of the earth, to write her history on the white
scrolls of the sea-surges, and to word it in their thunder, and to gather
and give forth, in world-wide pulsation, the glory of the West and of the
East, from the burning heart of her Fortitude and Splendor.




SECTION I. Seven miles to the north of Venice, the banks of sand, which
near the city rise little above low-water mark, attain by degrees a
higher level, and knit themselves at last into fields of salt morass,
raised here and there into shapeless mounds, and intercepted by narrow
creeks of sea. One of the feeblest of these inlets, after winding for
some time among buried fragments of masonry, and knots of sunburnt weeds
whitened with webs of fucus, stays itself in an utterly stagnant pool
beside a plot of greener grass covered with ground ivy and violets. On
this mound is built a rude brick campanile, of the commonest Lombardic
type, which if we ascend towards evening (and there are none to hinder
us, the door of its ruinous staircase swinging idly on its hinges), we
may command from it one of the most notable scenes in this wide world of
ours. Far as the eye can reach, a waste of wild sea moor, of a lurid
ashen gray; not like our northern moors with their jet-black pools and
purple heath, but lifeless, the color of sackcloth, with the corrupted
sea-water soaking through the roots of its acrid weeds, and gleaming
hither and thither through its snaky channels. No gathering of fantastic
mists, nor coursing of clouds across it; but melancholy clearness of
space in the warm sunset, oppressive, reaching to the horizon of its
level gloom. To the very horizon, on the north-east; but, to the north
and west, there is a blue line of higher land along the border of it,
and above this, but farther back, a misty band of mountains, touched
with snow. To the east, the paleness and roar of the Adriatic, louder at
momentary intervals as the surf breaks on the bars of sand; to the
south, the widening branches of the calm lagoon, alternately purple and
pale green, as they reflect the evening clouds or twilight sky; and
almost beneath our feet, on the same field which sustains the tower we
gaze from, a group of four buildings, two of them little larger than
cottages (though built of stone, and one adorned by a quaint belfry),
the third an octagonal chapel, of which we can see but little more than
the flat red roof with its rayed tiling, the fourth, a considerable
church with nave and aisles, but of which, in like manner, we can see
little but the long central ridge and lateral slopes of roof, which the
sunlight separates in one glowing mass from the green field beneath and
gray moor beyond. There are no living creatures near the buildings, nor
any vestige of village or city round about them. They lie like a little
company of ships becalmed on a far-away sea.

SECTION II. Then look farther to the south. Beyond the widening branches
of the lagoon, and rising out of the bright lake into which they gather,
there are a multitude of towers, dark, and scattered among square-set
shapes of clustered palaces, a long and irregular line fretting the
southern sky.

Mother and daughter, you behold them both in their widowhood,--TORCELLO

Thirteen hundred years ago, the gray moorland looked as it does this
day, and the purple mountains stood as radiantly in the deep distances
of evening; but on the line of the horizon, there were strange fires
mixed with the light of sunset, and the lament of many human voices
mixed with the fretting of the waves on their ridges of sand. The flames
rose from the ruins of Altinum; the lament from the multitude of its
people, seeking, like Israel of old, a refuge from the sword in the
paths of the sea.

The cattle are feeding and resting upon the site of the city that they
left; the mower's scythe swept this day at dawn over the chief street of
the city that they built, and the swathes of soft grass are now sending
up their scent into the night air, the only incense that fills the
temple of their ancient worship. Let us go down into that little space
of meadow land.

SECTION III. The inlet which runs nearest to the base of the campanile
is not that by which Torcello is commonly approached. Another, somewhat
broader, and overhung by alder copse, winds out of the main channel of
the lagoon up to the very edge of the little meadow which was once the
Piazza of the city, and there, stayed by a few grey stones which present
some semblance of a quay, forms its boundary at one extremity. Hardly
larger than an ordinary English farmyard, and roughly enclosed on each
side by broken palings and hedges of honeysuckle and briar, the narrow
field retires from the water's edge, traversed by a scarcely traceable
footpath, for some forty or fifty paces, and then expanding into the
form of a small square, with buildings on three sides of it, the fourth
being that which opens to the water. Two of these, that on our left and
that in front of us as we approach from the canal, are so small that
they might well be taken for the out-houses of the farm, though the
first is a conventual building, and the other aspires to the title of
the "Palazzo publico," both dating as far back as the beginning of the
fourteenth century; the third, the octagonal church of Santa Fosca, is
far more ancient than either, yet hardly on a larger scale. Though the
pillars of the portico which surrounds it are of pure Greek marble, and
their capitals are enriched with delicate sculpture, they, and the
arches they sustain, together only raise the roof to the height of a
cattle-shed; and the first strong impression which the spectator
receives from the whole scene is, that whatever sin it may have been
which has on this spot been visited with so utter a desolation, it could
not at least have been ambition. Nor will this impression be diminished
as we approach, or enter, the larger church to which the whole group of
building is subordinate. It has evidently been built by men in flight
and distress, [Footnote: Appendix IV, "Date of the Duomo of Torcello."]
who sought in the hurried erection of their Island church such a shelter
for their earnest and sorrowful worship as, on the one hand, could not
attract the eyes of their enemies by its splendor, and yet, on the
other, might not awaken too bitter feelings by its contrast with the
churches which they had seen destroyed.

There is visible everywhere a simple and tender effort to recover some
of the form of the temples which they had loved, and to do honor to God
by that which they were erecting, while distress and humiliation
prevented the desire, and prudence precluded the admission, either of
luxury of ornament or magnificence of plan. The exterior is absolutely
devoid of decoration, with the exception only of the western entrance
and the lateral door, of which the former has carved sideposts and
architrave, and the latter, crosses of rich sculpture; while the massy
stone shutters of the windows, turning on huge rings of stone, which
answer the double purpose of stanchions and brackets, cause the whole
building rather to resemble a refuge from Alpine storm than the
cathedral of a populous city; and, internally, the two solemn mosaics of
the eastern and western extremities,--one representing the Last
Judgment, the other the Madonna, her tears falling as her hands are
raised to bless,--and the noble range of pillars which enclose the space
between, terminated by the high throne for the pastor and the
semicircular raised seats for the superior clergy, are expressive at
once of the deep sorrow and the sacred courage of men who had no home
left them upon earth, but who looked for one to come, of men "persecuted
but not forsaken, cast down but not destroyed."

SECTION IV. For observe this choice of subjects. It is indeed possible
that the walls of the nave and aisles, which are now whitewashed, may
have been covered with fresco or mosaic, and thus have supplied a series
of subjects, on the choice of which we cannot speculate. I do not,
however, find record of the destruction of any such works; and I am
rather inclined to believe that at any rate the central division of the
building was originally, decorated, as it is now, simply by mosaics
representing Christ, the Virgin, and the apostles, at one extremity, and
Christ coming to judgment at the other. And if so, I repeat, observe the
significance of this choice. Most other early churches are covered with
imagery sufficiently suggestive of the vivid interest of the builders in
the history and occupations of the world. Symbols or representations of
political events, portraits of living persons, and sculptures of
satirical, grotesque, or trivial subjects are of constant occurrence,
mingled with the more strictly appointed representations of scriptural
or ecclesiastical history; but at Torcello even these usual, and one
should have thought almost necessary, successions of Bible events do not
appear. The mind of the worshipper was fixed entirely upon two great
facts, to him the most precious of all facts,--the present mercy of
Christ to His Church, and His future coming to judge the world. That
Christ's mercy was, at this period, supposed chiefly to be attainable
through the pleading of the Virgin, and that therefore beneath the
figure of the Redeemer is seen that of the weeping Madonna in the act of
intercession, may indeed be matter of sorrow to the Protestant beholder,
but ought not to blind him to the earnestness and singleness of the
faith with which these men sought their sea-solitudes; not in hope of
founding new dynasties, or entering upon new epochs of prosperity, but
only to humble themselves before God, and to pray that in His infinite
mercy He would hasten the time when the sea should give up the dead
which were in it, and Death and Hell give up the dead which were in
them, and when they might enter into the better kingdom, "where the
wicked cease from troubling and the weary are at rest."

SECTION V. Nor were the strength and elasticity of their minds, even in
the least matters, diminished by thus looking forward to the close of
all things. On the contrary, nothing is more remarkable than the finish
and beauty of all the portions of the building, which seem to have been
actually executed for the place they occupy in the present structure.
The rudest are those which they brought with them from the mainland; the
best and most beautiful, those which appear to have been carved for
their island church: of these, the new capitals already noticed, and the
exquisite panel ornaments of the chancel screen, are the most
conspicuous; the latter form a low wall across the church between the
six small shafts whose places are seen in the plan, and serve to enclose
a space raised two steps above the level of the nave, destined for the
singers, and indicated also in the plan by an open line _a b c d_. The
bas-reliefs on this low screen are groups of peacocks and lions, two
face to face on each panel, rich and fantastic beyond description,
though not expressive of very accurate knowledge either of leonine or
pavonine forms. And it is not until we pass to the back of the stair of
the pulpit, which is connected with the northern extremity of this
screen, that we find evidence of the haste with which the church was

SECTION VI. The pulpit, however, is not among the least noticeable of
its features. It is sustained on the four small detached shafts marked
at _p_ in the plan, between the two pillars at the north side of
the screen; both pillars and pulpit studiously plain, while the
staircase which ascends to it is a compact mass of masonry (shaded in
the plan), faced by carved slabs of marble; the parapet of the staircase
being also formed of solid blocks like paving-stones, lightened by rich,
but not deep, exterior carving. Now these blocks, or at least those
which adorn the staircase towards the aisle, have been brought from the
mainland; and, being of size and shape not easily to be adjusted to the
proportions of the stair, the architect has cut out of them pieces of
the size he needed, utterly regardless of the subject or symmetry of the
original design. The pulpit is not the only place where this rough
procedure has been permitted: at the lateral door of the church are two
crosses, cut out of slabs of marble, formerly covered with rich
sculpture over their whole surfaces, of which portions are left on the
surface of the crosses; the lines of the original design being, of
course, just as arbitrarily cut by the incisions between the arms, as
the patterns upon a piece of silk which has been shaped anew. The fact
is, that in all early Romanesque work, large surfaces are covered with
sculpture for the sake of enrichment only; sculpture which indeed had
always meaning, because it was easier for the sculptor to work with some
chain of thought to guide his chisel, than without any; but it was not
always intended, or at least not always hoped, that this chain of
thought might be traced by the spectator. All that was proposed appears
to have been the enrichment of surface, so as to make it delightful to
the eye; and this being once understood, a decorated piece of marble
became to the architect just what a piece of lace or embroidery is to a
dressmaker, who takes of it such portions as she may require, with
little regard to the places where the patterns are divided. And though
it may appear, at first sight, that the procedure is indicative of
bluntness and rudeness of feeling,--we may perceive, upon reflection,
that it may also indicate the redundance of power which sets little
price upon its own exertion. When a barbarous nation builds its
fortress-walls out of fragments of the refined architecture it has
overthrown, we can read nothing but its savageness in the vestiges of
art which may thus chance to have been preserved; but when the new work
is equal, if not superior, in execution, to the pieces of the older art
which are associated with it, we may justly conclude that the rough
treatment to which the latter have been subjected is rather a sign of
the hope of doing better things, than of want of feeling for those
already accomplished. And, in general, this careless fitting of ornament
is, in very truth, an evidence of life in the school of builders, and of
their making a due distinction between work which is to be used for
architectural effect, and work which is to possess an abstract
perfection; and it commonly shows also that the exertion of design is so
easy to them, and their fertility so inexhaustible, that they feel no
remorse in using somewhat injuriously what they can replace with so
slight an effort.

SECTION VII. It appears however questionable in the present instance,
whether, if the marbles had not been carved to his hand, the architect
would have taken the trouble to enrich them. For the execution of the
rest of the pulpit is studiously simple, and it is in this respect that
its design possesses, it seems to me, an interest to the religious
spectator greater than he will take in any other portion of the
building. It is supported, as I said, on a group of four slender shafts;
itself of a slightly oval form, extending nearly from one pillar of the
nave to the next, so as to give the preacher free room for the action of
the entire person, which always gives an unaffected impressiveness to
the eloquence of the southern nations. In the centre of its curved
front, a small bracket and detached shaft sustain the projection of a
narrow marble desk (occupying the place of a cushion in a modern
pulpit), which is hollowed out into a shallow curve on the upper
surface, leaving a ledge at the bottom of the slab, so that a book laid
upon it, or rather into it, settles itself there, opening as if by
instinct, but without the least chance of slipping to the side, or in
any way moving beneath the preacher's hands. Six balls, or rather
almonds, of purple marble veined with white are set round the edge of
the pulpit, and form its only decoration. Perfectly graceful, but severe
and almost cold in its simplicity, built for permanence and service, so
that no single member, no stone of it, could be spared, and yet all are
firm and uninjured as when they were first set together, it stands in
venerable contrast both with the fantastic pulpits of mediaeval
cathedrals and with the rich furniture of those of our modern churches.
It is worth while pausing for a moment to consider how far the manner of
decorating a pulpit may have influence on the efficiency of its service,
and whether our modern treatment of this, to us all-important, feature
of a church be the best possible. [Footnote: Appendix V., "Modern

SECTION VIII. When the sermon is good we need not much concern ourselves
about the form of the pulpit. But sermons cannot always be good; and I
believe that the temper in which the congregation set themselves to
listen may be in some degree modified by their perception of fitness or
unfitness, impressiveness or vulgarity, in the disposition of the place
appointed for the speaker,--not to the same degree, but somewhat in the
same way, that they may be influenced by his own gestures or expression,
irrespective of the sense of what he says. I believe, therefore, in the
first place, that pulpits ought never to be highly decorated; the
speaker is apt to look mean or diminutive if the pulpit is either on a
very large scale or covered with splendid ornament, and if the interest
of the sermon should flag the mind is instantly tempted to wander. I
have observed that in almost all cathedrals, when the pulpits are
peculiarly magnificent, sermons are not often preached from them; but
rather, and especially if for any important purpose, from some temporary
erection in other parts of the building:--and though this may often be
done because the architect has consulted the effect upon the eye more
than the convenience of the ear in the placing of his larger pulpit, I
think it also proceeds in some measure from a natural dislike in the
preacher to match himself with the magnificence of the rostrum, lest the
sermon should not be thought worthy of the place. Yet this will rather
hold of the colossal sculptures, and pyramids of fantastic tracery which
encumber the pulpits of Flemish and German churches, than of the
delicate mosaics and ivory-like carving of the Romanesque basilicas, for
when the form is kept simple, much loveliness of color and costliness of
work may be introduced, and yet the speaker not be thrown into the shade
by them.

SECTION IX. But, in the second place, whatever ornaments we admit ought
clearly to be of a chaste, grave, and noble kind; and what furniture we
employ, evidently more for the honoring of God's word than for the ease
of the preacher. For there are two ways of regarding a sermon, either as
a human composition, or a Divine message. If we look upon it entirely as
the first, and require our clergymen to finish it with their utmost care
and learning, for our better delight whether of ear or intellect, we
shall necessarily be led to expect much formality and stateliness in its
delivery, and to think that all is not well if the pulpit have not a
golden fringe round it, and a goodly cushion in front of it, and if the
sermon be not fairly written in a black book, to be smoothed upon the
cushion in a majestic manner before beginning; all this we shall duly
come to expect: but we shall at the same time consider the treatise thus
prepared as something to which it is our duty to listen without
restlessness for half an hour or three quarters, but which, when that
duty has been decorously performed, we may dismiss from our minds in
happy confidence of being provided with another when next it shall be
necessary. But if once we begin to regard the preacher, whatever his
faults, as a man sent with a message to us, which it is a matter of life
or death whether we hear or refuse; if we look upon him as set in charge
over many spirits in danger of ruin, and having allowed to him but an
hour or two in the seven days to speak to them; if we make some endeavor
to conceive how precious these hours ought to be to him, a small vantage
on the side of God after his flock have been exposed for six days
together to the full weight of the world's temptation, and he has been
forced to watch the thorn and the thistle springing in their hearts, and
to see what wheat had been scattered there snatched from the wayside by
this wild bird and the other, and at last, when breathless and weary
with the week's labor they give him this interval of imperfect and
languid hearing, he has but thirty minutes to get at the separate hearts
of a thousand men, to convince them of all their weaknesses, to shame
them for all their sins, to warn them of all their dangers, to try by
this way and that to stir the hard fastenings of those doors where the
Master himself has stood and knocked yet none opened, and to call at the
openings of those dark streets where Wisdom herself hath stretched forth
her hands and no man regarded,--thirty minutes to raise the dead
in,--let us but once understand and feel this, and we shall look with
changed eyes upon that frippery of gay furniture about the place from
which the message of judgment must be delivered, which either breathes
upon the dry bones that they may live, or, if ineffectual, remains
recorded in condemnation, perhaps against the utterer and listener
alike, but assuredly against one of them. We shall not so easily bear
with the silk and gold upon the seat of judgment, nor with ornament of
oratory in the mouth of the messenger: we shall wish that his words may
be simple, even when they are sweetest, and the place from which he
speaks like a marble rock in the desert, about which the people have
gathered in their thirst.

SECTION X. But the severity which is so marked in the pulpit at Torcello
is still more striking in the raised seats and episcopal throne which
occupy the curve of the apse. The arrangement at first somewhat recalls
to the mind that of the Roman amphitheatres; the flight of steps which
lead up to the central throne divides the curve of the continuous steps
or seats (it appears in the first three ranges questionable which were
intended, for they seem too high for the one, and too low and close for
the other), exactly as in an amphitheatre the stairs for access
intersect the sweeping ranges of seats. But in the very rudeness of this
arrangement, and especially in the want of all appliances of comfort
(for the whole is of marble, and the arms of the central throne are not
for convenience, but for distinction, and to separate it more
conspicuously from the undivided seats), there is a dignity which no
furniture of stalls nor carving of canopies ever could attain, and well
worth the contemplation of the Protestant, both as sternly significative
of an episcopal authority which in the early days of the Church was
never disputed, and as dependent for all its impressiveness on the utter
absence of any expression either of pride or self-indulgence.

SECTION XI. But there is one more circumstance which we ought to
remember as giving peculiar significance to the position which the
episcopal throne occupies in this island church, namely, that in the
minds of all early Christians the Church itself was most frequently
symbolized under the image of a ship, of which the bishop was the pilot.
Consider the force which this symbol would assume in the imaginations of
men to whom the spiritual Church had become an ark of refuge in the
midst of a destruction hardly less terrible than that from which the
eight souls were saved of old, a destruction in which the wrath of man
had become as broad as the earth and as merciless as the sea, and who
saw the actual and literal edifice of the Church raked up, itself like
an ark in the midst of the waters. No marvel if with the surf of the
Adriatic rolling between them and the shores of their birth, from which
they were separated for ever, they should have looked upon each other as
the disciples did when the storm came down on the Tiberias Lake, and
have yielded ready and loving obedience to those who ruled them in His
name, who had there rebuked the winds and commanded stillness to the
sea. And if the stranger would yet learn in what spirit it was that the
dominion of Venice was begun, and in what strength she went forth
conquering and to conquer, let him not seek to estimate the wealth of
her arsenals or number of her armies, nor look upon the pageantry of her
palaces, nor enter into the secrets of her councils; but let him ascend
the highest tier of the stern ledges that sweep round the altar of
Torcello, and then, looking as the pilot did of old along the marble
ribs of the goodly temple-ship, let him repeople its veined deck with
the shadows of its dead mariners, and strive to feel in himself the

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