hen Ruskin devoted entire chapters in his fifth volume (1860) to detailed interpretations of individual paintings by Turner, he sounded a note that had been well prepared for from his earliest writing. As his autobiography shows, he learned to associate narrative and meaning with pictures at a young age. One of Praeterita's more charming vignettes relates, for example, that each morning while his father shaved, he told his son a story about figures in a water-colour landscape that hung on his bedroom wall. Margaret Ruskin's teaching her son to read the Scriptures, which provided his knowledge of sacred history and exegetical tradition, had an even more obvious influence on his career as an interpreter of art, for her lesson taught him both basic attitudes towards interpretation and detailed knowledge of traditional Christian symbolism. Like so many other major Victorian authors; including Carlyle, Newman, Browning, Eliot, Tennyson, Rossetti, and Hopkins, Ruskin learned his interpretative approaches from reading the Scriptures for types and anticipations of Christ.
He transferred to interpretations of painting and architecture the evangelical's habit of taking apparently trivial portions of the Bible and from them demonstrating that even there matters of major significance are found. Preachers and authors of Bible commentaries emphasized, for example, that although the rules in the Book of Leviticus for worship in the Temple at Jerusalem might appear completely irrelevant to a Modern believer, they contain truths essential for Christians. According to the standard readings, Christians, who realize that the blood of animals cannot absolve guilt, should none the less meditate upon Leviticus both as a prefiguration of Christ and also as a record of man's gradual realization that he needs a saviour. When Ruskin was nine years old, he took notes on a sermon [38/39] that made these points, and the various drafts of these sermon records show how completely he understood this interpretative method even as a young boy. In addition, as The Seven Lamps of Architecture (1849) reveals, he drew upon this evangelical interpretation of Leviticus when he argued that his contemporaries should build elaborate houses of worship.
Like Ruskin's knowledge of interpretative commonplaces, the fundamental attitudes towards interpretation which he first learned as a young child appear throughout his career. The most important of these basic assumptions is that everything has meaning, that the universe exists as a semiotic entity that one can read if one has the key. In other words, transferring the attitudes and methods of Protestant scriptural interpretation to art, literature, and society, he approaches such secular matters as if they were Holy Scripture.
When Ruskin makes a straightforward typological reading of Tintoretto's Scuola di San Rocco Annunciation or of one of Giotto's frescoes in the Arena Chapel, Padua, he simply applies his knowledge of the conventional religious significance of certain images to an art-historical problem. He makes a more extreme, if none the less conventional, application of Victorian Protestant commonplaces when he begins The Stones of Venice (1851) with a warning that this city-state provides a type — and warning — of his own nation's fate. A more radical transference occurs, on the other hand, when he bases his notions of mythology in Turner and the Western tradition on interpretative attitudes derived from his childhood Bible reading or when he employs the tripartite pattern of Old Testament prophecy in writing about contemporary society.
Although word-painting dominates the first volume of Modern Painters, even its elaborately pictorial set pieces contain elements of interpretation. Already at this early stage in his career, Ruskin believed that confronting a work of art requires that one encounter it both visually and intellectually. For example, as his satirical description of Claude's Il Mulino in Modern Painters I demonstrates, his satirical attacks often necessarily contained rudimentary iconographical analyses, [39/40] for when describing what takes place in the picture to his reader, he interprets and comments upon the action depicted. When Ruskin turns increasingly towards iconological analysis in the second volume, he clearly does not believe he is turning away from experience of a painting by confronting its symbolism. Rather, for Ruskin, one experiences meaning, just as one does light, colour, and form. To provide a full experience of a painting for the reader, therefore, he has to dramatize the process of perceiving both. Such an approach to art appears with particular clarity in his section on the penetrative imagination in the second volume of Modern Painters. Describing Tintoretto's Annunciation in the Scuola di San Rocco, Venice, Ruskin begins with the spectator's experience of its realism. He starts therefore by pointing out that one first notices the Virgin sitting "houseless, under the shelter of a palace vestibule ruined and abandoned', surrounded by desolation. The spectator, says Ruskin, "turns away at first, revolted, from the central object of the picture forced painfully and coarsely forward, a mass of shattered brickwork, with the plaster mildewed away from it'. Such genre details, he suggests, might strike one as little more than a study of the kind of scene the artist "could but too easily obtain among the ruins of his own Venice, chosen to give a coarse explanation of the calling and the condition of the husband of Mary'. Ruskin, in other words, begins his presentation of this painting by dramatizing the paths the spectator's eye takes as it comprehends first major and then minor visual details. But because he believes that visible form inextricably relates to meaning, he then immediately presents us with an imagined spectator's first conclusions about the meaning of these details: they appear, it seems, to reflect both the painter's contemporary surroundings in a ruined Venice and his Modern fascination with the picturesque, that aesthetic mode which delights in ruin.
At this point, Ruskin takes us deeper into the picture's meaning, and he does so by first intensifying our visual experience of it. According to him, if the spectator examines [40/41] the "composition of the picture, he will find the whole symmetry of it depending on a narrow line of light, the edge of a carpenter's square, which connects these unused tools with the object at the top of the brickwork, a white stone, four square, the corner-stone of the old edifice, the base of its supporting column." Citing Psalm 118, Ruskin explains that these details reveal that the entire painting — and all its coarsely realistic details — bear a typological meaning, for, according to standard readings of this psalm, it prefigures Christ. In Tintoretto's Annunciation, therefore, the "ruined house is the Jewish dispensation: that obscurely arising in the dawning of the sky is the Christian; but the corner-stone of the old building remains, though the builder's tools lie idle beside it, and the stone which the builders refused is become the Headstone of the Corner" (2.264-5).
Ruskin's guide through Tintoretto's Annunciation provides his reader with a lesson in perception. Using his gifts for wordpainting, iconographical interpretation, and compositional analysis, Ruskin does not simply tell us what the painting in question means. Instead, he provides us with a fable or parable of ideal perception which dramatizes the experience of one who gradually perceives the meaning of a painting and thus fully experiences the work of art. Ruskin, who had a gift for intellectual analysis, understood his role as art critic as necessarily moving beyond it to an imaginative demonstration of the experience of meaning. Just as the first volume of Modern Painters teaches his readers how to perceive the worlds of nature and art, his later ones teach them how to interpret those worlds, and in both projects, which Ruskin clearly saw completely intertwined, he concentrates on providing the reader with models of experience.
Ruskin's analytical description of Tintoretto's Annunciation had a major effect upon Victorian art . In particular, his description of the way commonplace readings of the Bible could successfully infuse naturalistic detail with an elaborate symbolism significantly influenced the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood. Students of this movement long thought that [41/42] the young William Holman Hunt, John Everett Millais, and Dante Gabriel Rossetti must have been inspired by the first volume of Modern Painters, which emphasized that the young student should rely on detailed naturalism to train eye and hand, but Ruskin himself never claimed such influence. Hunt, one of the founding members of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood, related in his memoirs that the critic's second volume came to him as a sublime source of inspiration, precisely because it suggested a means of solving the two major problems that troubled British art — a general weakness of style and technique caused by a reliance on outmoded pictorial convention and the absence of effective pictorial symbolism that could speak to the Victorian audience. Ruskin's presentation of biblical symbolism in his analyses of Tintoretto encouraged the young men both to test artistic convention and to explore the boundaries of painterly realism. By demonstrating how such imagery could infuse the most minute realistic details of a picture with meaning, Ruskin obviously justified including them. Furthermore, his parable of experience, which dramatizes how the spectator gradually realizes the meaning of Tintoretto's painting, also encouraged these young artists to paint a kind of work which demanded that the spectator pay close attention to all such minute details, and thus Ruskin's descriptions encouraged a kind of nineteenth-century emblematic or meditative art. In addition, Ruskin's description of how typology turned an apparently coarse genre subject into high art also provided a solution to what Hunt felt to be one of the chief needs of Victorian painting — the need for a new iconology to replace outmoded allegories and other forms of symbolism that no longer spoke to the age.
Although Ruskin did not learn of this Pre-Raphaelite debt to his work until after almost three decades had passed, when Hunt thanked him in a letter, he increasingly turned to detailed readings of art after having to defend the Pre-Raphaelites. The need to defend Hunt's paintings, The Light of the World (1853) and The Awakening Conscience (1853), therefore importantly influenced Ruskin's own career, the student influencing the [42/43] master, the influenced becoming the influence. This seeming change of direction in Ruskin's critical enterprise (which nonetheless was at least partly anticipated by his plan for Modern Painters) appears in both The Stones of Venice and the volume of Modern Painters Ruskin wrote next after sending his famous letters to The Times in defence of these young painters. He expanded his notions of artistic symbolism, its relation to the great artist-poet, and its central place in any basic consideration of art. One centre of his new interests appears in his discussions of the entire grotesque mode of imagination, which embodies itself variously in art, architecture, and literature. [37/38]
Unlike Macaulay, Arnold, and most Victorian critics, Ruskin accepted that allegory and symbolism played an essential role in great art and literature. Indeed, in Modern Painters (1856) he expresses a "wish that every great allegory which the poets ever invented were powerfully put on canvas, and easily accessible by all men, and that our artists were perpetually exciting themselves to invent more" 15.134). He points out that as far as the authority of the past bears on the question, "allegorical painting has been the delight of the greatest men and of the wisest multitudes, from the beginning of art, and will be till art expires" (15.134)
Furthermore, while still writing as a believing Christian, he argued that man's love of symbolism, like his instinctive delight in beauty, derives from fundamental laws of human nature that lead man back to the divine. As he explained about the symbolical grotesque in the last volume of The Stones of Venice (1853):
It was not an accidental necessity for the conveyance of truth by pictures instead of words, which led to its universal adoption wherever art was on the advance; but the Divine fear which necessarily follows on the understanding that a thing is other and greater than it seems; and which, it appears probable, has been rendered peculiarly attractive to the human heart, because God would have us understand [43/44] that this is true not of invented symbols merely, but of all things amidst which we live; that there is a deeper meaning within them than eye hath seen, or ear hath heard; and that the whole visible creation is a mere perishable symbol of things eternal and true. [11.182-83]
Ruskin, whose evangelical religious heritage continued to colour his thought long after he began to lose his childhood faith, always believed that the mind first perceives difficult truths in symbolic form. Symbolism, both pictorial and literary, thus has a basic, essential epistemological role. Whenever we experience anything too great or too difficult for us to grasp fully — and Ruskin holds that most truths are beyond man — we encounter the grotesque, the term that Ruskin applies to all forms of symbolism.
Ruskin's writings on the grotesque, which stand out as some of the finest critical and theoretical work produced in Victorian England, have two main focuses — theoretical descriptions of the artist, essentially psychological profiles of the kind of mind that creates this artistic mode, and analyses of works of art and literature which embody it . According to Modern Painters III, the central form or mode of the grotesque arises from the fact that the imagination
in its mocking or playful moods . . . is apt to jest, sometimes bitterly, with under-current of sternest pathos, sometimes waywardly, sometimes slightly and wickedly, with death and sin; hence an enormous mass of grotesque art, some most noble and useful, as Holbein's Dance of Death, and Albert Durer's Knight and Death, going down gradually through various conditions of less and less seriousness in an art whose only end is that of mere excitement, or amusement by terror. [5.131]
In addition to this darker form of the grotesque, which includes work ranging from traditional religious images of death and the devil to satire and horrific art, there is a comparatively rare form that arises "from an entirely healthful and open play of the imagination, as in Shakespere's Ariel and Titania, and in Scott's White Lady" (5.1311). This delicate fairy art is so seldom achieved because [44/45]
the moment we begin to contemplate sinless beauty we are apt to get serious; and moral fairy tales, and other such innocent work, are hardly ever truly, that is to say, naturally, imaginative; but for the most part laborious inductions and compositions. The moment any real vitality enters them, they are nearly sure to become satirical, or slightly gloomy, and so connect themselves with the evil-enjoying branch" [5.131-2]
In other words, human beings have a natural tendency to discover lor impose) meaning in the facts they encounter.
The third form of the grotesque, which served as the basis for Ruskin's conception of a high art suited to the Victorian age, is the "thoroughly noble one . . . which arises out of the use or fancy of tangible signs to set forth an otherwise less expressible truth; including nearly the whole range of symbolical and allegorical art and poetry" 15.132). Ruskin, who valuably perceived that fantastic art and literature form part of a continuum that includes sublime, symbolic, grotesque, and satirical work, makes the individual image the centre of his discussion. As he next explains, "A fine grotesque is the expression, in a moment, by a series of symbols thrown together in a bold and fearless connection, of truths which it would have taken a long time to express in any verbal way, and of which the connection is left for the beholder to work out for himself; the gaps, left or overleaped by the haste of the imagination, forming the grotesque character" (5.132). Drawing upon Spenser's description of envy in the first book of The Faerie Queene, he points out that the poet
desires to tell us (1) that envy is the most untamable and unappeasable of the passions, not tO be soothed by any kindness; (2) that with continual labour it invents evil thoughts out of its own heart; (3) that even in this, its power of doing harm is partly hindered by the decaying and corrupting nature of the evil it lives in; 14) that it looks every way, and that whatever it sees is altered and discoloured by its own nature; (95) which discolouring, however, is to it a veil, or disgraceful dress, in the sight of others; (16) and that [45/47] it never is free from the most bitter suffering, (17) which cramps all its acts and movements, enfolding and crushing it while it torments. All this has required a somewhat long and languid sentence for me to say in unsymbolical terms, — not, by the way, that they are unsymbolical altogether, for I have been forced, whether I would or not, to use some figurative words; but even with this help the sentence is long and tiresome, and does not with any vigour represent the truth. [5.132]
Spenser, on the other hand, puts all of these ideas "into a grotesque, and it is done shortly and at once, so that we feel it fully, and see it, and never forget it" (5.133). To demonstrate the power, concision, and sheer memorability of such symbolic statement, Ruskin then quotes the poet's emblematic portrait of envy, to which he attaches numbers referring to his own preliminary interpretation:
'And next to him malicious Envy rode
(1) Upon a ravenous wolfe, and (2, 3) still did chaw
Between his cankred teeth a venemous tode,
That all the poison ran about his jaw.
(4, 5) All in a kirtle of discoloured say
He clothed was, y-paynted full of eies;
(6) And in his bosome secretly there lay
An hateful snake, the which his taile uptyes
(7) In many folds, and mortall sting implyes'. (5.133)
Ruskin concludes that Spenser has compressed all this material in nine lines, "or, rather in one image, which will hardly occupy any room at all on the mind's shelves, but can be lifted out, whole, whenever we want it. All noble grotesques are concentrations of this kind, and the noblest convey truths which nothing else could convey" (5.133). Furthermore, the minor examples of this symbolic mode convey truth with a delight "which no mere utterance of the symbolised truth would have possessed, but which belongs to the effort of the mind to unweave the riddle, or to the sense it has of there being [46/47] an infinite power and meaning in the thing seen, beyond all that is apparent" (5.133).
Ruskin's analysis of Tintoretto's Annunciation in the second volume of Modern Painters, Spenser's Ate from The Faerie Queene in the third, Turner's Garden of the Hesperides and Apollo and Python in the fifth, and Milton's "Lycidas" in Sesame and Lilies all exemplify this kind of sophisticated interpretative analysis so rare in nineteenth-century criticism.
In the fifth volume of Modern Painters (1860), the simple, straightforward interpretation, which characterized his reading of Spenser, is replaced by putting the object of interpretation against the background — or within the context — of a collection of works, all of which together constitute a tradition. During the fourteen years that passed between the writing of the second and the fifth volumes of Modern Painters major changes took place in the religious faith that had originally founded Ruskin's interpretative methods. Ruskin, who wrote Modern Painters II as a fervent evangelical, drew heavily upon his religious heritage in it for argument, authority, and rhetoric, just as he did in The Seven Lamps of Architecture (1849). By the time he came to write The Stones of Venice (1851-54), his faith, while still relatively firm, had become more tolerant, and for the first time he even defended Roman Catholicism to his predominantly Protestant audience. By 1856, when he wrote the next two volumes of Modern Painters, his faith had gradually weakened under the blows of geology and contemporary approaches to the Bible; and although he still drew upon his religious heritage for evidence and method, he no longer made the Scriptures the centre of any argument. After his decisive loss of belief in 1858, Ruskin spent several decades wavering between agnosticism and outright, if unannounced, atheism.
Modern Painters V (1860), the first major work written after his abandonment of Christianity in Turin, makes no explicit statement of his changed religious allegiance, but the new attitudes towards man, art, and society which appear reveal that a radical development has taken place. Ruskin's earlier praise of asceticism and Purist Idealism [47/48] has been replaced by scorn for those who do not emphasize the primacy of life in this world, and his earlier theological emphases have been replaced by something like a concern for a religion of humanity. Since Ruskin's loss of belief effectively removed the basis of his earlier defences of beauty and art, he found yet another reason for stressing the capacity of art to convey truth. However, just as he found additional reasons for teaching his readers how to interpret art, the original basis of his interpretative methods vanished, too. Fortunately, he easily replaced it by concentrating on the value of myth and other forms of tradition.
According to Ruskin, myth is a special form of the symbolical grotesque which veils "a theory of the universe under the grotesque of a fairy tale" (12.297). Ruskin, who increasingly became attracted to the study of myth when he lost his faith in the Bible as a divinely inspired text, applies to myth interpretative techniques learned in Bible study. He can thus apply these procedures because he still accepts that moral and spiritual truths reside in traditional texts. After he abandons his Protestant faith, however, he no longer takes any one text as divinely ordained, for as he comes increasingly to place his emphasis on human beings rather than upon a divine father, he also places more importance upon received wisdom. No longer accepting any single privileged text, Ruskin thus willingly perceives that of many different ones each contains some portion of necessary truth, and thus finding truth in so many different places, he, like so many moderns, tries to constitute a tradition by assembling its major texts.
Continuing a practice he had begun long before, Ruskin applies habits of mind and methods of reading first learned in Bible study to the interpretation of these texts, including pagan myths. For instance, like the Bible, a myth indicates the presence of meanings by an enigmatic literal or narrative level. As he explains in The Queen of the Air (1869), "A myth, in its simplest definition, is a story with a meaning attached to it, other than it seems to have at first; and the fact that it has such a meaning is generally marked by some of its circumstances [48/49] being extraordinary, or, in the common use of the word, unnatural" (19.296). Ruskin further explains that if he informed the reader "Hercules killed a water-serpent in the lake of Lema, and if I mean, and you understand, nothing more than that fact, the story, whether true or false, is not a myth" (19.296). If, however, he intends this story of Hercules" triumph to signify that he purified many streams, the tale, however simple, is a true myth. Since audiences will not pay enough attention to such simple narratives, Ruskin, or any creator of myth, must "surprise your attention by adding some singular circumstance . . . And in proportion to the fulness of intended meaning I shall probably multiply and refine upon these improbabilities" (19.296). In other words, Ruskin applies to myth the points he made about the symbolical grotesque thirteen years earlier. Myth, like Spenserian allegory, communicates "truths that nothing else could convey" (5.133) with a combination of awe and delight that derives from the mind's effort to solve enigmas, "or to the sense it has of there being an infinite power and meaning in the thing seen, beyond all that is apparent" (5.133). Furthermore, after Ruskin loses his evangelical religion, he not only considers mythology, like the Bible, a source of spiritual and moral truth, he also interprets it, like the Bible, in terms of multiple meanings.
Ruskin most elaborately applies his conceptions of myth as communally created symbolical grotesques to art criticism in the fifth volume of Modern Painters (1860). He begins his reading of Turner's Garden of the Hesperides by first explaining the significance of the Hesperid nymphs and the dragon who guards the edenic garden, after which he comments upon the Goddess of Discord and the dark, gloomy atmosphere of the picture, and he explains, "The fable of the Hesperides had, it seems to me, in the Greek mind two distinct meanings; the first referring to natural phenomena, and the second to moral" (7.392). Quoting at length from Smith's Dictionary of Greek and Roman Geography, he concludes that [49/50]
nymphs of the west, or Hesperides, are . . . natural types, the representatives of the soft western winds and sunshine, which were in this district most favourable to vegetation. In this sense they are called daughters of Atlas and Hesperis, the western winds being cooled by the snow of Atlas. The dragon, on the contrary, is the representative of the Sahara wind, or Simoom, which blew over the garden from above the hills on the south, and forbade all advance of cultivation beyond their ridge. But, both in the &reek mind and in Turner's, this natural meaning of the legend was a completely subordinate one. The moral significance of it lay far deeper. [7.392-3]
Explaining that in this second sense the Hesperides are connected not "with the winds of the west, but with its splendour" (7.393), he draws upon Hesiod to demonstrate that they represent those moral forces and attitudes that reproduce "household peace and plenty" (7.396). According to him, the names of the individual myths embody moral meanings: "Their names are, Aeglé, — Brightness; Erytheia, — Blushing; Hestia, — the (spirit of the} Hearth; Arethusa, — the Ministering" (7.395). He then explains that these four were appropriate guardians of the golden fruit that earth gave to Juno at her marriage:
Not fruit only: fruit on the tree, given by the earth, the great mother, to Juno (female power), at her marriage with Jupiter, or manly power (distinguished from the tried and agonizing strength of Hercules). I call Juno, briefly, female power. She is, especially, the goddess presiding over marriage, regarding the woman as the mistress of a household. Vesta (the goddess of the hearth), with Ceres, and Venus, are variously dominant over marriage, as the fulfilment of love; but Juno is pre-eminently the housewives' goddess. She therefore represents, in her character, whatever good or evil may result from female ambition, or desire of power. and, as to a housewife, the earth presents its golden fruit to her, which she gives to two [50/51] kinds of guardians. The wealth of the earth, as the source of household peace and plenty, is watched by the singing nymphs - the Hesperides. But, as the source of household sorrow and desolation, it is watched by the Dragon. [7.3954]
This dragon, to whom Ruskin devotes the largest part of his reading, embodies covetousness and the fraud, rage, gloom, melancholy, cunning, and destructiveness associated with it. Turner, as a great artist, takes his place with the ancient creators of myth, for he too accepts the meanings of the past and then recasts them in new ways. For the great English painter thus to add new significance to old myth, he had to have had an imaginative insight into their meaning, and in the course of explicating The Garden of the Hesperides Ruskin remarks: "How far he had really found out for himself the collateral bearings of the Hesperid tradition I know not; but that he had got the main clue of it, and knew who the Dragon was, there can be no doubt', since his conception of the dragon "fits every one of the circumstances of the Greek traditions" [7.401-2]. This convergence of ancient and modern arises partly in the fact that Turner perceived the "natural myth" at the heart of his subject and partly in his knowledge of the Greek tradition. Reading this painting, Ruskin draws upon Homer, Hesiod, Euripides, Virgil, Dante, Spenser, Milton, and the Bible.
Turning to the Goddess of Discord, Ruskin finds that she symbolizes "the disturber of households" (7.404), though in fact she is the same power as Homer's spirit of the discord of war. "I cannot get at the root of her name, Eris," Ruskin admits. "It seems to me as if it ought to have one in common with Erinnys (Fury); but it means always contention, emulation, or competition, either in mind or words." The final task of Eris, Ruskin concludes, is essentially that of division, and he cites Homer and Virgil to show that the tradition conceives of her as "always double-minded; shouts two ways at once (in Iliad, xi. 6), and wears a mantle rent in half (Æneid, viii. 702). Homer [51/52] makes her loud-voiced, and insatiably covetous" (7.404). Turner combines the conception of discord found in classical literature with Spenser's Ate from The Faerie Queene and adds "one final touch of his own. The nymph who brings the apples to the goddess, offers her one in each hand; and Eris, of the divided mind, cannot choose" (7.4054). As Ruskin explains the significance of this figure in the painting, he does not proceed as would one with undoubted authority or one who has access to a privileged, unitary text. Instead, he admits his lack of certainty about certain interpretations, points out potentially contrary readings, and proposes various solutions. The reader sees him groping with the images in Turner's work as they turn out to reveal more and more complex meanings. In other words, Ruskin is again dramatizing the process of interpretation, for we watch him piecing together the meaning of this rich, complex, completely relevant work. After he has demonstrated how he arrives at meanings of each of the main figures in the painting, Ruskin concludes:
Such then is our English painter's first great religious picture; and exponent of our English faith. A sad-coloured work, not executed in Angelico's white and gold; nor in Perugino's crimson and azure; but in a sulphurous hue, as relating to a paradise of smoke. That power, it appears, in the hill-top, is our British Madonna: whom, reverently, the English devotional painter must paint . . . Our Madonna or our Jupiter on Olympus — or, perhaps, more accurately still, our unknown God. [7.407-8]
In brief, Turner's darkened, dragon-watched garden sets forth in visible form the spiritual condition of England. It testifies that England, having exchanged faith in God for faith in gold, turns away from the path of life, embracing that of death, and longs to enter an earthly paradise that will be, not Eden, the garden of God, but the garden of Mammon in which the head of the serpent, unbruised by Christ, gazes about in icy triumph. Ruskin calls this a religious picture because it expounds the [52/53] faith by which his contemporaries live and work, the faith, that is, to which their deeds, though not their words, testify.
Ruskin's interpretative tour de force in setting forth the meaning of The Garden of the Hesperides demonstrates with peculiar clarity how completely entwined criticism of art and society had become by the time he wrote the last volume of Modern Painters. In the following chapter we shall observe the way he applied many of the same interpretative methods to read the signs of his own times as he had to both earlier and contemporary arts. [53/54]
Last modified 9 December 2006