If you’re coming to Venice over the next few months, be sure to visit the fascinating exhibition that’s recently opened at the Doge’s Palace, focusing on the English painter, writer and art critic John Ruskin (1819-1900), and his relationship with the lagoon city.
A central figure in the nineteenth-century international art scene, Ruskin had an intense bond with Venice; he described himself as her “foster-child”, and credited the city for having taught him all he knew about art and architecture.
He first visited at the age of 16, and returned 11 times between 1835 – 1888, dedicating himself to studying, drawing and painting the city’s extraordinary treasury of buildings, which he felt was being so abused and neglected that it would eventually melt into the lagoon “like a lump of sugar in hot tea”. His most famous literary work, “The Stones of Venice”, was both a detailed treatise on the city’s architecture and a paean to its unique beauty and fragility.
The current exhibition, appropriately housed in the very palace that Ruskin once described as the “Central building of the World”, showcases almost 100 artworks including a wide selection of his exquisite watercolours, drawings, photographs and prints – all of which have been loaned from international collections. Works on view range from detailed studies of Venice’s buildings and monuments to romantic depictions of the lagoon, as well as atmospheric skyscapes and drawings after Venetian masters such as Veronese and Tintoretto. Alongside these works, the exhibition also features paintings by artists who had a profound influence on Ruskin, including three magnificent Venetian views by his artistic hero Turner, the “painter of light”, to whom “nature has given a special eye and a savagely beautiful imagination”.
As the exhibition catalogue concludes, “Ruskin’s Venice is a paradigm, a discovery, an obsession; a city that he considered worth loving for its absolute beauty and hating for its decay, in a close relationship between architecture and civil society; Venice to praise and to save. Ruskin, the “Director of consciences”, as Proust defined him in the obituary published a few days after his death (on 27 January 1900), launched a warning that is still topical today.”
“John Ruskin. The Stones of Venice” is on view at the Doge’s Palace until 10th June 2018.