In the second volume’s chapter entitled “Murano” in The Stones of Venice, Ruskin uses his brilliant word-painting — a form of proto-cinematic prose that turns description into narration — that brings his reader with him on a boat “suddenly seized by a strong green eddy, and whirled into the tide-way of one of the main channels of the lagoon, which divides the town of Murano into two parts by a deep stream some fifty yards over, crossed only by one wooden bridge. We let ourselves drift some way down the current, looking at the low line of cottages on the other side of it, hardly knowing if there be more cheerfulness or melancholy in the way the sunshine glows on their ruinous but whitewashed walls, and sparkles on the rushing of the green water by the grass-grown quay.” A “strong stroke of the oar” brings us into a small, quiet canal, “we run the head of the gondola into the sand,” and arrive at the east end of the “Church of San Donato, the ‘Matrice” or ‘Mother” Church of Murano” (10.41),

Having brought us to the island, Ruskin shows us San Donato:

It stands, it and the heavy campanile detached from it a few yards, in a small triangular field of somewhat fresher grass than is usual near Venice, traversed by a paved walk with green mosaic of short grass between the rude squares of its stones, bounded on one side by ruinous garden walls, on another by a line of low cottages, on the third, the base of the triangle, by the shallow canal from which we have just landed. Near the point of the triangular space is a simple well, bearing date 1502; in its widest part, between the canal and campanile, is a four-square hollow pillar, each side formed by a separate slab of stone, to which the iron hasps are still attached that once secured the Venetian standard. [10.41]

“The cathedral itself occupies the northern angle of the field, encumbered with modern buildings, small outhouse-like chapels, and wastes of white wall with blank square windows, and itself utterly defaced in the whole body of it, nothing but the apse having been spared; the original plan is only discoverable by careful examination, and even then but partially. The whole impression and effect of the building are irretrievably lost, but the fragments of it are still most precious” (10.42).

More of Ruskin's Venice

Photographs 2020. [You may use these images without prior permission for any scholarly or educational purpose as long as you (1) credit the photographer and (2) link your document to this URL in a web document or cite the Victorian Web in a print one.]


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

Last Modified 26 March 2020