On the Old Road, Vol. 2 (of 2) - A Collection of Miscellaneous Essays and Articles on Art and Literature
by John Ruskin
Previous Part     1  2  3  4  5  6  7  8  9  10     Next Part
Home - Random Browse

166. Sir Robert Peel. You stated that abroad the working classes were much better dressed?—Yes.

Do you think so?—Yes.

Surely they cannot be better dressed than they are in England, for you hardly know a working man here from an aristocrat?—It is precisely because I do know working men on a Sunday and every other day of the week from an aristocrat that I like their dress better in France; it is the ordinary dress belonging to their position, and it expresses momentarily what they are; it is the blue blouse which hangs freely over their frames, keeping them sufficiently protected from cold and dust; but here it is a shirt open at the collar, very dirty, very much torn, with ragged hair, and a ragged coat, and altogether a dress of misery.

You think that they are better dressed abroad because they wear a blouse?—Because they wear a costume appropriate to their work.

Are you aware that they make it an invariable custom to leave off the blouse on Sundays and on holidays, and that after they have finished their work they take off their blouse?—I am not familiar, nor do I profess to be familiar, with the customs of the Continent; I am only stating my impressions; but I like especially their habit of wearing a national costume. I believe the national costume of work in Switzerland to be at the root of what prosperity Switzerland yet is retaining. I think, for instance, although it may sound rather singular to say so, that the pride which the women take in their clean chemise sleeves, is one of the healthiest things in Switzerland, and that it is operative in every way on the health of the mind and the body, their keeping their costume pure, fresh, and beautiful.

You stated that the working classes were better dressed abroad than in England?—As far as I know, that is certainly the fact.

Still their better dress consists of a blouse, which they take off when they have finished their work?—I bow to your better knowledge of the matter.

Chairman. Are you aware that a considerable number of the working classes are in bed on the Sunday?—Perhaps it is the best place for them.

167. Mr. Kinnaird. You trace the deterioration in the condition of the working classes to the increase of trade and manufactures in this country?—To the increase of competitive trades and manufactures.

It is your conviction that we may look upon this vast extension of trade, and commerce, and competition, altogether as an evil?—Not on the vast extension of trade, but on the vast extension of the struggle of man with man, instead of the principle of help of man by man.

Chairman. I understood you to say, that you did not object to trade, but that you wished each country to produce that which it was best fitted to produce, with a view to an interchange of its commodities with those of other countries?—Yes.

You did not intend to cast a slur upon the idea of competition?—Yes, very distinctly; I intended not only to cast a slur, but to express my excessive horror of the principle of competition, in every way; for instance, we ought not to try to grow claret here, nor to produce silk; we ought to produce coal and iron, and the French should give us wine and silk.

You say that, with a view to an interchange of such commodities?—Yes.

Each country producing that which it is best fitted to produce?—Yes, as well as it can; not striving to imitate or compete with the productions of other countries. Finally, I believe that the way of ascertaining what ought to be done for the workman in any position, is for any one of us to suppose that he was our own son, and that he was left without any parents, and without any help; that there was no chance of his ever emerging out of the state in which he was, and then, that what we should each of us like to be done for our son, so left, we should strive to do for the workman.

The following analysis of the above evidence was mainly given in the Index to the Report (p. 153).—ED.

139. Is well acquainted with the museums, picture galleries, etc., in the metropolis.—Conducts a drawing class at the Working Men's College.

140. Desirableness of the public institutions being open in the evening (cp. 154, 161).

141. Remarks relative to the system of teaching expedient for the working classes; system pursued by witness at the Working Men's College.—Workmen to aim at rising in their class, not out of it (cp. 155).

142. Backward state, intellectually, of the working man of the present time; superiority of the foreigner.

143. Improvement of the National Gallery suggested (cp. 157, 160).

144. Inexpediency of submitting valuable ancient pictures to the risk of injury from gas, etc. (cp. 146, 157).

145. Statement as to the minds of the working classes after their day's labor being too much oppressed to enable them to enjoy or appreciate the public institutions, if merely opened in the evening.

146. Suggested collection of pictures and prints of a particular character for the inspection of the working classes.—Suggestions with a view to special collections of shells, birds, and plants being prepared for the use of the working classes; system of lectures, of illustration, and of intermediate study necessary in connection with such collections (cp. 151-52).

147. Statement as to greater interest being taken in France and other foreign countries than in England in the intellectual development of the working classes; examination on this point, and on the effect produced thereby upon the character and demeanor of the working people (cp. 158, 163-64).

148. Objection to circulating valuable or rare works of art throughout the country, on account of the risk of injury—Disapproval of inspectors, etc., going about with the visitors (cp. 159).—Advantage in the upper classes lending pictures, etc., for public exhibition.

149. Lectures to working men. Advantage if large printed explanations were placed under every picture (cp. 157, 161).

150. Great desire among the working classes to acquire knowledge; grounds of such desire (cp. 155).—Great boon if a museum were formed at the east end of London.

151. Lectures on natural history for working men.

152. Books available on British birds.

153. Intermediate study essential to use of Lectures.—Good attendance at Working Men's College.—Terms and conditions of admission to it.

154. Approval of Saturday half-holiday movement (cp. 140, 161).

155. See above, s. 142.

156. Competition in trade and labor regarded by witness as a great evil.

157. See above, s. 143, 149.

158-59. Happier condition of lower classes abroad than at home. Their dress also better abroad. 163-64, 166, and see above, s. 142.

160. See above, s. 143, 149, 157.

161. See above, s. 149, 154.

162. Use of existing public buildings for art collections.

163-64. See above, s. 158-59.

165. Surely England may one day be Merry England again.—When it ceased to be so.

166. See above, s. 158-59.

167. Increase of trade and deteriorated condition of working-classes.—Our duty to them.


[Footnote 2: Reprinted from "The Report of the Select Committee on Public Institutions. Ordered by the House of Commons to be printed, 27 March 1860," pp. 113-123. The following members of the Committee were present on the occasion of the above evidence being given: -Sir John Trelawny (Chairman), Mr. Sclater Booth, Mr. Du Pre, Mr. Kinnaird, Mr. Hanbury, Sir Robert Peel, Mr. Slaney, and Mr. John Tollemache.—ED.]



Evidence of John Ruskin, Monday, June 8th, 1863.

168. Chairman. You have, no doubt, frequently considered the position of the Royal Academy in this country?—Yes.

Is it in all points satisfactory to you?—No, certainly not.

Do you approve, for example, of the plan by which, on a vacancy occurring, the Royal Academicians supply that vacancy, or would you wish to see that election confided to any other hands?—I should wish to see the election confided to other hands. I think that all elections are liable to mistake, or mischance, when the electing body elect the candidate into them. I rather think that elections are only successful where the candidate is elected into a body other than the body of electors; but I have not considered the principles of election fully enough to be able to give any positive statement of opinion upon that matter. I only feel that at present the thing is liable to many errors and mischances.

Does it not seem, however, that there are some precedents, such, for example, as the Institute of France, in which the body electing to the vacancies that occur within it keeps up a very high character, and enjoys a great reputation?—There are many such precedents; and, as every such body for its own honor must sometimes call upon the most intellectual men of the country to join it, I should think that every such body must retain a high character where the country itself has a proper sense of the worth of its best men; but the system of election may be wrong, though the sense of the country may be right; and I think, in appealing to a precedent to justify a system, we should estimate properly what has been brought about by the feeling of the country. We are all, I fancy, too much in the habit of looking to forms as the cause of what really is caused by the temper of the nation at the particular time, working, through the forms, for good or evil.

If, however, the election of Academicians were to be confided to artists who were not already Academicians themselves, would it be easy to meet this objection, that they would have in many cases a personal interest in the question; that each might be striving for his own admission to that distinction; whereas, when the election takes place among those who have already attained that distinction, direct personal interest at all events is absent?—I should think personal interest would act in a certain sense in either case; it would branch into too many subtleties of interest to say in what way it would act. I should think that it would be more important to the inferior body to decide rightly upon those who were to govern them, than to the superior body to decide upon those who were to govern other people; and that the superior body would therefore generally choose those who were likely to be pleasant to themselves;—pleasant, either as companions, or in carrying out a system which they chose for their own convenience to adopt; while the inferior body would choose men likely to carry out the system that would tend most to the general progress of art.

169. As I understand you, though you have a decided opinion that it would be better for some other constituent body to elect the members of the Royal Academy, you have not a decided opinion as to how that constituent body would best be composed?—By no means.

I presume you would wish that constituent body to consist of artists, though you are not prepared to say precisely how they should be selected?—I should like the constituent body to consist both of artists and of the public. I feel great difficulties in offering any suggestion as to the manner in which the electors should elect: but I should like the public as well as artists to have a voice, so that we might have the public feeling brought to bear upon painting as we have now upon music; and that the election of those who were to attract the public eye, or direct the public mind, should indicate also the will of the public in some respects; not that I think that "will" always wise, but I think you would then have pointed out in what way those who are teaching the public should best regulate the teaching; and also it would give the public itself an interest in art, and a sense of responsibility, which in the present state of things they never can have.

Will you explain more fully the precedent of music to which you have just adverted?—The fame of any great singer or any great musician depends upon the public enthusiasm and feeling respecting him. No Royal Academy can draw a large audience to the opera by stating that such and such a piece of music is good, or that such and such a voice is clear; if the public do not feel the voice to be delicious, and if they do not like the music, they will not go to hear it. The fame of the musician, whether singer, instrumentalist, or composer, is founded mainly upon his having produced a strong effect upon the public intellect and imagination. I should like that same effect to be produced by painters, and to be expressed by the public enthusiasm and approbation; not merely by expressions of approbation in conversation, but by the actual voice which in the theater is given by the shout and by the clapping of the hands. You cannot clap a picture, nor clap a painter at his work, but I should like the public in some way to bring their voice to bear upon the painter's work.

170. Have you formed any opinion upon the position of the Associates in the Royal Academy?—I have thought of it a little, but the present system of the Academy is to me so entirely nugatory, it produces so little effect in any way (what little effect it does produce being in my opinion mischievous), that it has never interested me; and I have felt the difficulty so greatly, that I never, till your lordship's letter reached me, paid much attention to it. I always thought it would be a waste of time to give much time to thinking how it might be altered; so that as to the position of Associates I can say little, except that I think, in any case, there ought to be some period of probation, and some advanced scale of dignity, indicative of the highest attainments in art, which should be only given to the oldest and most practiced painters.

From the great knowledge which you possess of British art, looking to the most eminent painters, sculptors, and architects at this time, should you say that the number of the Royal Academy is sufficient fully to represent them, or would you recommend an increase in the present number of Academicians?—I have not considered in what proportion the Academicianships at present exist. That is rather a question bearing upon the degree of dignity which one would be glad to confer. I should like the highest dignity to be limited, but I should like the inferior dignity corresponding to the Associateship to be given, as the degrees are given in the universities, without any limitation of number, to those possessing positive attainments and skill. I should think a very limited number of Academicianships would always meet all the requirements of the highest intellect of the country.

171. Have you formed any opinion upon the expediency of intrusting laymen with some share in the management of the affairs of the Academy?—No, I have formed no opinion upon that matter. I do not know what there is at present to be managed in the Academy. I should think if the Academy is to become an available school, laymen cannot be joined in the management of that particular department. In matters of revenue, and in matters concerning the general interests and dignity of the Academy, they might be.

Should you think that non-professional persons would be fitly associated with artists in such questions as the selection and hanging of the pictures sent in for exhibition?—No, I think not.

Some persons have suggested that the president of the Academy should not always nor of necessity be himself an artist; should you approve of any system by which a gentleman of high social position, not an artist, was placed at the head of such a body as the Academy?—"Of such a body as the Academy," if I may be permitted to repeat your words, must of course have reference to the constitution to be given to it. As at present constituted, I do not know what advantage might or might not be derived from such a gentleman being appointed president. As I should like to see it constituted, I think he ought to be an artist only.

172. Have you had any reason to observe or to make yourself acquainted with the working of the schools of the Royal Academy?—Yes, I have observed it. I have not made myself acquainted with the actual methods of teaching at present in use, but I know the general effect upon the art of the country.

What should you say was that effect?—Nearly nugatory: exceedingly painful in this respect, that the teaching of the Academy separates, as the whole idea of the country separates, the notion of art-education from other education, and when you have made that one fundamental mistake, all others follow. You teach a young man to manage his chalk and his brush—not always that—but having done that, you suppose you have made a painter of him; whereas to educate a painter is the same thing as to educate a clergyman or a physician—you must give him a liberal education primarily, and that must be connected with the kind of learning peculiarly fit for his profession. That error is partly owing to our excessively vulgar and excessively shallow English idea that the artist's profession is not, and cannot be, a liberal one. We respect a physician, and call him a gentleman, because he can give us a purge and clean out our stomachs; but we do not call an artist a gentleman, whom we expect to invent for us the face of Christ. When we have made that primary mistake, all other mistakes in education are trivial in comparison. The very notion of an art academy should be, a body of teachers of the youth who are to be the guides of the nation through its senses; and that is a very important means of guiding it. We have done a good deal through dinners, but we may some day do a good deal more through pictures.

You would have a more comprehensive system of teaching?—Much more comprehensive.

173. Do I rightly understand you that you would wish it to embrace branches of liberal education in general, and not be merely confined to specific artistic studies?—Certainly. I would have the Academy education corresponding wholly to the university education. The schools of the country ought to teach the boy the first conditions of manipulation. He should come up, I say not at what age, but probably at about fourteen or fifteen, to the central university of art, wherever that was established; and then, while he was taught to paint and to carve and to work in metal—just as in old times he would have been taught to manage the sword and lance, they being the principal business of his life,—during the years from fifteen to twenty, the chief attention of his governors should be to make a gentleman of him in the highest sense; and to give him an exceedingly broad and liberal education, which should enable him not only to work nobly, but to conceive nobly.

174. As to the point, however, of artistic manipulation, is not it the fact that many great painters have differed, and do differ, from each other, and would it therefore be easy for the Academy to adopt any authoritative system of teaching, excluding one mode and acknowledging another?—Not easy, but very necessary. There have been many methods; but there has never been a case of a great school which did not fix upon its method: and there has been no case of a thoroughly great school which did not fix upon the right method, as far as circumstances enabled it to do so. The meaning of a successful school is, that it has adopted a method which it teaches to its young painters, so that right working becomes a habit with them; so that with no thought, and no effort, and no torment, and no talk about it, they have the habit of doing what their school teaches them.

You do not think a system is equally good which leaves to each eminent professor, according to the bent of his genius or the result of his experience, to instruct young men, the instruction varying with the character of each professor?—Great benefit would arise if each professor founded his own school, and were interested in his own pupils; but, as has been sufficiently illustrated in the schools of Domenichino and Guido, there is apt to arise rivalry between the masters, with no correlative advantages, unless the masters are all of one mind. And the only successful idea of an academy has been where the practice was consistent, and where there was no contradiction. Considering the knowledge we now have, and the means we now have of comparing all the works of the greatest painters, though, as you suggest by your question, it is not easy to adopt an authoritative system, yet it is perfectly possible. Let us get at the best method and let us teach that. There is unquestionably a best way if we can find it; and we have now in England the means of finding it out.

The teaching in the Academy is now, under all circumstances, gratuitous; would you wish that system to continue, or should you prefer to see a system of payment?—I am not prepared to answer that question. It would depend upon the sort of system that was adopted and on the kind of persons you received into your schools.

175. I presume you would say that in artistic teaching there are some points on which there would be common ground, and others upon which there must be specific teaching; for instance, in sculpture and painting there is a point up to which the proportions of the human figure have to be studied, but afterwards there is a divergence between the two arts of chiseling marble and laying colors on the canvas?—Certainly. I should think all that might be arranged in an Academy system very simply. You would have first your teaching of drawing with the soft point; and associated with that, chiaroscuro: you would then have the teaching of drawing with the hard or black point, involving the teaching of the best system of engraving, and all that was necessary to form your school of engravers: you would then proceed to metal work; and on working in metal you would found your school of sculpture, and on that your school of architecture: and finally, and above all, you would have your school of painting, including oil painting and fresco painting, and all painting in permanent material; (not comprising painting in any material that was not permanent:) and with that you would associate your school of chemistry, which should teach what was permanent and what was not; which school of chemistry should declare authoritatively, with the Academy's seal, what colors would stand and what process would secure their standing: and should have a sort of Apothecaries' Hall where anybody who required them could procure colors in the purest state; all these things being organized in one great system, and only possibly right by their connection and in their connection.

176. Do you approve of the encouragement which of late years has been given to fresco painting, and do you look forward to much extension of that branch of art in England?—I found when I was examining the term "fresco painting," that it was a wide one, that none of us seemed to know quite the limitation or extent of it; and after giving a good deal more time to the question I am still less able to answer distinctly on an understanding of the term "fresco painting:" but using the term "decorative painting, applicable to walls in permanent materials," I think it essential that every great school should include as one of its main objects the teaching of wall painting in permanent materials, and on a large scale.

You think it should form a branch of the system of teaching in the Academy?—I think it should form a branch of the teaching in the Academy, possibly the principal branch.

Does it so far as you know form a separate branch of teaching in any of the foreign academies?—I do not know.

177. Looking generally, and of course without mentioning any names, have you in the course of the last few years been generally satisfied with the selection of artists into the Royal Academy?—No, certainly not.

Do you think that some artists of merit have been excluded, or that artists whom you think not deserving of that honor have been elected?—More; that artists not deserving of the honor have been elected. I think it does no harm to any promising artist to be left out of the Academy, but it does harm to the public sometimes that an unpromising artist should be let into it.

You think there have been cases within the last few years in which persons, in your judgment, not entitled to that distinction have nevertheless been elected?—Certainly.

178. With respect to the selection of pictures for the exhibition, are you satisfied in general with that selection, or have you in particular instances seen ground to think that it has been injudiciously exercised?—In some cases it has been injudiciously exercised, but it is a matter of small importance; it causes heartburning probably, but little more. If a rejected picture is good, the public will see it some day or other, and find out that it is a good picture. I care little about what pictures are let in or not, but I do care about seeing the pictures that are let in. The main point, which everyone would desire to see determined, is how the pictures that are admitted are to be best seen. No picture deserving of being seen at all should be so hung as to give you any pain or fatigue in seeing it. If you let a picture into the room at all, it should not be hung so high as that either the feelings of the artist or the neck of the public should be hurt.

179. Viscount Hardinge. I gather from your evidence that you would wish to see the Royal Academy a sort of central university to which young men from other institutions should be sent. Assuming that there were difficulties in the way of carrying that out, do you think, under the present system, you could exact from young men who are candidates for admission into the Royal Academy, some educational test?—Certainly; I think much depends upon that. If the system of education which I have been endeavoring to point out were adopted, you would have in every one of those professions very practiced workmen. You could not have any of this education carried out, unless you had thoroughly practiced workmen; and you should fix your pass as you fix your university pass, and you should pass a man in architecture, sculpture, and painting, because he knows his business, and knows as much of any other science as is necessary for his profession. You require a piece of work from him, and you examine him, and then you pass him,—call him whatever you like;—but you say to the public, Here is a workman in this branch who will do your work well.

You do not think there would in such a system be any risk of excluding men who might hereafter be great men who under such a system might not be able to pass?—There are risks in every system, but I think every man worth anything would pass. A great many who would be good for nothing would pass, but your really great man would assuredly pass.

180. Has it ever struck you that it would be advantageous to art if there were at the universities professors of art who might give lectures and give instruction to young men who might desire to avail themselves of it, as you have lectures on botany and geology?—Yes, assuredly. The want of interest on the part of the upper classes in art has been very much at the bottom of the abuses which have crept into all systems of education connected with it. If the upper classes could only be interested in it by being led into it when young, a great improvement might be looked for; therefore I feel the expediency of such an addition to the education of our universities.

181. Is not that want of refinement which may be observed in many of the pictures from time to time exhibited in the Royal Academy to be attributed in a great measure to the want of education amongst artists?—It is to be attributed to that, and to the necessity which artists are under of addressing a low class of spectators: an artist to live must catch the public eye. Our upper classes supply a very small amount of patronage to artists at present, their main patronage being from the manufacturing districts and from the public interested in engravings;—an exceedingly wide sphere, but a low sphere,—and you catch the eye of that class much more by pictures having reference to their amusements than by any noble subject better treated, and the better treated it was the less it would interest that class.

Is it not often the case that pictures exhibiting such a want of refinement, at the same time fetch large prices amongst what I may call the mercantile patrons of art?—Certainly; and, the larger the price, the more harm done of course to the school, for that is a form of education you cannot resist. Plato said long ago, when you have your demagogue against you no human form of education can resist that.

182. Sir E. Head. What is your opinion of the present mode of teaching in the life school and the painting school, namely, by visitors constantly changing?—I should think it mischievous. The unfortunate youths, I should imagine, would just get what they could pick up; it would be throwing them crumbs very much as you throw bones to the animals in the Zoological Gardens.

Do you conceive that anything which can be properly called a school, is likely to be formed where the teaching is conducted in that way?—Assuredly not.

183. You stated that in the event of the introduction of lay members into the Academy, you would not think it desirable that they should take part in the selection or hanging of pictures for exhibition. Is not there a great distinction between the selection of the pictures and the hanging of the pictures, and might not they take part in the one without taking part in the other?—I should think hardly. My notion of hanging a picture is to put it low enough to be seen. If small it should be placed near the eye. Anybody can hang a picture, but the question should be, is there good painting enough in this picture to make it acceptable to the public, or to make it just to the artist to show it? And none but artists can quite judge of the workmanship which should entitle it to enter the Academy.

Do you think it depends solely upon the workmanship?—Not by any means solely, but I think that is the first point that should be looked to. An ill-worked picture ought not to be admitted; let it be exhibited elsewhere if you will, but your Academy has no business to let bad work pass. If a man cannot carve or paint, though his work may be well conceived, do not let his work pass. Unless you require good work in your Academy exhibition, you can form no school.

Mr. Reeve. Applying the rule you have just laid down, would the effect be to exclude a considerable proportion of the works now exhibited in the Academy?—Yes; more of the Academicians' than of others.

Sir E. Head. Selection now being made by technical artists?—No.


Lord Elcho. Do you think that none but professional artists are capable of judging of the actual merit or demerit of a painting?—Non-professional persons may offer a very strong opinion upon the subject, which may happen to be right,—or which may be wrong.

Your opinion is that the main thing with respect to the exhibition is, that the pictures should be seen; that they should not be hung too high or too low. That question has been already raised before the Commission, and it has been suggested that two feet from the ground should be the minimum height for the base of the picture, and some witnesses have said that six feet and others eight feet should be the maximum height for the base of the picture; what limit would you fix?—I should say that the horizontal line in the perspective of the picture ought always to be opposite the spectator's eye, no matter what the height may be from the floor. If the horizontal line is so placed that it must be above the spectator's eye, in consequence of the size of the picture, it cannot be helped, but I would always get the horizontal line opposite the eye if possible.

184. Chairman. Should you concur in the suggestion which a witness has made before this Commission, that it would be an improvement, if the space admitted of it, that works of sculpture should be intermixed in the same apartment with works of painting, instead of being kept as at present in separate apartments?—I should think it would be very delightful to have some works of sculpture mixed with works of painting; that it would make the exhibition more pleasing, and that the eye would be rested sometimes by turning from the colors to the marble, and would see the colors of the paintings better in return. Sir Joshua Reynolds mentions the power which some of the Flemish pictures seemed to derive, in his opinion, by looking at them after having consulted his note-book. Statuary placed among the pictures would have the same effect. I would not have the sculpture that was sent in for the exhibition of the year exhibited with the paintings, but I would have works of sculpture placed permanently in the painting rooms.

Lord Elcho. Supposing there were no works of sculpture available for being placed in the rooms permanently, and supposing among the works sent in for annual exhibition there were works of a character fit to be placed among the paintings, should you see any objection to their being so placed?—That would cause an immense amount of useless trouble, and perpetual quarrels among the sculptors, as to whose works were entitled to be placed in the painting rooms or not.

Are you aware that in the exhibition in Paris in 1855, that was the system adopted?—No. If the French adopted it, it was likely to be useful, and doubtless they would carry it out very cleverly; but we have not the knack of putting the right things in the right places by any means.

Did you see our own International Exhibition last year?—No.

Are you aware that a similar system was resorted to in the exhibition of pictures there?—I should think in our exhibitions we must put anything where it would go, in the sort of way that we manage them.

185. At the present moment there are on the books of the Academy five honorary members, who hold certain titular offices, Earl Stanhope being antiquary to the Academy, Mr. Grote being professor of ancient history, Dean Milman being professor of ancient literature, the Bishop of Oxford being chaplain, and Sir Henry Holland being secretary for foreign correspondence; these professors never deliver any lectures and have no voice whatever in the management, but have mere honorary titular distinctions; should you think it desirable that gentlemen of their position and character should have a voice in the management of the affairs of the Academy?—It would be much more desirable that they should give lectures upon the subjects with which they are acquainted. I should think Earl Stanhope and all the gentlemen you have mentioned, would be much happier in feeling that they were of use in their positions; and that if you gave them something to do they would very nobly do it. If you give them nothing to do I think they ought not to remain in the institution.

186. It has been suggested that the Academy now consisting of forty-two might be increased advantageously to fifty professional members, architecture, sculpture, and painting being fairly represented, and that in addition to those fifty there might be elected or nominated somehow or other ten non-professional persons, that is, men taking an interest in art, who had a certain position and standing in the country, and who might take an active part in the management of the affairs of the institution, so tending to bring the Royal Academy and the public together?—I do not know enough of society to be able to form an opinion upon the subject.

Irrespective of society, as a question of art, you know enough of non-professional persons interested in art to judge as to whether the infusion of such an element into the Academy might be of advantage to the Academy and to art generally?—I think if you educate our upper classes to take more interest in art, which implies, of course, to know something about it, they might be most efficient members of the Academy; but if you leave them, as you leave them now, to the education which they get at Oxford and Cambridge, and give them the sort of scorn which all the teaching there tends to give, for art and artists, the less they have to do with an academy of art the better.

Assuming that, at present, you have not a very great number of those persons in the country, do you not think that the mere fact of the adoption of such a principle in any reform in the constitution of the Academy might have the effect of turning attention more to this matter at the Universities, and leading to the very thing which you think so desirable?—No, I should think not. It would only at present give the impression that the whole system was somewhat artificial, and that it was to remain ineffective.

Notwithstanding the neglect of this matter at the Universities, do you think, at the present moment, you could not find ten non-professional persons, of the character you would think desirable, to add to the Academy?—If I may be so impertinent, I may say that you as one of the upper classes, and I as a layman in the lower classes, are tolerably fair examples of the kind of persons who take an interest in art, and I think both of us would do a great deal of mischief if we had much to do with the Academy.

187. Assuming those two persons to be appointed lay members, will you state in what way you think they would do mischief in the councils of the Academy?—We should be disturbing elements, whereas what I should try to secure, if I had anything to do with its arrangements, would be entire tranquillity, a regular system of tuition in which there should be little excitement, and little operation of popular, aristocratic, or any other disturbing influence; none of criticism, and therefore none of tiresome people like myself;—none of money patronage, or even of aristocratic patronage. The whole aim of the teachers should be to produce work which could be demonstrably shown to be good and useful, and worthy of being bought, or used in any way; and after that the whole question of patronage and interest should be settled. The school should teach its art-grammar thoroughly in everything, and in every material, and should teach it carefully; and that could be done if a perfect system were adopted, and above all, if a few thoroughly good examples were put before the students. That is a point which I think of very great importance. I think it very desirable that grants should be made by the Government to obtain for the pupils of the Academy beautiful examples of every kind, the very loveliest and best; not too many; and that their minds should not be confused by having placed before them examples of all schools and times; they are confused enough by what they see in the shops, and in the annual exhibitions. Let engraving be taught by Marc Antonio and Albert Duerer,—painting by Giorgione, Paul Veronese, Titian and Velasquez,—and sculpture by good Greek and selected Roman examples, and let there be no question of other schools or their merits. Let those things be shown as good and right, and let the student be trained in those principles:—if afterwards he strikes out an original path, let him; but do not let him torment himself and other people with his originalities, till he knows what is right, so far as is known at present.

You are opposed, on the whole, to the introduction of the lay element?—Yes; but I am not opposed strongly or distinctly to it, because I have not knowledge enough of society to know how it would work.

Your not being in favor of it results from your belief that the lay element that would be useful to the Academy does not at present exist in this country; but you think, if it did exist, and if it could be made to grow out of our schools and universities by art teaching, it might, with advantage to the Academy and to artists, be introduced into the Academy?—Yes.

188. Supposing the class of Royal Academicians to be retained, and that you had fifty Royal Academicians, should you think it desirable that their works should be exhibited by themselves, so that the public might see together the works of those considered to be the first artists of this country?—Certainly, I should like all pictures to be well seen, but I should like one department of the exhibition to be given to the Associates or Graduates. I use that term because I suppose those Associates to have a degree given them for a certain amount of excellence, and any person who had attained that degree should be allowed to send in so many pictures. Then the pictures sent in by persons who had attained the higher honor of Royal Academician should be separately exhibited.

That would act as a stimulus to them to keep up their position and show themselves worthy of the honor?—Yes. I do not think they ought to be mixed at all as they are now.

189. What is your opinion with reference to the present system of traveling studentships?—I think it might be made very useful indeed.

On the one hand it has been suggested that there should be, as is the system adopted by the French Academy, a permanent professor at Rome to look after the students; on the other hand it has been said that it is not desirable, if you have those traveling studentships, that the students should go to Rome, that it is better for them to travel, and to go to Venice or Lombardy, and to have no fixed school in connection with the Academy at Rome. To which of those two systems do you give the preference?—I should prefer the latter; if a man goes to travel, he ought to travel, and not be plagued with schools.

It has been suggested that fellowships might be given to rising artists, pecuniary assistance being attached to those fellowships, the artist being required annually to send in some specimen of his work to show what he was doing, but it being left optional with him to go abroad or to work at home; should you think that would be desirable, or as has been suggested in a letter by Mr. Armitage, supposing those fellowships to be established for four years, that two of those years should be spent abroad and two at home?—Without entering into any detail as to whether two years should be spent abroad and two years at home, I feel very strongly that one of the most dangerous and retarding influences you have operating upon art is the enormous power of money, and the chances of entirely winning or entirely losing, that is, of making your fortune in a year by a large taking picture, or else starving for ten years by very good small ones. The whole life of an artist is a lottery, and a very wild lottery, and the best artist is liable to be warped away from what he knows is right by the chance of at once making a vast fortune by catching the public eye, the public eye being only to be caught by bright colors and certain conditions of art not always desirable. If, therefore, connected with the Academy schools there could be the means of giving a fixed amount of income to certain men, who would as a consideration for that income furnish a certain number of works that might be agreed upon, or undertake any national work that might be agreed upon, that I believe would be the healthiest way in which a good painter could be paid. To give him his bread and cheese, and so much a day, and say, Here are such and such things we want you to do, is, I believe, the healthiest, simplest, and happiest way in which great work can be produced. But whether it is compatible with our present system I cannot say, nor whether every man would not run away as soon as he found he could get two or three thousand pounds by painting a catching picture. I think your best men would not.

You would be in favor of those fellowships?—Yes.

190. I gather that you are in favor of the encouragement of mural decoration, fresco painting, and so forth. The system that prevails abroad, in France, for instance, is for painters to employ pupils to work under them. It was in that way that Delaroche painted his hemicycle at the Academie des Beaux-Arts, employing four pupils, who worked for him, and who from his small sketch drew the full-sized picture on the walls, which was subsequently corrected by him. They then colored it up to his sketch, after which he shut himself up again, and completed it. On the other hand, if you go to the Victoria Gallery in the House of Lords, you find Mr. Maclise at work on a space of wall forty-eight feet long, painting the Death of Nelson on the deck of the "Victory," every figure being life size, the deck of the ship and the ropes and everything being the actual size, and you see him painting with his own hand each little bit of rope and the minutest detail. Which of the two systems do you think is the soundest and most calculated to produce great and noble work?—The first is the best for the pupils, the other is the best for the public. But unquestionably not only can a great work be executed as Mr. Maclise is executing his, but no really great work was executed otherwise, for in all mighty work, whether in fresco or oil, every touch and hue of color to the last corner has been put on lovingly by the painter's own hand, not leaving to a pupil to paint so much as a pebble under a horse's foot.

191. Do you believe that most of the works of the great masters in Italy were so executed?—No; because the pupils were nearly as mighty as the masters. Great men took such an interest in their work, and they were so modest and simple that they were repeatedly sacrificing themselves to the interests of their religion or of the society they were working for; and when a thing was to be done in a certain time it could only be done by bringing in aid; but whenever precious work was to be done, then the great man said, "Lock me up here by myself, give me a little wine and cheese, and come in a month, and I will show you what I have done."

Do you think it desirable that the pupils should be so trained as to be capable of assisting great masters in such works?—Assuredly.

NOTE.—The following analysis of the above evidence was given in the Index to the Report (pp. 139, 140).—ED.

168-69. The Academy not in all points satisfactory. Would wish to see the Academicians not self-elected.—But by a constituency consisting both of artists and the public.—Public influence to be the same in painting as in music.

170. As to the Associates: is in favor of some period of probation.—Their class to be unlimited, with a very limited number of Academicians.

171. Has formed no opinion on the question of introducing laymen into the Academy; in matters of revenue they might be joined with artists, but not in the selection and hanging of pictures: opposed on the whole to their introduction, considering the present state of art education.—As he would like to see the Academy constituted, thinks the president ought to be an artist.

172. General effect of the Academy's teaching upon the art of the country merely nugatory.—Would have a much more comprehensive system of teaching.

173. The Academy education to correspond wholly to the University education.

174. Not easy but very necessary for the Academy to adopt an authoritative system of teaching.

175. His idea of what the Academy teaching should be; would have a school of chemistry.

176. The teaching of wall-painting in permanent materials should be a branch, possibly the principal branch.

177. Not satisfied with the selection of artists to be members of the Academy.

178. In some cases the selection of pictures has been injudicious, but this a matter of small importance; the main point is how the pictures that are admitted are to be best seen.

179. In favor of an educational test for candidates for admission into the Academy.

180. And of professors of art at the Universities.

181. Causes of the want of refinement observable in many modern pictures; the large prices they fetch harmful.

182. Teaching by visitors constantly changing mischievous.

183. How a picture should be hung.—An ill-worked picture ought not to be admitted by the Academy.—Bearing of this last opinion upon the present Exhibition.

184. Would have works of sculpture placed permanently in the painting-room, but not any of those sent in for the Exhibition of the year.

185. In favor of the present honorary members being made of use in their positions.

186. Introduction of laymen into the Academy deprecated under present circumstances, and why.—Present feeling towards art and artists at the Universities.

187. Desirable that Government grants should be made to obtain for the pupils of the Academy beautiful examples of every kind of art.

188. In favor of separate exhibitions of the works of Associates (or Graduates) and Academicians.

189. In favor of art-fellowships, but not of a fixed school in connection with the Academy at Rome.

190. Comparison of the French, and English systems (as regards assistance from pupils) in the production of great public paintings.

191. How the works of the Italian masters were executed.—Desirable that pupils should be trained to assist great masters in public works.


[Footnote 3: Reprinted from "The Report of the Commissioners appointed to inquire into the Present Position of the Royal Academy in Relation to the Fine Arts." London: Eyre and Spottiswoode, 1863 (pp. 546-55. Questions 5079-5142). The Commission consisted of Earl Stanhope (Chairman), Viscount Hardinge, Lord Elcho, Sir E. W. Head, Mr. William Stirling, Mr. H. D. Seymour, and Mr. Henry Reeve, all of whom, except Mr. Seymour, were present at the above sitting.—ED.]



March 20th, 1880.


192. If I put off writing the paper you asked me for, till I can do it conveniently, it may hang fire till this time next year. If you will accept a note on the subject now and then, keeping them till there are enough to be worth printing, all practical ends may be enough answered, and much more quickly.

The first function of a Museum—(for a little while I shall speak of Art and Natural History as alike cared for in an ideal one)—is to give example of perfect order and perfect elegance, in the true sense of that test word, to the disorderly and rude populace. Everything in its own place, everything looking its best because it is there, nothing crowded, nothing unnecessary, nothing puzzling. Therefore, after a room has been once arranged, there must be no change in it. For new possessions there must be new rooms, and after twenty years' absence—coming back to the room in which one learned one's bird or beast alphabet, we should be able to show our children the old bird on the old perch in the accustomed corner. But—first of all, let the room be beautifully complete, i.e. complete enough for its proper business.

193. In the British Museum, at the top of the stairs, we encounter in a terrific alliance a giraffe, a hippopotamus, and a basking shark. The public—young and old—pass with a start and a stare, and remain as wise as they were before about all the three creatures. The day before yesterday I was standing by the big fish—a father came up to it with his little boy. "That's a shark," says he; "it turns on its side when it wants to eat you," and so went on—literally as wise as he was before; for he had read in a book that sharks turn on their side to bite, and he never looked at the ticket, which told him this particular shark only ate small fish. Now he never looked at the ticket, because he didn't expect to find anything on it except that this was the Sharkogobalus Smith-Jonesianius. But if, round the walls of the room, there had been all the well-known kinds of shark, going down, in graduated sizes, from that basking one to our waggling dog-fish, and if every one of these had had a plain English ticket, with ten words of common sense on it, saying where and how the beast lived, and a number (unchangeable) referring to a properly arranged manual of the shark tribe (sold by the Museum publisher, who ought to have his little shop close by the porter's lodge), both father and son must have been much below the level of average English man and boy in mother wit if they did not go out of the room by the door in front of them very distinctly, and—to themselves—amazingly, wiser than they had come in by the door behind them.

194. If I venture to give instances of fault from the British Museum, it is because, on the whole, it is the best-ordered and pleasantest institution in all England, and the grandest concentration of the means of human knowledge in the world. And I am heartily sorry for the break-up of it, and augur no good from any changes of arrangement likely to take place in concurrence with Kensington, where, the same day that I had been meditating by the old shark, I lost myself in a Cretan labyrinth of military ironmongery, advertisements of spring blinds, model fish-farming, and plaster bathing nymphs with a year's smut on all the noses of them; and had to put myself in charge of a policeman to get out again. Ever affectionately yours,


March 29th, 1880.


195. The only chance of my getting these letters themselves into fairly consistent and Museum-like order is by writing a word or two always the first thing in the morning till I get them done; so, I shall at least remember what I was talking of the day before; but for the rest—I must speak of one thing or another as it may come into my head, for there are too many to classify without pedantry and loss of time.

My requirement of "elegance" in that last letter contemplates chiefly architecture and fittings. These should not only be perfect in stateliness, durability, and comfort, but beautiful to the utmost point consistent with due subordination to the objects displayed. To enter a room in the Louvre is an education in itself; but two steps on the filthy floor and under the iron forks, half scaffold, half gallows, of the big Norwood glass bazaar, debase mind and eye at once below possibility of looking at anything with profit all the day afterwards. I have just heard that a French picture dealer is to have charge of the picture gallery there, and that the whole interior is to become virtually a large cafe, when—it is hoped—the glass monster may at last "pay." Concerning which beautiful consummation of Mr. Dickens's "Fairyland" (see my pamphlet[5] on the opening of the so-called "palace"), be it here at once noted, that all idea of any "payment," in that sense, must be utterly and scornfully abjured on the foundation stone of every National or Civic Museum. There must be neither companies to fill their own pockets out of it, nor trustees who can cramp the management, or interfere with the officering, or shorten the supplies of it. Put one man of reputation and sense at its head; give him what staff he asks for, and a fixed annual sum for expenditure—specific accounts to be printed annually for all the world's seeing—and let him alone. The original expenditure for building and fitting must be magnificent, and the current expenditure for cleaning and refitting magnanimous; but a certain proportion of this current cost should be covered by small entrance fees, exacted, not for any miserly helping out of the floor-sweepers' salaries, but for the sake of the visitors themselves, that the rooms may not be incumbered by the idle, or disgraced by the disreputable. You must not make your Museum a refuge against either rain or ennui, nor let into perfectly well-furnished, and even, in the true sense, palatial, rooms, the utterly squalid and ill-bred portion of the people. There should, indeed, be refuges for the poor from rain and cold, and decent rooms accessible to indecent persons, if they like to go there; but neither of these charities should be part of the function of a Civic Museum.

196. Make the entrance fee a silver penny (a silver groat, typically representing the father, mother, eldest son, and eldest daughter, passing always the total number of any one family), and every person admitted, however young, being requested to sign their name, or make their mark.

That the entrance money should be always of silver is one of the beginnings of education in the place—one of the conditions of its "elegance" on the very threshold.

And the institution of silver for bronze in the lower coinage is a part of the system of National education which I have been teaching these last ten years—a very much deeper and wider one than any that can be given in museums—and without which all museums will ultimately be vain.—Ever affectionately yours,

J. R.

P.S.—There should be a well-served coffee-room attached to the building; but this part of the establishment without any luxury in furniture or decoration, and without any cooking apparatus for carnivora.

Easter Monday, 1880.

DEAR ——,

197. The day is auspicious for the beginning of reflection on the right manner of manifestation of all divine things to those who desire to see them. For every house of the Muses, where, indeed, they live, is an Interpreter's by the wayside, or rather, a place of oracle and interpretation in one. And the right function of every museum, to simple persons, is the manifestation to them of what is lovely in the life of Nature, and heroic in the life of Men.

There are already, you see, some quaint restrictions in that last sentence, whereat sundry of our friends will start, and others stop. I must stop also, myself, therefore, for a minute or two, to insist on them.

198. A Museum, primarily, is to be for simple persons. Children, that is to say, and peasants. For your student, your antiquary, or your scientific gentleman, there must be separate accommodation, or they must be sent elsewhere. The Town Museum is to be for the Town's People, the Village Museum for the Villagers. Keep that first principle clear to start with. If you want to found an academy of painting in Littleborough, or of literature in Squattlesea Mere, you must get your advice from somebody else, not me.

199. Secondly. The museum is to manifest to these simple persons the beauty and life of all things and creatures in their perfectness. Not their modes of corruption, disease, or death. Not even, always, their genesis, in the more or less blundering beginnings of it; not even their modes of nourishment, if destructive; you must not stuff a blackbird pulling up a worm, nor exhibit in a glass case a crocodile crunching a baby.

Neither must you ever show bones or guts, or any other charnel-house stuff. Teach your children to know the lark's note from the nightingale's; the length of their larynxes is their own business, and God's.

I cannot enough insist upon this point, nor too solemnly. If you wish your children to be surgeons, send them to Surgeons' College; if jugglers or necromancers, to Messrs. Maskelyne and Cooke; and if butchers, to the shambles: but if you want them to lead the calm life of country gentlemen and gentlewomen, manservants and maidservants, let them seek none of Death's secrets till they die. Ever faithfully and affectionately yours,

J. R.

Easter Tuesday, 1880.

DEAR ——,

200. I must enter to-day somewhat further on the practical, no less than emotional, reason for the refusal of anatomical illustrations to the general public.

It is difficult enough to get one clear idea into anybody, of any single thing. But next to impossible to get two clear ideas into them, of the same thing. We have had lions' heads for door-knockers these hundred and fifty years, without ever learning so much as what a lion's head is like. But with good modern stuffing and fetching, I can manage now to make a child really understand something about the beast's look, and his mane, and his sullen eyes and brindled lips. But if I'm bothered at the same time with a big bony box, that has neither mane, lips, nor eyes, and have to explain to the poor wretch of a parish schoolboy how somehow this fits on to that, I will be bound that, at a year's end, draw one as big as the other, and he won't know a lion's head from a tiger's—nor a lion's skull from a rabbit's. Nor is it the parish boy only who suffers. The scientific people themselves miss half their points from the habit of hacking at things, instead of looking at them. When I gave my lecture on the Swallow[6] at Oxford, I challenged every anatomist there to tell me the use of his tail (I believe half of them didn't know he had one). Not a soul of them could tell me, which I knew beforehand; but I did not know, till I had looked well through their books, how they were quarreling about his wings! Actually at this moment (Easter Tuesday, 1880), I don't believe you can find in any scientific book in Europe a true account of the way a bird flies—or how a snake serpentines. My Swallow lecture was the first bit of clear statement on the one point, and when I get my Snake lecture published, you will have the first extant bit of clear statement on the other; and that is simply because the anatomists can't, for their life, look at a thing till they have skinned it.

201. And matters get worse and worse every hour. Yesterday, after writing the first leaf of this note, I went into the British Museum, and found a nasty skeleton of a lizard, with its under jaw dropped off, on the top of a table of butterflies—temporarily of course—but then everything has been temporary or temporizing at the British Museum for the last half-century; making it always a mere waste and weariness to the general public, because, forsooth, it had always to be kept up to the last meeting of the Zoological Society, and last edition of the Times. As if there had not been beasts enough before the Ark to tell our children the manners of, on a Sunday afternoon!

202. I had gone into the Museum that day to see the exact form of a duck's wing, the examination of a lively young drake's here at Coniston having closed in his giving me such a cut on the wrist with it, that I could scarcely write all the morning afterwards. Now in the whole bird gallery there are only two ducks' wings expanded, and those in different positions. Fancy the difference to the mob, and me, if the shells and monkey skeletons were taken away from the mid-gallery, and instead, three gradated series of birds put down the length of it (or half the length—or a quarter would do it—with judgment), showing the transition, in length of beak, from bunting to woodcock—in length of leg, from swift to stilted plover—and in length of wing, from auk to frigate-bird; the wings, all opened, in one specimen of each bird to their full sweep, and in another, shown at the limit of the down back stroke. For what on earth—or in air—is the use to me of seeing their boiled sternums and scalped sinciputs, when I'm never shown either how they bear their breasts—or where they carry their heads?

Enough of natural history, you will say! I will come to art in my next letter—finishing the ugly subject of this one with a single sentence from section ix. of the "Tale of a Tub," commending the context of it to my friends of the Royal Academy.

"Last week, I saw a woman flayed, and you will hardly believe how much it altered her person for the worse."—Ever, my dear ——, affectionately yours,

J. R.

7th April, 1880.


203. I suppose that proper respect for the great first principles of the British Constitution, that every man should do as he pleases, think what he likes, and see everything that can be seen for money, will make most of your readers recoil from my first principle of Museum arrangement,—that nothing should be let inside the doors that isn't good of its sort,—as from an attempt to restore the Papacy, revive the Inquisition, and away with everybody to the lowest dungeon of the castle moat. They must at their pleasure charge me with these sinister views; they will find that there is no dexter view to be had of the business, which does not consist primarily in knowing Bad from Good, and Right from Wrong. Nor, if they will condescend to begin simply enough, and at the bottom of the said business, and let the cobbler judge of the crepida, and the potter of the pot, will they find it so supremely difficult to establish authorities that shall be trustworthy, and judgments that shall be sure.

204. Suppose, for instance, at Leicester, whence came first to us the inquiry on such points, one began by setting apart a Hunter's Room, in which a series of portraits of their Master's favorites, for the last fifty years or so, should be arranged, with certificate from each Squire of his satisfaction, to such and such a point, with the portrait of Lightfoot, or Lucifer, or Will o' the Wisp; and due notification, for perhaps a recreant and degenerate future, of the virtues and perfections at this time sought and secured in the English horse. Would not such a chamber of chivalry have, in its kind, a quite indisputable authority and historical value, not to be shaken by any future impudence or infidelity?

Or again in Staffordshire, would it not be easily answered to an honest question of what is good and not, in clay or ware, "This will work, and that will stand"? and might not a series of the mugs which have been matured with discrimination, and of the pots which have been popular in use, be so ordered as to display their qualities in a convincing and harmonious manner against all gainsayers?

205. Nor is there any mystery of taste, or marvel of skill, concerning which you may not get quite easy initiation and safe pilotage for the common people, provided you once make them clearly understand that there is indeed something to be learned, and something to be admired, in the arts, which will need their attention for a time; and cannot be explained with a word, nor seen with a wink. And provided also, and with still greater decision, you set over them masters, in each branch of the arts, who know their own minds in that matter, and are not afraid to speak them, nor to say, "We know," when they know, and "We don't know," when they don't.

To which end, the said several branches must be held well apart, and dealt with one at a time. Every considerable town ought to have its exemplary collections of woodwork, iron-work, and jewelry, attached to the schools of their several trades, leaving to be illustrated in its public museum, as in an hexagonal bee's cell, the six queenly and muse-taught arts of needlework, writing, pottery, sculpture, architecture, and painting.

206. For each of these, there should be a separate Tribune or Chamber of absolute tribunal, which need not be large—that, so called, of Florence, not the size of a railway waiting-room, has actually for the last century determined the taste of the European public in two arts!—in which the absolute best in each art, so far as attainable by the communal pocket, should be authoritatively exhibited, with simple statement that it is good, and reason why it is good, and notification in what particulars it is unsurpassable, together with some not too complex illustrations of the steps by which it has attained to that perfection, where these can be traced far back in history.

207. These six Tribunes, or Temples, of Fame, being first set with their fixed criteria, there should follow a series of historical galleries, showing the rise and fall (if fallen) of the arts in their beautiful associations, as practiced in the great cities and by the great nations of the world. The history of Egypt, of Persia, of Greece, of Italy, of France, and of England, should be given in their arts,—dynasty by dynasty and age by age; and for a seventh, a Sunday Room, for the history of Christianity in its art, including the farthest range and feeblest efforts of it; reserving for this room, also, what power could be reached in delineation of the great monasteries and cathedrals which were once the glory of all Christian lands.

208. In such a scheme, every form of noble art would take harmonious and instructive place, and often very little and disregarded things be found to possess unthought-of interest and hidden relative beauty; but its efficiency—and in this chiefly let it be commended to the patience of your practical readers—would depend, not on its extent, but on its strict and precise limitation. The methods of which, if you care to have my notions of them, I might perhaps enter into, next month, with some illustrative detail.—Ever most truly yours,

J. R.

10th June, 1880.[7]


209. I can't give you any talk on detail, yet; but, not to drop a stitch in my story, I want to say why I've attached so much importance to needlework, and put it in the opening court of the six. You see they are progressive, so that I don't quite put needlework on a level with painting. But a nation that would learn to "touch" must primarily know how to "stitch." I am always busy, for a good part of the day, in my wood, and wear out my leathern gloves fast, after once I can wear them at all: but that's the precise difficulty of the matter. I get them from the shop looking as stout and trim as you please, and half an hour after I've got to work they split up the fingers and thumbs like ripe horse-chestnut shells, and I find myself with five dangling rags round my wrist, and a rotten white thread draggling after me through the wood, or tickling my nose, as if Ariadne and Arachne had lost their wits together. I go home, invoking the universe against sewing-machines; and beg the charity of a sound stitch or two from any of the maids who know their woman's art; and thenceforward the life of the glove proper begins. Wow, it is not possible for any people that put up with this sort of thing, to learn to paint, or do anything else with their fingers decently:—only, for the most part they don't think their museums are meant to show them how to do anything decently, but rather how to be idle, indecently. Which extremely popular and extremely erroneous persuasion, if you please, we must get out of our way before going further.

210. I owe some apology, by the way, to Mr. Frith, for the way I spoke of his picture[8] in my letter to the Leicester committee, not intended for publication, though I never write what I would not allow to be published, and was glad that they asked leave to print it. It was not I who instanced the picture, it had been named in the meeting of the committee as the kind of thing that people best like, and I was obliged to say why people best liked it:—namely, not for the painting, which is good, and worthy their liking, but for the sight of the racecourse and its humors. And the reason that such a picture ought not to be in a museum, is precisely because in a museum people ought not to fancy themselves on a racecourse. If they want to see races, let them go to races; and if rogues, to Bridewells. They come to museums to see something different from rogues and races.

211. But, to put the matter at once more broadly, and more accurately, be it remembered, for sum of all, that a museum is not a theater. Both are means of noble education—but you must not mix up the two. Dramatic interest is one thing; aesthetic charm another; a pantomime must not depend on its fine color, nor a picture on its fine pantomime.

Take a special instance. It is long since I have been so pleased in the Royal Academy as I was by Mr. Britton Riviere's "Sympathy." The dog in uncaricatured doggedness, divine as Anubis, or the Dog-star; the child entirely childish and lovely, the carpet might have been laid by Veronese. A most precious picture in itself, yet not one for a museum. Everybody would think only of the story in it; everybody be wondering what the little girl had done, and how she would be forgiven, and if she wasn't, how soon she would stop crying, and give the doggie a kiss, and comfort his heart. All which they might study at home among their own children and dogs just as well; and should not come to the museum to plague the real students there, since there is not anything of especial notableness or unrivaled quality in the actual painting.

212. On the other hand, one of the four pictures I chose for permanent teaching in Fors was one of a child and a dog. The child is doing nothing; neither is the dog. But the dog is absolutely and beyond comparison the best painted dog in the world—ancient or modern—on this side of it, or at the Antipodes, (so far as I've seen the contents of said world). And the child is painted so that child cannot be better done. That is a picture for a museum.

Not that dramatic, still less didactic, intention should disqualify a work of art for museum purposes. But—broadly—dramatic and didactic art should be universally national, the luster of our streets, the treasure of our palaces, the pleasure of our homes. Much art that is weak, transitory, and rude may thus become helpful to us. But the museum is only for what is eternally right, and well done, according to divine law and human skill. The least things are to be there—and the greatest—but all good with the goodness that makes a child cheerful and an old man calm; the simple should go there to learn, and the wise to remember.

213. And now to return to what I meant to be the subject of this letter—the arrangement of our first ideal room in such a museum. As I think of it, I would fain expand the single room, first asked for, into one like Prince Houssain's,—no, Prince Houssain had the flying tapestry, and I forget which prince had the elastic palace. But, indeed, it must be a lordly chamber which shall be large enough to exhibit the true nature of thread and needle—omened in "Thread-needle Street!"

The structure, first of wool and cotton, of fur, and hair, and down, of hemp, flax, and silk:—microscope permissible if any cause can be shown why wool is soft, and fur fine, and cotton downy, and down downier; and how a flax fiber differs from a dandelion stalk, and how the substance of a mulberry leaf can become velvet for Queen Victoria's crown, and clothing of purple for the housewife of Solomon.

Then the phase of its dyeing. What azures, and emeralds, and Tyrians scarlets can be got into fibers of thread.

214. Then the phase of its spinning. The mystery of that divine spiral, from finest to firmest, which renders lace possible at Valenciennes—anchorage possible, after Trafalgar—if Hardy had but done as he was bid.

Then the mystery of weaving. The eternal harmony of warp and woof, of all manner of knotting, knitting, and reticulation, the art which makes garment possible, woven from the top throughout, draughts of fishes possible, miraculous enough in any pilchard or herring shoal, gathered into companionable catchableness;—which makes, in fine, so many Nations possible, and Saxon and Norman beyond the rest.

215. And finally, the accomplished phase of needlework, the Acu Tetigisti of all time, which does, indeed, practically exhibit what mediaeval theologists vainly tried to conclude inductively—How many angels can stand on a needle-point. To show the essential nature of a stitch—drawing the separate into the inseparable, from the lowly work of duly restricted sutor, and modestly installed cobbler, to the needle-Scripture of Matilda, the Queen.

All the acicular Art of Nations, savage and civilized, from Lapland boot, letting in no snow-water—to Turkey cushion bossed with pearl—to valance of Venice gold in needlework -to the counterpanes and samplers of our own lovely ancestresses, imitable, perhaps, once more, with good help from Whiteland's College—and Girton.

216. It was but yesterday, my own womankind were in much wholesome and sweet excitement delightful to behold, in the practice of some new device of remedy for rents (to think how much of evil there is in the two senses of that four-lettered word! as in the two methods of intonation of its synonym tear!) whereby they might be daintily effaced, and with a newness which would never make them worse. The process began beautifully, even to my uninformed eyes, in the likeness of herring-bone masonry, crimson on white, but it seemed to me marvelous that anything should yet be discoverable in needle process, and that of so utilitarian character.

All that is reasonable, I say of such work is to be in our first museum room. All that Athena and Penelope would approve. Nothing that vanity has invented for change, or folly loved for costliness; but all that can bring honest pride into homely life, and give security to health—and honor to beauty.



[Footnote 4: These letters are reprinted from the Art Journal of June and August 1880, where they were prefaced with the following note by the editor in explanation of their origin:—"We are enabled, through Mr. Ruskin's kindness, to publish this month a series of letters to a friend upon the functions and formation of a model Museum or Picture Gallery. As stated in our last issue the question arose thus:—At the distribution of the prizes to the School of Art at Leicester by Mr. J. D. Linton and Mr. James Orrock, members of the Institute of Painters in Water Colors, the latter, after stating the vital importance of study from nothing but the finest models, and expressing his regret that the present price of works of Art of the first class rendered their attainment by schools almost prohibitory, offered drawings by William Hunt and David Cox as a nucleus for a collection. He urged others to follow this example, and with so much success that a few days saw a large sum and many works of Art promised in aid of a students' gallery. The attention of the Leicester Corporation was thereupon drawn to the movement, and they at once endeavored to annex the scheme to their Museum. Failing in this, they in friendly rivalry subscribed a large sum of money, and the question at once arose how best to dispose of it, each naturally thinking his own ideas the best. At this juncture Mr. Ruskin's aid was invoked by one section of the subscribers, and he replied in a letter which, owing to its having been circulated without its context, has been open to some misconstruction. As he was only asked, so he only advised, what should not be done. However, the letter bore its fruits, for both parties have had the attention of the country drawn to their proposals, and so are now more diffident how to set about carrying them into effect than they were before. Under these circumstances Mr. Ruskin has been induced to set out the mode in which he considers an Art Museum should be formed."

The letter which was "open to some misconstruction" may be found in Arrows of the Chace.]

[Footnote 5: Reprinted in vol. i., Sec.Sec. 253-273.—ED.]

[Footnote 6: In 1873. See the second lecture of Love's Meinie.—ED..]

[Footnote 7: Art Journal, August, 1880.]

[Footnote 8: The "Derby Day." See Arrows of the Chase.]

* * * * *








* * * * *


217. The tomb of Federigo and Nicola Cavalli is in the southernmost chapel of the five which form the east end of the church of St. Anastasia at Verona.

The traveler in Italy is so often called upon to admire what he cannot enjoy, that it must relieve the mind of any reader intending to visit Verona to be assured that this church deserves nothing but extraordinary praise; it has, however, some characters which a quarter of an hour's attention will make both interesting and instructive, and which I will note briefly before giving an account of the Cavalli chapel. This church "would, if the font were finished, probably be the most perfect specimen in existence of the style to which it belongs," says a critic quoted in "Murray's Guide." The conjecture is a bold one, for the font is not only unfinished, and for the most part a black mass of ragged brickwork, but the portion pretending to completion is in three styles; approaches excellence only in one of them; and in that the success is limited to the sides of the single entrance door. The flanks and vaults of this porch, indeed, deserve our almost unqualified admiration for their beautiful polychrome masonry. They are built of large masses of green serpentine alternating with red and white marble, and the joints are so delicate and firm that a casual spectator might pass the gate with contempt, thinking the stone was painted.

218. The capitals on these two sides, the carved central shaft, and the horizontal lintel of this door are also excellent examples of Veronese thirteenth century sculpture, and have merits of a high order, but of which the general observer cannot be cognizant. I do not mean, in saying this, to extol them greatly; the best art is pleasing to all, and its virtue, or a portion of its virtue, instantly manifest. But there are some good qualities in every earnest work which can only be ascertained by attention; and in saying that a casual observer cannot see the good qualities in early Veronese sculpture, I mean that it possesses none but these, nor of these many.

219. Yet it is worth a minute's delay to observe how much the sculpture has counted on attention. In later work, figures of the size of life, or multitudinous small ones, please, if they do not interest, the spectator who can spare them a momentary glance. But all the figures on this door are diminutive, and project so slightly from the stone as scarcely to catch the eye; there are none in the sides and none in the vault of the gate, and it is only by deliberate examination that we find the faith which is to be preached in the church, and the honor of its preacher, conclusively engraved on the lintel and door-post. The spiral flutings of the central shaft are uninterrupted, so as to form a slight recess for the figure of St. Dominic, with, I believe, St. Peter Martyr and St. Thomas Aquinas, one on each side with the symbols of the sun and moon. At the end of the lintel, on the left, is St. Anastasia; on the right, St. Catherine (of Siena); in the center, on the projecting capital, the Madonna; and on the lintel, the story of Christ, in the four passages of the Annunciation, Nativity, Crucifixion, and Resurrection.

220. This is the only part of the front of the church which is certainly part of the first structure in 1260. The two statues of St. Anastasia and St. Catherine are so roughly joined to the lateral capitals as to induce a suspicion that even these latter and the beautiful polychrome vault are of later work, not, however, later than 1300. The two pointed arches which divide the tympanum are assuredly subsequent, and the fresco which occupies it is a bad work of the end of the fourteenth century; and the marble frieze and foundations of the front are at least not earlier than 1426.

Of this portion of the building the foundation is noble, and its color beautifully disposed, but the sculpture of the paneling is poor, and of no interest or value.

221. On entering the church, and turning immediately to the left, there will be seen on the inner side of the external wall a tomb under a boldly trefoiled canopy. It is a sarcophagus with a recumbent figure on it, which is the only work of art in the church deserving serious attention. It is the tomb of Gerard Bolderius "sui temporis physicorum principi," says his epitaph,[10] not, as far as I can discover, untruly. On the front of the sarcophagus is the semi-figure of Christ rising from the tomb, used generally at the period for the type of resurrection, between the Virgin and St. John; and two shields, bearing, one the fleur-de-lys, the other an eagle. The recumbent figure is entirely simple and right in treatment, sculptured without ostentation of skill or exaggeration of sentiment, by a true artist, who endeavors only to give the dead due honor, and his own art subordinate and modest scope.

This monument, being the best in St. Anastasia, is, by the usual spite of fortune, placed where it is quite invisible except on bright days. On the opposite side of the church, the first monument on the right, well lighted by the tall western window, should be looked at next to the physician's; for as that is the best, this is essentially the worst, piece of sculptured art in the building; a series of academy studies in marble, well executed, but without either taste or invention, and necessarily without meaning, the monument having been erected to a person whose only claim to one was his having stolen money enough to pay for it before he died. It is one of the first pieces extant of entirely mechanical art workmanship, done for money; and the perfection of its details may justify me in directing special attention to it.

222. There are no other monuments, still less pictures, in the body of the church deserving notice. The general effect of the interior is impressive, owing partly to the boldness and simplicity of the pillars which sustain the roof; partly to the darkness which involves them: these Dominican churches being, in fact, little more than vast halls for preaching in, and depending little on decoration, and not at all on light. But the sublimity of shadow soon fails when it has nothing interesting to shade; and the chapel or monuments which, opposite each interval between the pillars, fill the sides of the aisles, possess no interest except in their arabesques of cinque-cento sculpture, of which far better examples may be seen elsewhere; while the differences in their ages, styles, and purposes hinder them from attaining any unity of decorative effect, and break the unity of the church almost as fatally, though not as ignobly, as the incoherent fillings of the aisles at Westminster. The Cavalli chapel itself, though well deserving the illustration which the Arundel Society has bestowed upon it, is filled with a medley of tombs and frescoes of different dates, partly superseding, none illustrating, each other, and instructive mainly as showing the unfortunate results of freedom and "private enterprise" in matters of art, as compared with the submission to the design of one ruling mind which is the glory of all the chapels in Italy where the art is entirely noble.

223. Instructive, thus, at least, even if seen hastily; much better teaching may be had even from the unharmonious work, if we give time and thought to it. The upper fresco on the north wall, representing the Baptism of Christ, has no beauty, and little merit as art; yet the manner of its demerit is interesting. St. John kneels to baptize. This variation from the received treatment, in which he stands above the Christ, is enough in itself to show that the poor Veronese painter had some intelligence of his subject; and the quaint and haggard figure, grim-featured, with its black hair rising in separate locks like a crown of thorns, is a curious intermediate type between the grotesque conception which we find in earlier art (or, for instance, on the coins of Florence) and the beautiful, yet always melancholy and severe figures of St. John painted by Cima da Conegliano at Venice. With this stern figure, in raiment of camel's hair, compare the Magdalen in the frescoes at the side of the altar, who is veiled from head to foot with her own, and sustained by six angels, being the type of repentance from the passions, as St. John of resistance to them. Both symbols are, to us, to say the very least, without charm, and to very few without offense; yet consider how much nobler the temper of the people must have been who could take pleasure in art so gloomy and unadorned, than that of the populace of to-day, which must be caught with bright colors and excited by popular sentiment.

224. Both these frescoes, with the others on the north wall of the chapel, and Madonna between four saints on the south side, by the Cavalli tomb, are evidently of fourteenth century work, none of it good, but characteristic; and the last-named work (seen in the plate) is so graceful as to be quite worth some separate illustration. But the one above it is earlier, and of considerable historical interest. It was discovered with the other paintings surrounding the tomb, about the year 1838, when Persico published his work, "Verona, e la sua Provincia," in which he says (p. 13), "levatane l'antica incrostatura, tornarono a vita novella."

It would have been more serviceable to us if we could have known the date of the rough cast, than of its removal; the period of entire contempt for ancient art being a subject of much interest in the ecclesiastical history of Italy. But the tomb itself was an incrustation, having been raised with much rudeness and carelessness amidst the earlier art which recorded the first rise of the Cavalli family.

225. It will be seen by reference to the plate that the frescoes round the tomb have no symmetrical relation to it. They are all of earlier date, and by better artists. The tomb itself is roughly carved, and coarsely painted, by men who were not trying to do their best, and could not have done anything very well, even if they had tried: it is an entirely commonplace and dull work, though of a good school, and has been raised against the highest fresco with a strange disregard of the merit of the work itself, and of its historical value to the family. This fresco is attributable by Persico to Giotto, but is, I believe, nothing more than an interesting example of the earnest work of his time, and has no quality on which I care to enlarge; nor is it ascertainable who the three knights are whom it commemorates, unless some evidence be found of the date of the painting, and there is, yet, none but that of its manner. But they are all three Cavallis, and I believe them to represent the three first founders of the family, Giovanni, "che fioriva intorno al 1274," his son Nicola (1297), and grandson Federigo, who was Podesta of Vicenza under the Scaligers in 1331, and by whom I suppose the fresco to have been commanded. The Cavallis came first from Germany into the service of the Visconti of Milan, as condottieri, thence passing into the service of the Scaligers. Whether I am right in this conjecture or not, we have, at all events, record in this chapel of seven knights of the family, of whom two are named on the sarcophagus, of which the inscription (on the projecting ledge under the recumbent figure) is:—

S. (Sepulchrum) nobilis et egregii viri Federici et egregii et strenui viri domini Nicolai de Cavalis suorunique heredum, qui spiritum redidit astris Ano Dni MCCCLXXXX.

Of which, I think, the force may be best given thus in modern terms:—

"The tomb of the noble and distinguished Herr Frederic, and of the distinguished and energetic Herr the Lord Nicholas of the house of the Horse, and of their heirs, who gave back his soul to the stars in the year of our Lord 1390."

226. This Frederic and Nicolas Cavalli were the brothers of the Jacopo Cavalli who is buried at Venice, and who, by a singular fatality, was enrolled among the Venetian nobles of the senate in the year in which his brother died at Verona (for I assume the "spiritum redidit" to be said of the first-named brother). Jacopo married Constance della Scala, of Verona, and had five sons, of whom one, Giorgio, Conte di Schio, plotted, after the fall of the Scaligers, for their restoration to power in Verona, and was exiled, by decree of the Council of Ten, to Candia, where he died. From another son, Conrad, are descended the Cavallis of Venice, whose palace has been the principal material from which recent searchers for the picturesque in Venice compose pictures of the Grand Canal. It forms the square mass of architecture on the left, in the continually repeated view of the Church of the Salute seen from the steps of the Academy.

The genealogy of the family, from the thirteenth century, when they first appeared in Italy, to the founder of this Venetian lordship, had better be set before the reader in one view.[11]

GIOVANNI, Condottiere in service of the Visconti, 1274. NICOLA, Condottiere, 1297. FEDERICO, Podesta of Vicenza under the Scaligers, 1331. CONRADO, Condottiere, 1350. - FEDERIGO, JACOPO, NICOLA, - NICOLA, GIOVANNI, CONRADO, FEDERIGO, GIORGIO. Founds Venetian family.

227. Now, as above stated, I believe that the fresco of the three knights was commanded by the Podesta of Vicenza, on his receiving that authority from the Scaligers in 1331, and that it represents Giovanni, Nicola, and himself; while the tomb of Federigo and Nicola would be ordered by the Venetian Cavallis, and completed without much care for the record of the rise of the family at Verona.

Whether my identification of the figures seen kneeling in the fresco be correct or not, the representation of these three Cavalli knights to the Madonna, each interceded for by his patron saint, will be found to receive a peculiar significance if the reader care to review the circumstances influencing the relation of the German chivalry to the power of the Church in the very year when Giovanni Cavalli entered the ranks of the Visconti.

228. For the three preceding centuries, Milan, the oldest archbishopric of Lombardy, had been the central point at which the collision between the secular and ecclesiastical power took place in Europe. The Guelph and Ghibelline naturally met and warred throughout the plain of Lombardy; but the intense civic stubbornness and courage of the Milanese population formed a kind of rock in their tide-way, where the quarrel of burgher with noble confused itself with, embittered, and brought again and again to trial by battle, that of pope with emperor. In 1035 their warrior archbishop, heading their revolt against Conrad of Franconia, organized the first disciplined resistance of foot-soldiers to cavalry by his invention and decoration of the Carroccio; and the contest was only closed, after the rebuilding of the walls of ruined Milan, by the wandering of Barbarossa, his army scattered, through the maize fields, which the traveler now listlessly crosses at speed in the train between Milan and Arona, little noting the name of the small station, "Legnano," where the fortune of the Lombard republic finally prevailed. But it was only by the death of Frederick II. that the supremacy of the Church was secured; and when Innocent IV., who had written, on hearing of that death, to his Sicilian clergy, in words of blasphemous exultation, entered Milan, on his journey from Lyons to Perugia, the road, for ten miles before he reached the gates, was lined by the entire population of the city, drawn forth in enthusiastic welcome; as they had invented a sacred car for the advance of their standard in battle, they invented some similar honor for the head of their Church as the harbinger of peace: under a canopy of silk, borne by the first gentlemen of Milan, the Pope received the hosannas of a people who had driven into shameful flight their Caesar-king; and it is not uninteresting for the English traveler to remember, as he walks through the vast arcades of shops, in the form of a cross, by which the Milanese of to-day express their triumph in liberation from Teutonic rule, that the "Baldacchino" of all mediaeval religious ceremony owed its origin to the taste of the milliners of Milan, as the safety of the best knights in European battle rested on the faithful craftsmanship of her armorers.

229. But at the date when the Cavalli entered the service of the great Milanese family, the state of parties within the walls had singularly changed. Three years previously (1271) Charles of Anjou had drawn together the remnants of the army of his dead brother, had confiscated to his own use the goods of the crusading knights whose vessels had been wrecked on the coast of Sicily, and called the pontifical court to Viterbo, to elect a pope who might confirm his dominion over the kingdoms of Sicily and Jerusalem.

On the deliberations of the Cardinals at Viterbo depended the fates of Italy and the Northern Empire. They chose Tebaldo Visconti, then a monk in pilgrimage at Jerusalem. But, before that election was accomplished, one of the candidates for the Northern Empire had involuntarily withdrawn his claim; Guy de Montfort had murdered, at the altar foot, the English Count of Cornwall, to avenge his father, Simon de Montfort, killed at Evesham. The death of the English king of the Romans left the throne of Germany vacant. Tebaldo had returned from Jerusalem with no personal ambition, but having at heart only the restoration of Greece to Europe, and the preaching of a new crusade in Syria. A general council was convoked by him at Lyons, with this object; but before anything could be accomplished in the conclave, it was necessary to balance the overwhelming power of Charles of Anjou, and the Visconti (Gregory X.) ratified, in 1273, the election of Rudolph of Hapsburg.

230. But Charles of Anjou owed his throne, in reality, to the assistance of the Milanese. Their popular leader, Napoleone della Torre, had facilitated his passage through Lombardy, which otherwise must have been arrested by the Ghibelline states; and in the year in which the Visconti pope had appointed the council at Lyons, the Visconti archbishop of Milan was heading the exiled nobles in vain attempts to recover their supremacy over the popular party. The new Emperor Rudolph not only sent a representative to the council, but a German contingent to aid the exiled archbishop. The popular leader was defeated, and confined in an iron cage, in the year 1274, and the first entrance of the Cavalli into the Italian armies is thus contemporary with the conclusive triumph of the northern monarchic over the republican power, or, more literally, of the wandering rider, Eques, or Ritter, living by pillage, over the sedentary burgher, living by art, and hale peasant, living by labor. The essential nature of the struggle is curiously indicated in relation to this monument by the two facts that the revolt of the Milanese burghers, headed by their archbishop, began by a gentleman's killing an importunate creditor, and that, at Venice, the principal circumstance recorded of Jacopo Cavalli (see my notice of his tomb in the "Stones of Venice," Vol. III. ch. ii. Sec. 69) is his refusal to assault Feltre, because the senate would not grant him the pillage of the town. The reader may follow out, according to his disposition, what thoughts the fresco of the three kneeling knights, each with his helmet-crest, in the shape of a horse's head, thrown back from his shoulders, may suggest to him on review of these passages of history: one thought only I must guard him against, strictly; namely, that a condottiere's religion must necessarily have been false or hypocritical. The folly of nations is in nothing more manifest than in their placid reconciliation of noble creeds with base practices. But the reconciliation, in the fourteenth as in the nineteenth century, was usually foolish only, not insincere.

Previous Part     1  2  3  4  5  6  7  8  9  10     Next Part
Home - Random Browse