The Nature of Gothic in a Kelmscott Press edition. First page of text, with ornamented border.
|1851 - 1853|
|Preceded by||The Seven Lamps of Architecture|
For the 2001 Doctor Who audio story, see The Stones of Venice (audio drama)
The Stones of Venice examines Venetian architecture in detail, describing for example over eighty churches. He discusses architecture of Venice's Byzantine, Gothic and Renaissance periods, and provides a general history of the city.
As well as being an art historian, Ruskin was a social reformer. He set out to prove how Venetian architecture exemplified the principles he discussed in his earlier work, The Seven Lamps of Architecture.In the chapter "The Nature of Gothic" (from volume 2), Ruskin gives his views on how society should be organised.
We want one man to be always thinking, and another to be always working, and we call one a gentleman, and the other an operative; whereas the workman ought often to be thinking, and the thinker often to be working, and both should be gentlemen, in the best sense. As it is, we make both ungentle, the one envying, the other despising, his brother; and the mass of society is made up of morbid thinkers and miserable workers. Now it is only by labour that thought can be made healthy, and only by thought that labour can be made happy, and the two cannot be separated with impunity.
Ruskin had visited Venice before, but he made two visits to Venice with his wife Effie specially to research the book. The first visit was in the winter of 1849-50. The first volume of The Stones of Venice appeared in 1851 and Ruskin spent another winter in Venice researching the next two volumes. His research methods included sketching and photography (by 1849 he had acquired his own camera so that he could take daguerrotypes).
Various shortened editions of the book have been published, including one edited by J.G. Links published in the USA in 1960.
It aroused considerable interest in Victorian Britain and beyond. The chapter "The Nature of Gothic" was admired by William Morris, who published it separately in an edition which is in itself an example of Gothic revival. Morris stated that it was "one of the very few necessary and inevitable utterances of the century".
The book inspired Marcel Proust (the narrator of the Recherche visits Venice with his mother in a state of enthusiasm for Ruskin) and in 2010 Roger Scruton wrote that the book was, "the greatest description in English of a place made sacred by buildings".