University of Wisconsin Digital Collections
Link to University of Wisconsin Digital Collections
Link to University of Wisconsin Digital Collections
Digital Library for the Decorative Arts and Material Culture

Page View

The new path
Vol. I, No. 1 (May 1863)

Ruskin, J.
A letter from Mr. Ruskin,   pp. 9-10

Page 9

A letterfrom 3ifr. Ruskin.
in carving the human body culminated
in Greece. under the Roman sway, and
has been seen no more by mian.
This sculpture being producible only
by the most able and most cultivated
men, who gave their work uniformly a
finish as perfect as would accord with
its distance from the eye, the Greeks
soon learned to demand in everything
the same perfect workmanship.  The
consequence was, that all other and
inferior natural forms were almost dis-
regarded in their ornamentation. For
the great men, having perfect knowl-
edge through daily sight in the circus,
and, to all intents, in the streets and
market-places of the glorious farm of
man, and that, in a perfection of
health and development of which our
only idea is derivable from these Greek
sculptures that represent it, would not
spend their strength in the portraiture
of any less noble work of nature, and
the lesser men, the workmen, were in-
capable of perfect finish and spirited
portraiture at the same time.  That is
an universally applicable law.  Had
the Egyptians insisted on faultless
workmanship, they must have been
content with lifeless copying.  The
Greeks chose accordingly, and kept to
their choice; so, all the lovely plants
of lovely Greece were conventionalized
into meaningless ornaments for borders
and hems, or flat patterns of uniform
color, the temples of the best period
being almost bare of carved ornament,
other than human sculpture; and the
acanthus and honeysuckle ornaments
of a later time, being no more like the
natural leaves than just enough to
hint at their origin.  The Parthenon,
as a building, is an absolutely naked,
undecorated marble shed, subtle in
proportion, delicate in outline, all dis-
cordancies ruled out, everything done
that could be done with flutings and
triglyphs. But all was a frame for
human   sculpture.  Colossal figures
fill the pediments, forming religious or
historical record.  Groups in high re-
lief crowd the squares above the
columns on the outside.  Broad bands
of flat sculpture  surround the cella
walls within the colonnade.
And their painting, so far as associa-
ted with architecture, was used only to
set off the sculpture, or to serve some
useful or symbolical purpose.
The  Art, then, of the   civilized
Athenian differs from that of the bar-
barous Assyrian, in being narrower in
range but perfect in development.
How far this exceptional, work of
theirs tended to produce or resulted
from their peculiar traits of character,
it would be interesting to inquire, but
it is now beyond our purpose.
To be continued.
It is with great pleasure that we
publish the following letter from Mr.
Ruskin. It was written in reply to
one from a gentleman in this city ask-
ing Mr. Ruskin's authority to deny
certain  reports relative to alleged
changes in his opinions, which had
been for some time industriously circu-
lated among us. It might have seemed
that these stories, although retailed
with the most unblushing impudence,
and finished, ad unguem, with abun-
dant details of time and place, would
have borne their own refutation on
their face, for they reported nothing
less than an entire change of views,
and renunciation of old opinions, ac-
companied with the most poignant
regrets for the delusions into which
the author of Modern Painters had led
so many well-meaning people. But,
was it Heine who saidc that " whatever
crop fails, the crop of fools never
fails?" Whoever said it, it has proved
true in this case, and enough have
believed these silly stories to make it
worth while to obtain Mr. Ruskin's
denial of them under his own signa-
The first hint of these tales appeared
in a letter written from London to the
Commercial Advertiser, and published
in the issue of that journal of July 6th,
1861. The letter is dated, London,
June 23, 1861, and is signed " Ward."
It is a worthless compound of igno-
rance and shallow criticism, quite on a
level with the other productions of the
same pen, which, under the signature
"G. W. N.," so long did discredit to

Go up to Top of Page