Click on images to enlarge them. Photographs by George P. Landow, July 1966 and October 2000.
Left:. Right: . Ruskin explains “The corner of the palace . . . formed by the meeting of the Sea Façade and Rio Façade, will always be called the Vine angle, because it is decorated by a sculpture of the drunkenness of Noah. The angle opposite will be called the Fig-tree angle, because it is decorated by a sculpture of the Fall of Man. The long and narrow range of building, of which the roof is seen in perspective behind this angle, is the part of the palace fronting the Piazzetta; and the angle under the pinnacle most to the left of the two which terminate it will be called, for a reason presently to be stated, the Judgment angle” (10.332), which dates from the Renaissance.
“The Renaissance sculptor of the figures of the Judgment of Solomon,” Ruskin tells us, “has very nearly copied the fig-tree from this angle, placing its trunk between the executioner and the mother, who leans forward to stay his hand. But, though the whole group is much more free in design than those of the earlier palace, and in many ways excellent in itself, so that it always strikes the eye of a careless observer more than the others, it is of immeasurably inferior spirit in the workmanship; the leaves of the tree, though far more studiously varied in flow than those of the fig-tree from which they are partially copied, have none of its truth to nature: they are ill set on the stems, bluntly defined on the edges, and their curves are not those of growing leaves, but of wrinkled drapery” (10.363).
In Ruskin’s detailed account of the capitals on the palace, this is the seventh of eight sides of the eighteenth capital, which he finds “the most interesting and beautiful of the palace. It represents the planets, and the sun and moon, in those divisions of the zodiac known to astrologers as their ‘houses;’ and perhaps indicates, by the position in which they are placed, the period of the year at which this great corner-stone was laid” (10.412). Pointing out that the inscriptions in “quaint Latin rhyme” identifying each scene “are now decipherable only in fragments,” Ruskin proceeds to describe and explain each one, and devotes four pages in the Library Edition to this single capital.
According to him, the seventh side, which “is turned towards the Piazzetta” and thus faces La Libreria Vecchia (Biblioteca Marciana), “is the most picturesque of the series. The moon is represented as a woman in a boat upon the sea, who raises the crescent in her right hand, and with her left draws a crab1 out of the waves, up the boat’s side. The moon was, I believe, represented in Egyptian sculptures as in a boat; but I rather think the Venetian was not aware of this, and that he meant to express the peculiar sweetness of the moonlight at Venice, as seen across the lagoons. Whether this was intended by putting the planet in the boat, may be questionable, but assuredly the idea was meant to be conveyed by the dress of the figure. For all the draperies of the other figures on this capital, as well as on the rest of the façade, are disposed in severe but full folds, showing little of the forms beneath them; but the moon’s drapery ripples down to her feet, so as exactly to suggest the trembling of the moonlight on the waves. This beautiful idea is highly characteristic of the thoughtfulness of the early sculptors” (10.414-15).
The Bridge of Sighs (Ponte dei Sospiri). 1602.
More of Ruskin's Venice
- Ruskin’s Drawings and Watercolors of the Palazzo Ducale
- St. Marks, and the Piazza San Marco, Venice
- The Scuola de San Rocco
- On the Grand Canal
- Venetian Palazzi
- Leaving the Grand Canal
- On the way to Venice from the mainland
- Venice: Details and Corners
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