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Ruskin’s Commentary in The Stones of Venice

The two most refined buildings in this style [the Early Renaissance] in Venice are, the small Church of the Miracoli, and the Scuola di San Marco beside the Church of St. John and St. Paul. The noblest is the Rio Façade of the Ducal Palace. The Casa Dario, and Casa Manzoni, on the Grand Canal, are exquisite examples of the school, as applied to domestic architecture; and, in the reach of the Canal between the Casa Foscari and the Rialto, there are several palaces, of which the Casa Contarini (called “delle Figure”) is the principal, belonging to the same group, though somewhat later, and remarkable for the association of the Byzantine principles of colour with the severest lines of the Roman pediment, gradually superseding the round arch. The precision of chiselling and delicacy of proportion in the ornament and general lines of these palaces cannot be too highly praised. . . .

In the Casa Contarini delle Figure, [there is] one most strange incident, seeming to have been permitted, like the choice of the subjects at the three angles of the Ducal Palace, in order to teach us, by a single lesson, the true nature of the style in which it occurs. In the intervals of the windows of the first story, certain shields and torches are attached, in the form of trophies, to the stems of two trees whose boughs have been cut off, and only one or two of their faded leaves left, scarcely observable, but delicately sculptured here and there, beneath the insertions of the severed boughs.

It is as if the workman had intended to leave us an image of the expiring naturalism of the Gothic school. I had not seen this sculpture when I wrote the passage referring to its period, in the first volume of this work (Chap. XX. § 31): “Autumn came, — the leaves were shed,— and the eye was directed to the extremities of the delicate branches. The Renaissance frosts came, and all perished! [11.21-22; emphasis in original.]

More of Ruskin's Venice

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Ruskin, John. The Works. Ed. E. T. Cook and Alexander Wedderburn. “The Library Edition.” 39 vols. London: George Allen, 1903-1912.

Last Modified 21 March 2020