an art moleskine

Paintings and quotes from a reading of Ruskin's Modern Painters
Schloss Rosenau, William Turner, 1841

Schloss Rosenau, William Turner, 1841

If we take such a piece of water as that in the foreground of Turner’s Château of Prince Albert, the first impression from it is, ‘What a wide surface!' We glide over it a quarter of a mile into the picture before we know where we are, and yet the water is as calm and crystalline as a mirror; but we are not allowed to tumble into it, and gasp for breath as we go down, we are kept upon the surface, though that surface is flashing and radiant with every hue of cloud, and sun, and sky, and foliage. But the secret is in the drawing of these reflections. We cannot tell, when we look at them and for them, what they mean. They have all character, and are evidently reflections of something definite and determined; but yet they are all uncertain and inexplicable; playing colour and palpitating shade, which, though we recognise them in an instant for images of something, and feel that the water is bright, and lovely, and calm, we cannot penetrate nor interpret; we are not allowed to go down to them, and we repose, as we should in nature, upon the lustre of the level surface. It is in this power of saying everything, and yet saying nothing too plainly, that the perfection of art here, as in all other cases, consists.

John Ruskin, Modern Painters, Vol. I

Mercury and Argus, William Turner, c. 1836

Mercury and Argus, William Turner, c. 1836

And now, take up one of Turner’s distances…say that of the Mercury and Argus… Abundant beyond the power of the eye to embrace or follow, vast and various beyond the power of the mind to comprehend, there is yet not one atom in its whole extent and mass which does not suggest more than it represents; nor does it suggest vaguely, but in such a manner as to prove that the conception of each individual inch of that distance is absolutely clear and complete in the master’s mind, a separate picture fully worked out: but yet, clearly and fully as the idea is formed, just so much of it is given, and no more, as nature would have allowed us to feel or see; just so much as would enable a spectator of experience and knowledge to understand almost every minute fragment of separate detail, but appears, to the unpractised and careless eye, just what a distance of nature’s own would appear, an unintelligible mass. Not one line out of the millions there is without meaning, yet there is not one which is not affected and disguised by the dazzle and indecision of distance. No form is made out, and yet no form is unknown.

John Ruskin, Modern Painters, Vol. I

Nuremberg, Samuel Prout

Nuremberg, Samuel Prout

For numerous as have been his [Samuel Prout] imitators, extended as his influence, and simple as his means and manner, there has yet appeared nothing at all to equal him; there is no stone drawing, no vitality of architecture like Prout’s. …there is nothing but the work of Prout which is true, living, or right in its general impression, and nothing, therefore, so inexhaustibly agreeable. Faults he has, manifold, easily detected, and much declaimed against by second-rate artists; but his excellence no one has ever touched, and his lithographic work, (Sketches in Flanders and Germany,) which was, I believe, the first of the kind, still remains the most valuable of all, numerous and elaborate as its various successors have been.

John Ruskin, Modern Painters, Vol. I

The Chapel of St Joseph of Arimathea, Glastonbury, from the South-East, Samuel Prout, date unknown

The Chapel of St Joseph of Arimathea, Glastonbury, from the South-East, Samuel Prout, date unknown

Nothing can be more careful, nothing more delicately finished, or more dignified in feeling than the works of both of these men [Gentile Bellini and Vittore Carpaccio]; and as architectural evidence they are the best we could have had, all the gilded parts being in gilt in the picture, so that there can be no mistake or confusion of them with yellow color or light, and all the frescoes or mosaics given with the most absolute precision and fidelity. At the same time they are by no means examples of perfect architectural drawing; there is little light and shade in them of any kind, and none whatever of the thoughtful observance of temporary effect….so that, in rendering the character of the relieved parts, their solidity, depth, or gloom, the representation fails altogether, and it is moreover lifeless from its very completion, both the signs of age and the effects of use and habitation being utterly rejected…Neither is there anything like aerial perspective attempted…But with all these discrepancies, Gentile Bellini’s church of St. Mark’s is the best church of St. Marks that has ever been painted, so far as I know…

John Ruskin, Modern Painters, Vol. I

Il miracolo della reliquia della Santa Croce, Vittore Carpaccio, 1494

Il miracolo della reliquia della Santa Croce, Vittore Carpaccio, 1494

Procession in Piazza San Marco, Gentile Bellini, 1496

Procession in Piazza San Marco, Gentile Bellini, 1496