ABSTRACT

Dinah Birch roughout his life, Ruskin responded with unusual intensity to the association between ideas and places. His mind never oated among abstractions. He framed his arguments among the distinctive details of architectural ornament or unique con gurations of landscape – the hills of the Lake District, the cathedrals of England or Northern France, the mountains and glaciers of Switzerland. ey formed his imagination over years of close observation, o en dating back to childhood and adolescence. Chief among them was Venice. One of the formative grounds of Ruskin’s authority as a critic was his long relationship with Venice, the most glamorous and evocative of all Italian cities. e connection had a compelling personal force, but it also carried far-reaching material and political consequences for his readers. It was in thinking about the canals and palaces of Venice that Ruskin formulated many of his ideas about architecture, about the vitality of labour, about the work of the imagination and about the uses of history. Some of the concepts that took shape over the course of his prolonged study of Venice are still with us. Many nineteenth-century Gothic buildings, ecclesiastical, civic or domestic, were designed according to principles that Ruskin articulated in relation to his study of Venetian architecture. Less visibly, but just as signi cantly, much early British socialism, as it was conceived by William Morris and developed through the rst years of the Labour party, was in uenced by the insights of Ruskin’s Venetian work. It was in the context of painting that Ruskin rst made his name, writing about Turner and contemporary landscape art in Modern Painters, the work that he began to publish as a twenty-threeyear-old in 1843. But it was in his studies of Venice that he came of age. e continuation of that investigation over a period of decades de ned his deepest interests as a critic, and translated those concerns into wider forms of action.