• 7 February 2020
  • 1:00 – 2:00 pm
  • Paul Mellon Centre

The central chapter of the middle volume of Ruskin’s trilogy The Stones of Venice (1851–1853), ‘The Nature of Gothic’, describes ideal qualities of ‘Gothicness’ to be used to judge or construct architecture, architectural ornament and even artistic forms generally. Central to this Gothicness is ‘Naturalism’, the loving experience and interpretation of nature by human hands, hearts and minds. Some stunning work has recently elucidated Ruskin’s emphasis on surface and his preference for the solid walls of Veronese or indeed Venetian ‘Surface Gothic’ over the foliation-eaten lacework of the French, ‘Linear’ variety. However, I will argue Ruskin theorises kinds of depth residing beneath the surface of ‘Surface Gothic’. Ruskin’s ‘Naturalism’ amounts to a theory of the movement of ‘form’ between the surface and the depth of architectural material.

This Gothic movement of form is a political dynamic: it enables the individual workman to work freely and to interpret nature in his (or her) own imperfect, loving way. With this, Ruskin envisages a way out of the nightmare of modernity he sees happening all over Europe and which he reimagines in his part-history, part-myth of the rise and terrible fall of Venice. My emphasis on depth will allow me to emphasise the human dimension to Ruskin’s Gothic and I will argue this complements Lars Spuybroek’s recent mesmerising manifesto drawn from Ruskin for the construction of Digital-Gothic cities (2011, 2016). Turning to the question of temporality, I will conclude that Ruskin’s Gothic form is available to the present day because it is historically unstable, existing somewhere in a Venice both lost and found.

About the speaker

  • Headshot of Thomas Hughes

    Thomas Hughes is Associate Lecturer at The Courtauld Institute of Art and Co-Convenor of the Paul Mellon Centre for Studies in British Art Early Career Researchers’ Network. His research focuses on John Ruskin, Walter Pater and the art of the Aesthetic Movement and he is transforming his PhD (2018) on these subjects into a book called Curious Beauty. He is co-editing a book of essays, Ruskin’s Ecologies, coming soon, and he is developing a collaborative project on the viability of exploring global concepts of ‘realism’. Thomas’s research interests include modern art in Britain and France, art writing, modern conceptualisations of Ancient Greek and Italian Renaissance art, surface and depth, the place of the aesthetic in society and definitions of modernity.