Decorative Initial When Ruskin opposes conservative notions that color is relatively unimportant in great art, he advances this aspect of his romantic art theory with a sermon on the typological significance of the rainbow . Thus, in the second volume of The Stones of Venice, when he wishes to demonstrate "the connection of pure colour with profound and noble thought" (10.174), he sounds much like any other art critic, historian, or theorist in his citations of Venetian painting and Gothic cathedrals. However, he sounds a rather different note when he sets forth "a noble reason for this universal law":

In that heavenly circle which binds the statutes of colour upon the front of the sky, when it became the sign of the covenant of peace, the pure hues of divided light were sanctified to the human heart for ever; nor this, it would seem, by mere arbitrary appointment, but in consequence of the fore-ordained and marvellous constitution of those hues into a sevenfold, or, more strictly still, a threefold order, typical of the Divine nature itself. Observe also, the name Shem, or Splendour, given to that son of Noah in whom this covenant with mankind was to be fulfilled, and see how that name was justified by every one of the Asiatic races which descended from him. Not without meaning was the love of Israel to his chosen son expressed by the coat "of many colours"; not without deep sense of the sacredness of that symbol of purity did the lost daughter of David tear it from her breast: — "With such robes were the king's daughters that were virgins apparelled." We know it to have been by Divine command that the Israelite, rescued from servitude, veiled the tabernacle with its rain of purple and scarlet, while the under sunshine flashed through the fall of the colour from its tenons of gold. (10.174-5)

Similarly, when Ruskin argues in the concluding volume of Modern Painters(1860) that color "is the purifying or sanctifying element of material beauty" (7.417n), he again cites biblical types as evidence. In order to defend his assertion about the spiritual value of color, he explains that in one sense form is prior to color, because "on form depends existence; on colour, only purity. Under the Levitical law, neither scarlet nor hyssop could purify the deformed. So, under all natural law, there must be rightly shaped members first — then sanctifying colour and fire in them" (7.417n). Despite the fact that Ruskin had already abandoned his childhood faith two years before writing this fifth volume of Modern Painters, he still persists in citing the scriptures as though every word they contain were literally true (16). Therefore, if the Bible contains certain incidental facts about the Levitical sacrifices, such as the way color was to be applied to them by the priest, then he draws upon such facts as if they were divinely authenticated ones. Moreover, like Keble and other Tractarians, Ruskin also accepts that the physical world bears a divine impress which the sensitive eye can read in terms of type and symbol.

This passage from The Stones of Venice, which exemplifies Ruskin's skilled application of orthodox typology in his early career, takes the form of citing evidence from the Bible in the midst of an apparently secular discourse. Such procedure served several rhetorical purposes, not the least of which was to shift the terms of a discussion or place it in a universal context. Such use of typologically supported arguments further provided Ruskin with a means of appealing to many present or former l">Evangelical sermon about typology and not just the application of it to a wider argument. )

[Adapted from Landow, Victorian Types, Victorian Shadows: Biblical Typology in Victorian Literature, Art, and Thought (1980). [Complete text in the Victorian Web]

Last modified 1994

6 May 2019