Thus all the physical and intellectual senses have been replaced by the simple alienation of all these senses; the sense of having. The human being had to be reduced to this absolute poverty in order to be able to give birth to all his inner wealth. — Karl Marx, 1844
hen fame came to Ruskin in the 1850s, he made himself the center of a web of activities of which his books form only a part. First, he was a teacher: he held classes at F. D. Maurice's Working Men's College, tutored and lectured the rich, and wrote textbooks for an even larger audience, becoming in effect the drawing master of the nation. Second, he was a preserver: by undertaking to catalog the immense Turner bequest, containing over 19,000 sketches and paintings, he converted the works of England's greatest painter into an item of national wealth. Third, as a critic, patron, and friend, he encouraged the best young artists of his time with commissions and praise. In short he seized a peculiarly modern occasion — the hunger of a dominant middle class for the culture previously reserved for the rich — and forged a synthesis of roles even the Renaissance never knew. He was at once Vasari, Lorenzo the Magnificent, and one of the master craftsmen who trained Raphael or Giotto as well as a visionary and propagandist for art. But perhaps we might best call him a political economist of art, the fountainhead of a micro system that propagated beauty by means of money, ideas, and guidance. In many ways his activities acted out the proposals of his books and lectures, one great aim of which was to reconcile art and society in ways that would transform both. The social means of that transformation would rest on the imaginative extension of his economic micro system to the entire nation.
At its best, we might call Ruskin's patronage system a form of exalted Confucianism, based on the idea of paternity. We see this aspect most clearly in the case of his favorite proteges, Edward and Georgiana [161/162]Burne-Jones, whom he called his children, but always in some degree Ruskin's relations with young artists seem to have imitated his own relations with his father: the artists acted out his ambitions vicariously in return for encouragement and the right to give advice. They often saw him, in turn, as a combination of schoolmaster and fairy godfather, and to a young person of noble aspiration, the first meeting with Ruskin could be the revelation to him of the Promised Land of his powers. James Smetham, the painter, wrote, "Ruskin is a revelation of a new world . . ., one of the very noblest creatures that ever breathed God's vital air and the Chevalier sans peur and sans reproche who has cropped up like the flower which blooms once in a hundred years." The young Burne-Jones wrote to a friend, "Isn't that like a dream? Think of knowing Ruskin like an equal and being called his dear boys. Oh! he is so good and kind — better than his books, which are the best books in the world." "Jones," Ruskin exclaimed on first seeing the young man's sketches, "you're gigantic!" (Smetham's letter is quoted in Derrick Leon, 277)
No charismatic style could be farther removed from that of Carlyle, and indeed it is tempting to see the two friends as opposite poles, answering opposite needs in the mid-Victorian generation seeking a principle of authority. One, gruffly and even harshly masculine, preached the gospel of heroism and sent his young men, so to speak, off to war. The other, who struck some as frail and feminine, preached the gospel of goodness and beauty, yet made people want just as strongly to sacrifice themselves to a noble ideal. In his influence on others, Ruskin called up enthusiasm rather than earnestness, as Walter Houghton has defined these terms, while Carlyle was the prophet of earnestness in an extreme form (264). And if Carlyle dramatized in his personality some of the fire of a Scottish Covenanter, Ruskin could seem (to the eye of the beholder) surrounded with the glow of knighthood — or at least with that of gentility. Houghton remarks that earnestness is essentially Evangelical, while enthusiasm is essentially aristocratic. Unlike Carlyle, Ruskin usually pictures social perfection in aristocratic imagery, just as, in his own life, he fulfilled the dream not only of his parents but also of an entire class.
The class basis of Ruskin's appeal is indicated by the house that for a few years formed the nexus of his personal "economy." He returned to Denmark Hill at the end of his marriage, where he found life narrow and irksome, although it must have affected many visitors much as the country houses of his father's clients affected Ruskin as a boy. Callers [162/163] approached the mansion by means of a gravel drive past a lawn with an immense cedar of Lebanon; inside were agreeable footmen and servants and the lord and lady of the house — she no Scottish captain's daughter but rather a "ruddy, dignified, richly dressed old gentlewoman . . . who knows Chamouni better than Camberwell." It was the young lord who showed the guest the family treasures, hanging and unhanging them from the wall and talking all the while. The tour was apt to end in John's study overlooking the garden — a room thick, almost cluttered, with papers and sketches, precious manuscripts and specimens of shells and ferns, a museum within a museum that must have seemed, like his books, a collection of his best and happiest moments. James Smetham recalls speaking "about things I should be sorry to open my heart concerning to scarcely any; only of course he guided the conversation." This particular visitor left in a carriage (ordered by the elder Ruskin so that no damage would befall his sketches), feeling "in a sort of soft dream all the way home." The father bought the house and pictures, but the son filled the place with romance and forged its links with Lady Canning, the Marchioness of Waterford, or Broadlands, the home of Palmerston, but if the scene I have described represents the apex in the arc of the father's fortune, the same "fortune" in the son's hands flowed downward into unforeseeable regions. To Octavia Hill, an idealistic young woman trying to finance slum improvements, he said: "I have been given means, take some of them, live, set your mind at ease. But don't think I am doing you a personal favour, or a favour at all. I am but carrying on the work I was sent to do. I work for other generations." (Leon, 232-233, 235.)
The complex psychological dynamics of the system by which Ruskin, fresh upon the dissolution of his own marriage, tried to create for himself an extended household and an extended progeny, are best seen in his relations with Rossetti — at once the oddest and most inevitable of his friendships. The relationship was inevitable, because Rossetti was a great English painter; it was odd because Rossetti's dissolute and self-destructive genius was as far from the piety of Ruskin's parents as the notorious household at Cheyne Walk was from Denmark Hill. Undoubtedly Rossetti appealed to Ruskin's susceptibility to sensuality — or at least to the combination of spirituality and squalor that Ruskin associated with Italy — and therefore to Ruskin's need to nourish and control. Rossetti was, according to Ruskin, "really not an Englishman, but a great Italian tormented in the Inferno of London; doing the best he could; but the 'could' shortened by the strength of his animal passions, without any trained control, or guiding faith" (XXXV, 486). Ruskin's [163/164] letters characteristically combined extravagant praise with persistent criticisms of details — what Rossetti called his "pinpricks" — which came close to causing their rupture. For Ruskin's beneficence always involved a trade-off. His general view that social relations should be cooperative instead of competitive found its correlative in a territorial pattern of friendships, according to which everyone receives claim to a distinct "superiority." It seems that Ruskin, emerging from the disaster of his marriage, needed all the more to establish control over others and immunity for himself — a need that led him to failures in intimate friendship, to success in purely philanthropical relations, and to the belief in a paternal hierarchy as the only possible form of the Peaceable Kingdom. But another side of his authoritarianism was the real fear that the artistic passions were poor shepherds of themselves, a fear connected with his growing preoccupation in the 1850s with the evanescence of beauty. Indeed, it is hard not to see behind the images that close Modern Painters V — the Hesperid standing in the twilight or the fading stain on Giorgione's wall — the shape of the doomed Lizzie Siddal or the frescoes on the Oxford Dining Hall, executed on whitewashed brick. The Rossettis must have confirmed Ruskin's sense of an inherent fatality in the art gift as well as the sense, both anguished and hopeful, that he himself had the means to preserve life.
Both Ruskin's life and his books center in these years on the same issues-the interconnectedness of wealth and love and art and life. No document reveals more clearly the personal energies informing his work in the late 1850s than a letter he wrote to Rossetti by way of introduction, asking, among other things, for understanding in the face of his recent scandal:
You constantly hear a great many people saying I am very bad, and perhaps you yourself have been disposed lately to think me very good. I am neither the one nor the other. I am very self-indulgent, very proud, very obstinate, and very resentful; on the other side, I am very upright . . ., exceedingly fond of making people happy, and devotedly reverent to all true mental or moral power.... I believe I once had affections as warm as most people; but partly from evil chance, and partly from foolish misplacing of them, they have got tumbled down and broken to pieces....
Now you know the best and worst of me, and you may rely upon it it is the truth. If you hear people say I am utterly hard and cold, depend upon it it is untrue. Though I have no friendships and no loves, I cannot read the epitaph of the Spartans at Thermopylae with a steady voice to the end, and there is an old glove in one of my drawers that has lain there eighteen years, which is worth something to me yet. (Leon, 214-215.) [164/165]
Ruskin's candor shows through the elaborate self-presentation and the attention to effect. The letter proceeds in the manner of a contract, laying out the conditions of friendship along with a frank valuation of the goods offered; that valuation he then describes in terms of a mission: "I have a theory of life . . ., namely, that we are all sent into the world to be of such use to each other as we can, and also that my particular use is likely to be in the things I know something about — that is to say, in matters connected with painting." With regard to Rossetti, he believes he can make him "more happy" by "enabling you to paint properly and keep your room in order." The poignance of the letter comes from the need to know what he was sent into the world to do and also, obviously, from the implicit trade-offs it defines: the power to do useful good replaces the missing "friendships and loves," the self-indulgence makes bearable the isolation at the core of his life, and the strength of feeling for persons is replaced by the strength of feeling for things redolent of persons (an inscription, a glove) — persons, of course, from the past. The charge of coldness he answers with the assertion of his ability to give — not as a lover or even explicitly as a friend, but as a benefactor, acting out in material terms the greatest of Christian virtues. Above all the letter proposes a kind of cultivation of feelings, but it does so at a different angle, so to speak, from that taken by Mill in the fifth chapter of his Autobiography. Mill, engaged in social questions, found himself pathetically ignorant of "the perennial sources of happiness, when all the greater evils of life shall have been removed"; Ruskin was to make social action perform the aim of Mill's study of poetry, knowing that in a corrupt society even art fails as a perennial source.
I will argue in the next chapters that Ruskin's social thought has much to do with the proper management of affection — as do also his practical activities as a political economist of art. His activities and his books are joined by three general aims. First, through his patronage, he creates a concurrent flow of money, affections, and works of art that publicly establish the metaphor of emotional expression as gift giving, the earning and bestowal of treasure. Second, the system is built on a paternal relationship that, like the Confucian system, contains the pattern of all social relationships — teacher to pupil, ruler to subject, patron to workman, even husband to wife — which of course is ultimately the system of Gothic building. In each act of help Ruskin becomes the perfect father he longed for: he tried to give to others the palms he could not earn himself, to control in others what he could not control himself, and to preserve in others what was continually dwindling in himself. Third, the private economy exists through time. Each pound spent is also a seed planted; by spending for the future, Ruskin can redeem the past. [165/166]
n 1857 Ruskin began his assault on the Benthamite "gospel" by taking to the lecture platform — with the effect, as his editors put it, of tickling the lion in its den. The "den" was Manchester, the home of laissez-faire economics; the occasion, the opening of the Manchester Art Treasures Exhibition; the result, the pair of lectures published as The Political Economy of Art and reissued as "A Joy Forever" (and Its Price in the Market). The situation was almost too rich in irony. The fashionable art critic was invited to address a fashionable audience at the Manchester Athenaeum, which was surrounded at some remove by the hideous slums whose inhabitants, by their wretchedness and their labor, made possible the purchase of art for middle-class ostentation. The word "treasure" unconsciously underscored the contrast. Ruskin explores this and other paradoxes in an ironic tour de force that uses as a central "conceit" the comparison of artists and patrons with workers and capitalists and of artworks with shirts and grain.
The Manchester press was enraged, but the audience, to all reports, was pleased and with good reason. From the start Ruskin strikes a note of malicious yet disarming urbanity that combines the manner of a preacher playing with his text with that of a tutor putting paradoxes to a pupil. (In an important essay, George Landow examines the rhetorical structure and mode of another lecture with far-reaching implications about Victorian nonfiction prose in general. Ruskin's subsequent rhetorical strategy is a shrewd alternation of flattery and abuse that both fulfills and undermines the expectations of the audience. Ruskin's rhetoric is so interactive — at one point touching the consciences of his hearers, at another point their anger, at another their aspirations — that the lecture becomes in effect a dialogue between a speaker and an audience-persona with whom in complex ways the speaker identifies. Superficially, Ruskin's procedure resembles a sermon or printed pamphlet, yet it is more wittily ironic than the one and far more intimate than the other (its "you" denotes a specific and present audience, not an impersonal one); in fact he refashions the lecture as a prose genre.
One of the "notable" characteristics of the age, Ruskin begins, is "the just and wholesome contempt in which we hold poverty. I repeat, the just and wholesome contempt; though I see that some of my hearers look surprised at the expression" (XVI, 15). The surprise comes, of course, from Ruskin's appearing to ally himself with his hearers against the Biblical religion they profess (and of course the contradiction between professed belief and commercial practice is the irony that makes possible all of Ruskin's social evangelism, as it does Carlyle's). But the surprise [166/167] deepens when he claims that the Greeks also held poverty in contempt, which means that, despite their pretensions, the British are a people in love with poverty. The central irony is that, given his sense of "wealth" Ruskin is not being ironic at all, and the "answer" of the paradox turns out to be two key principles of Ruskin's social thought: that there is true and false wealth and that wealth essentially consists in the management of labor. Thus the contempt of poverty means the wish to eradicate it, and the love of true wealth means the wish to spread the arts and also to employ all the workmen of England. This exclusion of alternatives (one either loves wealth or hates it) wittily plays against the actual case, which is that the wealthy want wealth for themselves, not for others. (Even more subtly, it parodies the Socratic definition of the good as what everyone desires; how strange if one should then object that most people should not have the good.) Indeed, Ruskin's irony and tone are eminently Socratic — Socratic because of his exaggerated sense of the obviousness and simplicity of things. The condition of England is simply that of a housewife who has failed to give her servants enough work to do; Ruskin's audience has overlooked — absentmindedly, as it were — their true powers as governors of the nation, so that Ruskin's declaration of war on the lion
The notion of Discipline and Interference lies at the very root of all human progress or power; that the "Let-alone" principle is . . . the principle of death; that it is ruin to him certain and total, if he lets his land alone — if he lets his fellow-men alone — if he lets his own soul alone.... his whole life, in the contrary, must, if it is healthy life, be continually one of ploughing and pruning, rebuking and helping, governing and punishing. [XVI, 26]
The lectures, then, appeal to the "best selves" of the audience by a gentle mix of "ploughing and pruning" — or perhaps we should say "seeding" — the minds of his hearers.
When Ruskin turns to art, however, the manner changes suddenly to the melodramatic rebuke of the pulpit. "But your great men quarrel with you, and you revenge yourselves by starving them for the first half of their lives," he claims. People must praise them when they need it, in the "asphodel meadows of their youth," or it will be too late; what then can the painter do with "your sharp laurel crown" except "lay it on his mother's grave?" (XVI, 31, 33-34). And so on. The phrases marshal Ruskin's powerful feelings about childhood to induce an ideal paternal sentiment in his audience and to identify himself with them at the same time. In urging them to buy and preserve paintings wisely and to praise and blame artists judiciously, he endows his audience with his own expertise even as he appears to rebuke them. The effect is to confirm [167/168]beliefs, not to challenge them: no one in the room would quarrel about starving young geniuses or revering one's own parents.
Two pervading themes of the lectures are paternity and waste. The particular nurturing instinct Ruskin arouses is a kind of husbanding anxiety, a fear that things will slip or fade away and die. Thus the spirit of genius in its youth Ruskin compares to gold, emphasizing its scarcity ("You may lose it or you may gather it . . ., but the best you can do with it is always merely shifting, melting, hammering, purifying — never creating" [XVI, 30]). The second precious substance is the work of genius. The snow sculpture commissioned of Michelangelo by Pietro de Medici is the "perfect, accurate, and intensest possible type of the greatest possible error" in the use of genius: "to put itself into the service of annihilation — to make a cloud of itself, and pass away from the earth" (XVI, 39). But this is also the perfect type of the British use of artists-the British set artists to make cheap prints, for example, or inferior copies on paper made of "mere white and brown rags." The second lecture develops this theme with steadily increasing scope and intensity, expanding the region of the art economy to include first, the works of the great dead and second, the other nations of Europe. Thus, if the English people but knew it, Italy is the great garden and treasure house of their tradition as well — Italy, which, in a furious passage, Ruskin likens to a marble hall infested with monkeys. This neglect he lays to the account of his audience, who are properly members not of England alone but of "the great Christian community of Europe." Frantically preoccupied with getting and spending, they are like the manufacturer "who attended to his looms, but left his warehouse without a roof," leaving the rain to flood, the rats to frolic, the spiders to spin, the choughs to build — and still "keep weave, weave, weaving at your wretched webs, and thinking you are growing rich" (XVI, 75-76). At last the images of ruin — servants unemployed, operatives destroying their own work, warehouses collapsing, paintings falling to rags, gold nuggets of genius cast into the dust — build like a snowball into a vision of man replacing time as the Great Leveler: "I tell you, Time is scytheless and toothless; it is we who gnaw like the worm — we who smite like the scythe. It is ourselves who abolish-ourselves who consume: we are the mildew and the flame; and the soul of man is to its own work as the moth that frets when it cannot fly, and as the hidden flame that blasts where it cannot illuminate" (XVI, 64). This destructive energy, then, is subverted and subterranean, the perversion of energy; the last clause remarkably converts two metaphors of the soul's aspiration into a self-consuming embrace (the moth soul and the flame soul), while "frets" connects the palpitation of the moth with the gnawing of the worm and "blasts" connects the light hidden under the bushel with warfare and also with the blighting of grain. The whole [168/169]complex points to the scriptural passage that underlies Ruskin's argument: "Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust consume and where thieves break in and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven.... For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also" (Matt. 6:19-21).
This is the prophetic burden, in its negative aspect, of The Political Economy of Art. But if the analogy holds between artists and laborers and between art and wealth and between art economy and political economy, then the Manchester system is refuted — refuted, that is, by a change of heart. The new attitude to human work is aesthetic rather than exploitative, but aesthetic in an exalted sense: as a work of art is contemplated as an end in itself and as the labor of an artist is a creative expression, so is human life an end in itself and all human labor potentially creative. Throughout the lectures Ruskin relies on a dominant image to induce this response, the image of a structure enclosing precious objects. This structure pervades The Stones of Venice as well in the forms of the city and the church. In the lectures it varies more widely, beginning with the Art Treasures Exhibition itself and including a garden, a tastefully furnished household, a museum, Italy with its works of art, and the eternal temple of art, "the rough stones and the smooth all finding their place, and rising, day by day, in richer and higher pinnacles to heaven" (XVI, 64), and these, of course, have their antitheses in places where things decay. The expanding scope of the enclosures suggests that they also stand for the expansion of sympathetic concern, at the achievement of which Ruskin's audience would pull down the walls of the false treasure houses that separate rich from poor, sacred from secular, the slums of Manchester from the glitter of the Exhibition. This use of metaphor is exactly that prescribed by Shelley in the Defense of Poetry, although Ruskin's "legislation" is acknowledged.
A second group of images, the noble governors, is of particular interest because Ruskin uses it typologically. Two of the governors frame the first lecture as the first and last panels of a diptych frame the center. The first is the Perfect Wife of Proverbs, the "perfect economist, or mistress of a household," who divides her care "between the two great objects of utility and splendour: in her right hand, food and flax, for life and clothing; in her left hand, the purple and the needlework, for honour and for beauty" (XVI, 20) — a type, therefore, of the necessary balance in private life between use and pleasure and, in the life of nations, between useful products and beautiful products. (Ruskin's meaning depends also on some unquoted verses describing the wife who, like Britannia, weaves textiles for herself and for merchants, so that her household is a point of intersection, a "Queen among nations.") The balance of objects in the right and left hand is [169/170] the lecturer's arrangement: he has read the passage iconographically and schematically, as a medieval painter might, with the intention partly of balancing this composition against his second word picture, which frames the lecture at the other end. This passage describes Ambrogio Lorenzetti's fresco of Good Civic Government, with its central figure — the male counterpart of the housewife in Proverbs-surrounded by the Christian and pagan virtues in spatial relationships that suggest their importance as qualities of a governor. Ruskin notes that the virtue entrusted with public revenues is neither Charity, who is too "hot," nor Prudence, who is too "timid," but Magnanimity — "largeness of heart: not softness or weakness of heart, mind you — but capacity of heart — the great measuring virtue" (XVI, 56). This strength of heart, this impassioned judiciousness (the type also of divine "interference" as well as self-mastery) is the key to an economics of the soul — the same power as that of the deeply feeling yet immovable soul of the great artist, transcending both deadness of feeling and the heat of the pathetic fallacy.
In the third word picture, which is really an antithetical pair, Ruskin brings to a single point of focus his weblike vision of the British economy. First, the antithesis of the flax-spinning housewife of Proverbs: "you think it perfectly just that [the rich man] should . . . use his breadth and sweep of sight to gather some branch of the commerce of the country into one great cobweb, of which he is himself to be the central spider, making every thread vibrate with the points of his claws, and commanding every avenue with the facets of his eyes" (XVI, 100). But a page later comes the reversal: "wealth well used is as the net of the sacred fisher who gathers souls of men out of the deep. A time will come — I do not think even now it is far from us-when this golden net of the world's wealth will be spread abroad as the flaming meshes of morning cloud are over the sky" (XVI, 102-103). Suddenly the web is a net that unites men in charity, not destruction, in a gesture that is centrifugal rather than centripetal — acting out the paradox that to lose is to keep and that to throw out in giving is truly to bind together in saving. The golden net, Ruskin's final image of enclosure, contains the Brotherhood of all humans united in the Fatherhood of Him who is also the Son of men, the saver of life and the Savior of the faithful. The net is also cast into the future. Thus every act of giving repeats the divine act of creation, for the ultimate aim of wealth is to "prolong the existence, of the whole human race."
Like The Stones of Venice, this vigorous performance is a lay sermon in Coleridge's sense, using the Bible as a practical guide not to politics but to economics. Of the three figures I have discussed — Wisdom, the governor, and the fisherman — only one comes directly from the Bible, though all are familiar types of Christ. But the lectures also take the book of Proverbs as their specific model. Both works are direct addresses, [170/171] composed of advice by experts in the field who rely for illustration on the figure of the capable housewife, who as Wisdom symbolizes the aim of the whole. According to Proverbs the gain from wisdom "is better than gain from silver and its profit better than gold. She is more precious than jewels, and nothing you desire can compare with her. Long life is in her right hand; in her left hand are riches and honor" (3:13-17). Riches and honor: the last clause is also Ruskin's last and the signature, so to speak, of his argument. Twelve years later he completed his portrait of Wisdom in The Queen of the Air, but in fact she remained, like Wealth and Life, his constant subject.
hat can be the function of art in a society indifferent to its ministrations? How can art, compromised by its relation to the sensual, still maintain the social good? If the face of Nature is darkened, what ought art to imitate? And where can human beings look for value and hope, if not in art or nature? These questions dominate Ruskin's thought in the late 1850s, the second half of his great decade, when the foundations of his earlier faith — Evangelical Christianity and the "gigantic moral power" of landscape — continued to crumble. More clearly than ever before, the subjects of art and religion become from him symbols of psychic and social integration. More accurately, he conceived of his subjects as organic systems or economies, the elements of which refer to more than one thing — to nature, to the soul, to society, to an aesthetic whole.
The Political Economy of Art used one version of this configuration — the treasure house or four-dimensional circulation of wealth — to establish art patronage as a category mediating between art and society. Ruskin had, of course, already developed the structure of this governing metaphor in the theory of Purity in Modern Painters II. In the final volume of the series (1860), in the chapter titled "The Law of Help," he developed the idea into an analogy between an aesthetic structure and a social structure. He defines "composition" as "the help of everything in the picture by everything"; a picture resembles an inanimate object, in which the atoms merely "cohere," less than a plant, the whole of which is affected if a part is removed. "The power which causes the several portions of the plant to help each other, we call life. Much more is this so in an animal.... Thus, intensity of life is also intensity of helpfulness — completeness of depending of each part on all the rest. The ceasing of this help is what we call corruption." Corruption, then, is the antithesis of life: "The highest and first law of the universe-and [171/172]the other name of life is, therefore, 'help.' The other name of death is 'separation.' Government and co-operation are in all things and eternally the laws of life. Anarchy and competition, eternally, and in all things, the laws of death" (VII, 205-207). The diamond, which is Ruskin's paradigmatic symbol for purity, is the perfect antithesis to the smoke or mud of carbon, in which the crystalline structure has lapsed into disorganization. Light is to dark as Divine presence is to separation, as purity is to corruption, as energy is to entropy, and as life is to death.
These antitheses dominate Ruskin's vividest writings in the late 1850S down to the last, apocalyptic chapters of Modern Painters V (1860), the general theme of which is the relationship of social decline to a decline in the arts. In a lecture of 1858 he asserted this connection in paradoxical form: "At the moment when, in any kingdom, you point to the triumphs of its greatest artists, you point also to the determined hour of the kingdom's decline" (XVI, 342). The reason lies both within and beyond art itself: "beyond" in the sense that art becomes damaging when "misused" — that is, by a system comprising artist, patron, and audience; "within" in the sense that the true subject of art in itself contains moral ambiguities. That subject Ruskin declares to be "organic form," meaning either landscape or the human figure, although in most contexts he means the second. The noble human figure is the type of vigorous and healthy life, but in its debased representation it becomes lewd and profane. Since Ruskin's own attitude to the sensuous remains ambivalent and confused, he resorts to the imagery of the organic and inorganic, which allows him to connect an attitude toward the human body with an attitude toward the human social body.
In the inaugural address to the Cambridge School of Art, he gives his most striking portrait of art misused, an epitome of the sensual Fall centered on the person of a Renaissance cardinal. The villa and garden of Cardinal Maurice rise far above Turin and the surrounding plain of the Piedmont — a landscape that bears "the whole legend of Italy's past history before it by the finger of God" beneath a sky of "unsealed scrolls" and "mighty missal pages of sunset after sunset." By contrast the walls of the villa are decorated with frescoes of the four seasons, loaded down, according to the cardinal's request, with "una copiosa quantita di Amorini." These vapid landscapes, with their nude putti infesting meadow, tree, and sky, render nature as an erotic fantasy, a puff of blinded vanity that plays against the mountain scriptures, with their unheeded warnings (XVI, 196, 192). The paintings and the now dilapidated villa form a character of the corrupt cardinal, who resigned his commission in order to marry his niece. A "born intriguer" who "lived a dissipated life, surrounded by artists and men of letters" (XVI, 19 l, editor's note), he destroys in the name of religion what the Renaissance [172/173] had destroyed in the name of knowledge. (Oddly enough, the same cardinal commissioned the three great Veroneses in the Turin gallery — the power of which, for Ruskin, was "almost superhuman" in its noble depiction of human form.)
In the cardinal's sin Ruskin has begun to see sensuality as an expression of solipsism, or hoarding. Maurice has cut himself off from the body of nature and the society of man; the other name of death is separation, and so the judgment upon the villa is decomposition of its organic forms. Ruskin infuses the ruin with sexual horror: "The creeping, insidious, neglected flowers weave their burning nets about the white marble of the balustrades, and rend them slowly, block from block, and stone from stone: the thin, sweet-scented leaves tremble along the old masonry joints as if with palsy at every breeze; and the dark lichens, golden and grey, make the foot-fall silent in the path's centre" (XVI, 196). This antithetical garden performs the work of death like a vegetal Lamia: the flowers, insidious and weaving, are spiderlike or snakelike, the leaves are both sweet and palsied, the "dark" lichens seem to still the heart as well as the footfall.
The Swinburnean imagery of decomposition also resembles the fate visited upon modern England, which has misused beauty not by sensualizing it but by banishing it altogether. The sin in each case, once again, is denying organic bonds. "Modern Manufacture and Design," a lecture delivered at the opening of a School of Design in Bradford, is about the impossibility of any true school of design in a country that, if its commercial desires reach their logical extension, will soon be one vast infernal machine — in the south, lime kilns and brick fields to balance the coal pits in the Midlands, and in the Lakes, an immense quarry of slate and granite to supply the world with roofing and building stone. This state of affairs is of course not progress but decline, as Ruskin shows in a remarkable word portrait of a Bradford suburb.
In the foreground stands a seventeenth-century country house surrounded by stream and woods, now fallen into a common desolation: the garden is "blighted utterly into a field of ashes," the shutters hanging "in rags of rotten wood," the stream "soaking slowly by, black as ebony," the banks "trodden into unctuous, sooty slime," the furnaces of the city "foaming forth perpetual plague of sulphurous darkness" (XVI, 339). The landscape is antinatural, dominated not by machinery — as a similar scene would be in Dickens — but by decomposition, the reverse of the "law of help." Even the smallest detail anticipates the qualities of impurity as set forth in Modern Painters V — the qualities of formlessness, filth, darkness, and inanition. Things are, first of all, indistinct — "unregarded havoc of ruin," "shapeless rents," coiling clouds — and all substances have decomposed to lower forms: shutters to rags, the bank to slime. The river soaks instead of runs, its banished energy displaced [173/174] onto the diabolic foaming and coiling of the smoke. The only distinct objects are the industrial equivalents of land enclosure: instead of hedges, "slabs of square stone, like gravestones," reminding one of Blake's "chartered" streets. But Ruskin sets against this scene a second, forming a contrast sharper than anything in the pages of Pugin. The alternative "school of design" is supposedly Pisa in the time of Nino Pisano, but it really belongs to the timeless imagination, like a glimpse from the window of the Lady of Shalott. In Ruskin's Pisa are gardens, courts, and cloisters; a street that is really a line of palaces "inlaid with deep red porphyry, and with serpentine"; the most beautiful ladies Italy ever saw; and troops of knights ("horse and man one labyrinth of quaint colour and gleaming light" — rather like a stained glass window). This tableau displays the quintessence of "purity" — light, color, energy, and above all, life — not vegetable but human ("this scenery of perfect human life"), an animate earth mirroring a heaven equally animate ("every cloud that passed was literally the chariot of an angel"; XVI, 339-340). The utopian city is a human landscape: humans are to its streets as trees and blooms are to the Paradisal hills.
But we do not want a new Pisa, Ruskin says. "All that gorgeousness of the Middle Ages, beautiful as it sounds in description, noble as in many respects it was in reality, had, nevertheless, for foundation and for end, nothing but the pride of life — the pride of the so-called superior classes." For us, on the other hand, "there can be no more the throne of marble — for us no more the vault of gold — but for us there is the loftier and the nobler privilege of bringing the power and charm of art within the reach of the humble and the poor" (XVI, 341-342). In this light the dream of Pisa becomes the emblem or the myth of the good society — not a looking back but a looking forward to a human-centered world. Indeed all great art is such a vision, "the type of strong and noble life," because it sees truly; for the noble person looks "the facts of the world full in the face" and then "deals with them," becoming "no unconscious nor insignificant agent in consummating their good, and restraining their evil" (XVI, 287). Great art is the type (though not a sufficient cause) of a life open to anyone — a painter, a housewife, a governor, a laborer, a man of science — even though form (as the narrator of Death in Venice describes it) may be "hostile to morality — in that of its very essence it is indifferent to good and evil, and deliberately concerned to make the moral world stoop beneath its proud and undivided sceptre."
What might our "magnificence," in its "universality and its lowliness," look like? I have said that Ruskin's lectures to the wealthy do not rebuke them so much as they awaken them to their latent powers, and that awakening is the aim also of "Modern Manufacturing and Design." An essential step in the argument is Ruskin's denial of any essential [174/175] difference between decorative art and "higher" forms; for just as, on the one hand, the sublimest works of genius can be decorative — Gothic sculpture, for example, or the walls of the Scuola di San Rocco — so the art, say, of manufactured articles depends also on spiritual concerns like "truth, tenderness, and inventive application or distribution" (XVI, 334). By closing the gap in kind between a cathedral and a domestic interior, or between Raphael's tapestry designs and a workman's designs for a shawl, Ruskin makes concrete and plausible his dream of a "magnificence" in widest commonalty spread. The audience at Bradford thus has an even heavier charge than the audience at Manchester, since the manufacturers are not simply patrons of geniuses but also the producers of any useful article that may be beautiful as well. Ultimately, their product is the "souls" of the public, as Ruskin makes clear in a very modern insight into the power of advertising to create false needs. The business of his audience as manufacturers, he says, is "to form the market, as much as to supply it" — not by "retarding the arts, tarnishing the virtues, and confusing the manners" of England but by becoming "its guides, counsellors, and rulers — wielding powers of subtle but gigantic beneficence.... Let such duty, such ambition, be once accepted in their fulness, and the best glory of European art and of European manufacture may yet be to come" (XVI, 344-345). That new glory might resemble something like the windows of Chartres that depict the tradesmen who paid for them: "There are smiths at the forge, curriers at their hides, tanners looking into their pits, mercers selling goods over the counter — all made into beautiful medallions. Therefore, whenever you want to know whether you have got any real power of composition . . ., try to conventionalize a butcher's or a green grocer's, with Saturday night customers buying cabbage and beef" (XVI, 328). The wealthy, arrogant young man who could think of trade and labor only in ironic terms, as antitheses to a romantic vision, has vanished. In his maturer vision, art celebrates the dignity of mankind in its works and days, acting as the organic emblem of a perfected commercial society.
he image of the organic body is one form of Ruskin's vision of a new and revolutionary integration of art and society; a second form is the metaphor of art as wealth. This analogy implies, first, that art, like economic wealth, supplies a human need and so is the birthright of all, and second, that useful things, like works of art, should be well made and treated as the expressions of human hearts and hands. But the idea of preciousness also implies something not useful and not dispersed [175/176] and so emphasizes the relations of art to the costly, the luxurious, and the exclusive.
In "The Lamp of Sacrifice," Ruskin justified the use of precious materials in architecture by arguing that churches could have human value only by an act of renunciation — by withdrawing the best products from the economy of useful objects. By implication beauty can signify only if it is sanctified, that is, set aside in a special category of the rare and costly. Ruskin retains these assumptions in the secular context of The Political Economy of Art, where his insistence on the production and flow of art is countered by an equally strong insistence on the necessary scarcity of precious things. He suggests, therefore, that his audience never buy copies, that the diffusion of art be limited by high prices, that painters train rigorously in "trial schools." He laments the passing of a true goldsmith's art in England, since for him gold has a sacramental and permanent character — it is, so to speak, the type of all types, since it has value in itself and as a symbol of value. "At every marriage, and at every birth, get a new piece of gold or silver if you will, but with noble workmanship on it, done for all time, and put it among your treasures; that is one of the chief things which gold was made for, and made incorruptible for." It is also the best substance for a young artist to train with, since it induces care and reverence ("he dares not scrawl on gold, and he cannot play with it"; XVI, 47, 46). These comments resurrect the dead metaphor of "social refinement" into a theory of enthusiastic moral influence: like the alchemical elixir, art touches into gold, or refines, the sensibility of the possessor and the creating artist. (The pun reinforces the hierarchical nature of enthusiasm, since the masses presumably can be refined only by those who have refinement.)
Gold, then, perpetuates in concrete form the relations of tradition and of social hierarchy. The precious materials of the tabernacle induced awe similar to that of contemplating the heavens, which it imitates in the form of the tent and its golden rings, and therefore also establishes the Mosaic theocracy. According to Blake's myth, Urizen created the heavens in the form of a tabernacle, which upholds the repressive alliance of priest, king, and Newtonian philosopher. Ruskin cannot, of course, agree that religious sacrifice has the same structure as social repression — it has instead the same structure as human interchange, of recognizing oneself as related to others, as we will see again in a moment. For him the difference between oppression and justice is the use, not the abolition, of property; and the symbols attaching themselves to property may signify oppression or mutual support.
Ruskin's art economy aims to establish a middle ground between two extremes — the extremes of art hoarded as a symbol of class oppression and art devalued by the mechanisms of a mass market. John Berger, drawing upon Walter Benjamin, has expressed a similar opposition [176/177]:
The experience of art, which at first was the experience of ritual, was set apart from the rest of life — precisely in order to be able to exercise power over it.... What the modern means of reproduction have done is to destroy the authority of art and to remove it — or, rather, to remove its images which they reproduce — from any preserve. For the first time ever, images of art have become ephemeral, ubiquitous, insubstantial, available, valueless, free. They surround us in the same way as a language surrounds us. They have entered the mainstream of life over which they no longer, in themselves, have power. 
Ruskin could not foresee the extent to which photographs would overwhelm the public experience of art in the twentieth century, but his object of attack is the same as Berger's: the ability of an economic elite to render art powerless by dispersing it. For Ruskin the laissez-faire market submits intrinsic value to ready profits: cheap, hasty, ephemeral work is encouraged; reputations are inflated for their market value; artworks are converted into symbols of ostentation — degraded, that is, into mere commodities. For this reason Ruskin reinstitutes the values of artisanship and recommends that all artists be paid the same amount. (According to Ruskin the present system of unequal rewards incites competitive envy and eliminates all but the most talented producers.) Purchased and loved for their intrinsic value, works of art would then truly adorn the homes and public places of England.
The argument is crucial to Ruskin, since for him the false use of wealth signals the moment of a nation's decline, yet when we notice his giving friendly advice to manufacturers on the purchase of gold and jewels and expensive pictures, the distinction seems elusive. And so it is — in pessimistic moments, Ruskin doubted that it could be made. The point is that only in its character as wealth, as something rare and precious, can art sanctify. Every purchase is therefore a statement of what the owner chooses to express and affirm. An interior decorated in ostentatious bad taste signifies simply that the owner is in successful competition with others. He or she has no self to affirm, only the denomination of status, and makes purchases that have meaning as counters, not in themselves — they are inorganic, like money. But a well-adorned home grows from a genuine home love, the ability to love things outside of oneself, such as one's descendants, and Ruskin plays on this emotion in the Manchester lectures by calling national economy the "law of the house." Where one's heart is, there is one's treasure also. This notion of course implies class power, but without a conception of benevolent class power, the very notion of society is inconceivable to Ruskin. Social wealth is for him — as landed property was for Burke — a "sluggish" element preserving the texture of tradition and [177/178] substantializing the bases of social order. It can also sanctify communal bonds — in public decorations portraying the human figure, for example — even when it is not set aside for religious purposes. Reclaiming the physical body of society, it returns to man (in Marx's phrase) what is man's.
In the broadest terms, Ruskin's art economy seeks to overcome the opposition between artist and society of which romanticism is both the symptom and the protest. In particular it does so by addressing the problems raised by the collapse of the old patronage system — the world of Sir Joshua Reynolds and his predecessors, the world of the Pope and the court. The old system demanded that the artist serve a wealthy elite, but at least the demands were clear and the audience present and personal. The new system subjects the artist to impersonal market forces, governed by an impersonal audience that tends to buy artworks as mere symbols of wealth and position. The system Ruskin proposes instead also implies a theoretical orientation different from the romantic assumptions of his books on painting. According to the earlier description of art production, great art is the individual expression of a great mind, doomed by its superior vision to some degree of misunderstanding. The artist's subject is a revelation through symbols of the divine structure of nature and the religious destiny of human beings; inspiration comes suddenly, from beyond, when the artist is unselfconscious and oblivious to any audience. The artist's aim and subject are expressed by the metaphor of life. In the later account, the artist is a kind of worker or craftsman whose innate gift must be sternly disciplined ("sifting, melting, hammering, purifying" the art gift (XVI, 30]); the product is an artifact rather than a spontaneous expression, one that is relatively scarce and costly; the artist fulfills the desire of a patron or community for decoration, either of a home or a useful object or a public place. The first description stresses private inspiration, the second social usefulness. Can they be reconciled either in theory or practice?
Ruskin implies a reconciliation by providing an ideal image of an earlier period in history, one that like the present was not primarily an age of faith. Given his argument in The Stones of Venice, he is understandably tacit about that reference, but in the lectures of the late 1 850s he clearly has in mind the Italian Renaissance — not the Renaissance of the yellow Dogaressa and the degenerate grotesques of Santa Maria Formosa, but the Pisa of Nino and the Venice of Veronese. If this period (as Ruskin viewed it at any rate) absorbed itself in the pride of life, it absorbed itself in the "splendour of life" as well — that paradox surely fascinated Browning, who depicted a prototype of Ruskin's Cardinal Maurice in his Bishop of Praxed and perhaps also a prototype of Ruskin's Veronese in Fra Lippo Lippi, with his vigor and dodges and [178/179] reverence for the "nobly animal." The system of workshops, patrons, and commissions permitted the flowering of a genius as wayward as Fra Lippo or Tintoretto. "Ghirlandajo was a goldsmith, and was the master of Michelangelo," Ruskin reminded his audience at Manchester; "Verrocchio was a goldsmith, and was the master of Leonardo da Vinci. Ghiberti was a goldsmith, and beat out the bronze gates which Michelangelo said might serve for gates of Paradise" (XVI, 46). From workshop to the Heavenly City: the progression captures precisely Ruskin's joining of genius and artist, of self-expression and decoration and of religious subject and social use. The Scuola di San Rocco and the Ducal Palace, we recall, are both secular institutions; and the Sistine frescoes, those prototypically sublime creations, are decorations.
The syntheses subtly but forcefully displace some tendencies in romantic criticism. Raymond Williams has suggested that the romantic doctrine of genius compensates for the poet's feeling of isolation and inutility, a feeling partly caused by an impersonal market that treats works of art as commodities like any other. For Williams, romantic theory tends to isolate an "artistic sensibility": "Under pressure, art became a symbolic abstraction for a whole range of general human experience: a valuable abstraction, because indeed great art has this ultimate power; yet an abstraction nevertheless, because a general social activity was forced into the status of a department or province, and actual works of art were in part converted into a self-pleading ideology" (47). Ruskin's metaphor of art as wealth moves away from the more self-isolating of romantic attitudes — the absorption in private and merely nostalgic emotions (criticized in "Of the Pathetic Fallacy"), and the contempt for the ordinary and the material — toward a view of art as a social activity. Art is the type of noble human life, that is, a paradigm and symbolic expression of it, and for that reason comparable with other paradigms and expressions of human nobility. Ruskin's art economy would therefore integrate art into the general social life, both as a profession and as a category, while at the same time revolutionizing the idea of a commodity, the idea of giving and possessing and using.
The metaphor of wealth then applies also to the private experience of art, which for Ruskin is inseparable from questions of its exchange and public use. The King of the Golden River is a fable showing that true possession comes of giving, or rather that giving and receiving are a single process — just as, for Portia, mercy blesses the giver and is "mightiest in the mightiest." The Manchester lectures make the point of the fable explicit and thereby anticipate one of the great ideas of Unto This Last by defining possession not as a legal or material fact but [179/180] as an open-ended activity, with benefits and consequences analogous to the interchange of affections. Wealth is anything so possessed. In an addendum to The Political Economy of Art Ruskin lists five kinds of valuable things: that which is necessary to life and must be labored for (food, clothing, and shelter); that which "conduces to bodily pleasures and conveniences"; that which "bestows intellectual or emotional pleasure"; and money. Only the fourth of these, he says, can be truly possessed, since one does not speak of a "wealth of air" and since "the things that give intellectual or emotional enjoyment may be accumulated, and do not perish in using; but continually supply new pleasures and new powers of giving pleasures to others. And these, therefore, are the only things which can rightly be thought of as giving 'wealth' or 'well being.' Food conduces only to 'being,' but these to 'well being'" (XVI, 133-134). In some sense, then, "well" being is productive, like seeds or interest.
Probably Ruskin's vividest explication of this idea occurs in a passage in Praeterita, which, though written many years later, captures perfectly the spirit of his art economy. It appears in "The Grand Chartreuse," an extended meditation on religion and treasure that also describes his unconversion at Turin. His nature, he says there, is "a worker's and a miser's," for "though I am generous too, and love giving, yet my notion of charity is not at all dividing my last crust with a beggar, but riding through a town like a Commander of the Faithful, having any quantity of sequins and ducats in saddle-bags (where cavalry officers have holsters for their pistols), and throwing them round in radiant showers and hailing handfuls; with more bags to brace on when those were empty" (XXXV, 491). The importance of this image rests in its context: it follows a general account of Ruskin's interest in Catholicism and a particular recollection of his first missal, a "little fourteenth-century Hours of the Virgin, not of refined work, but extremely rich, grotesque, and full of pure colour." He then describes the well-illuminated missal in general as "a fairy cathedral full of painted windows, bound together to carry in one's pocket, with the music and the blessing of all its prayers besides." The whole train of thought unites fantasy ("caskets of jewels in the Arabian Nights" and Aladdin's palaces "with jewel windows"), sensuous splendor, religious devotion, and eroticism — particularly in regard to Rose La Touche, who in her connection with wealth and time is one of the leitmotifs of these late chapters of Praeterita. The image of Ruskin with a missal in his pocket, which he compares to a girl and her doll, gives way to Ruskin as a horseman with saddlebags of sequins and ducats. Wealth and the virgin are united as things one loves, both sanctified — the Virgin by her virtue, jewels by association with purity and with color, which Ruskin called the sanctifying element of creation; the blessings in the missal translate into the [180/181] spray of blessing falling from Ruskin's hand. The images also solidify time: the old gift (an Hours of the Virgin, suggesting time ordered by a cycle of deeds) issues in an ideal present, with the jeweled shower recalling the jeweled spray of St. Mark's. Once again preciousness is an arrest of the transient, a conversion of time from loss to gain. The missal, then, acts as the storehouse of memory, the incorporation specifically of a woman's benevolence, which issues also as power. The associations with Aladdin, the Commander of the Faithful, and a holster suggest masculinity, but the energy of giving is neither specifically masculine or feminine. The object in this sense becomes an icon, containing energy. The passage as a whole suggests that Ruskin has indeed substituted art for religion, or rather has incorporated religion into art, not in the fashion of the 1890s — not as the ritualization of sensuous experience in isolation from actuality and not as the delicious ache of Paterian impressionism — but as a means of ordering and channeling the moral energies. I offer this as a gloss on "the things that give intellectual or emotional enjoyment . . ., continually supply new pleasures and new powers of giving pleasures to others." Because the work of art is possessed iconically, as a source of magical power, possession becomes giving; the activity of having and giving, in other words, takes the structure of affection — and this, we have seen, is the burden of The Political Economy of Art. Ultimately, the association of love with economic interchange would revolutionize the present wage system and also the conception of human relationship of which, for Ruskin, the wage system is an enactment. For in the present economy, wages are given only as specific rewards, according to a capricious and irrelevant standard, forcing the worker into a competitive and exhausting subservience under the terms of which, so to speak, he can never be justified. He can be justified, however, when paid at a fixed rate — that is, unconditionally. Truly to possess a work of art, to possess it as the inexhaustible gift of a creative spirit, is analogous to the unconditional possession of love, a forgetfulness of evil that is also the power to bless and affirm others.
The analogy was valid for Ruskin, at least, as we will see again in discussing the experience of Veronese at Turin. The danger of such a view of art, of course, is that art (like money or any other fetishized object) can become a substitute for love, a magical preservation of the personal past and of individual autonomy conceived as a bulwark against the risks and rewards of human intimacy. Ruskin understood the risks only too well. Now, however, we should turn from Ruskin's private pleasure in art to his theory of the value it could hold for all, which will give us the chance to take a final look at his aesthetic theory in general.
At the beginning of his career Ruskin described paintings as occasions [181/182] for rapture, objects that efface themselves in order to induce overwhelming experiences of union with divine forces and the artist's own charismatic power. But in the 1850s he began to think of art as objects to be treasured, recognizing their character as stored experience — experience that can be appropriated, moved, shared, preserved — so that the aesthetic transaction moves in both directions, with artist and beholder mutually sustaining each other. Second, he began seeing aesthetic emotion not only as the ego's experience of power and fullness but also as the self's delight in affectionate and charitable feelings, for which having and giving offer a metaphor. Third, he began to value the sensuous qualities of art — color, pattern, precious materials, craftsmanship and other marks of labor — as a sacramental gesture, a response conferring value upon a particular activity or, in its broadest sense, affirming a social covenant. The object treasured may be as large as a cathedral or as small as a missal, a cathedral that can literally fit in a person's pocket; the relationship between the two suggests that the metaphor of treasuring (like the metaphor of sustenance) explains once again how the world is brought into the individual human being — how seeing is incorporating. The metaphor of art as treasure, in both its public and its private uses, suggests also that great art is related to crafts and decoration by degree, not by opposition: with a place made for inferior skill (as in a Gothic cathedral), great art loses its privileged isolation from the socially useful but without sacrificing its greatness. In romantic criticism this is a paradox for several reasons, one of which is that the self-expression of genius cannot always be and perhaps ought not to be efficacious for a communal audience. This conflict is resolvable only, if at all, in specific social circumstances, but Ruskin takes a major step in that direction by reinterpreting the romantic opposition of subjective and objective. For Ruskin that opposition is meaningless because all expression is representation of something outside the individual artist that is objectively knowable. The field of representation is an intelligible sensorium composed of facts and symbols that the critic can interpret. How much intelligibility rests in the structure of nature and how much in the structure of the collective human mind makes, finally, little practical difference. Even the most grotesque distortions and juxtapositions of inspired seeing can be interpreted according to a vocabulary of traditional symbols, most of them biblical types, as Ruskin showed in the allegorical exegeses of Modern Painters V. All good artists, then, from the humble draftsman to the inspired genius, express portions of the revelation, which in its variegated and collective pattern forms the human heritage, the decoration of the eternal city of man.
In discussing Modern Painters II I suggested that Ruskin's theories of imagination tended to settle into complementary poles of aesthetic experience, one associated with intellectual grasp, sublimity, and masculine [182/183] power, the other with contemplation, tranquility, and a sensuous, usually feminine, beauty. Although some artists are better described than others by a given set of terms (compare Angelico and Tintoretto and Turner, for example), Ruskin's developing metaphor of art as wealth makes clear that the polarity is really two ways of viewing art in general. Just as purity, the type of divine energy, may be regarded as a dynamic system or as a pure and luminous object, so every great work of art is at once a system of life or energy and a precious object containing that system — either an energy to be experienced in self-forgetfulness or an artifact to be treasured in the closest possible subject-object relationship. Wealth is life seen from a different angle. This schema, of course, imitates the structure of a symbol or incarnate word, which similarly contains the translucence of the eternal in the particular. If we step back very far, Ruskin's theory of art becomes a theory of incarnation by which art imitates the divine recognition, "And lo, it was very good." This is the reason why all great art is praise — praise not in the sense of blinkered optimism or even of a simple Christian piety but in the sense with which we began, a full-sighted affirmation of connection uttered in that hieroglyphic language through which subject and object become one.
Can art so conceived — indeed can any activity of full-sighted affirmation — endure in industrial England? Can the symbolic imagination perform the alchemy by which the inorganic body of England would be transformed into an energy of purity? Within a few years of the Manchester lectures Ruskin renounced this possibility, as happens so often with him, a moment of synthesis yielded before new pressures of thought and feeling. In 1858 he told the manufacturers at Bradford that great art was impossible in a polluted and inhuman environment. He had in the meantime discovered in the Turner Bequest a painter more disturbing and violent than he had permitted himself to discover before, a painter whose unsparing view of "the labour and sorrow and passing away of men" and whose savagely incessant mockery of the fallacies of hope brought him in his last years to a vision of Apocalyptic destruction. How could even the most benevolently disposed of Ruskin's Manchester audience possess as true wealth the terrible grotesques Ruskin revealed in the final volume of Modern Painters? The logic of his art economy, however optimistic in tone, could lead only to the open declaration of war on capitalist society that is contained in Unto This Last; for Ruskin understood more passionately and more precisely perhaps than any other thinker of his time the historical relationships of social production and artistic creativity. His theory of aesthetic wealth, then, is a contingent defense awaiting a social transformation, since to transform people's souls, art requires the instincts for sanctifying and remembering and revering and treasuring that are destroyed by a commercial system that cheapens its commodities as it [183/184] debases the sensibility of both producer and user. Art feeds the instincts for community; laissez-faire perverts them into selfishness. The years from 1855 to 1860 are the turning point of Ruskin's career, not because he switched subjects then — that shift is gradual and consistent - but because he abandoned altogether the hopefulness of the first stage in the three-part model of romantic self-development in favor of an acceptance of the Fall so uncompromising that it threatened to tear apart the very unity of self. Ruskin never wrote a crisis autobiography or indeed any book detailing the transition from despair to sober reconstruction but moved instead into a creatively unstable period dominated by apocalyptic images of hope and despair. Two important encounters during these years, occurring in the shadow of his growing religious disillusionment, crystallized the new transition. These were the experience of Veronese in Turin and the work with the Turner Bequest, issuing in the great final chapters of Modern Painters V.
n later years Ruskin dated his unconversion, in terms that have remained convincing, to his discovery of Veronese's Solomon and the Queen of Sheba in 1858. In that memorable visit to Turin he encountered a "poor little wretch" preaching in a Waldensian chapel; a child on the beach ("half-naked, bare-limbed to above the knees, and beautifully-limbed, Iying on the sand like a snake" [XXXVI, 291]); the great Veronese and along with it, military music, ballets, and in short all the "gorgeousness of life which the world seems to be constituted to develop." Both his published accounts focus on the contrast between Protestant exclusivity and an inclusive celebration of the senses, making clear that through Veronese he was converted to a secular humanism more than adequate to replace the faith he had to abandon. (For a comparison of both, see Landow) The fruits of this discovery appear, among other places, in the defense of Venetian naturalism in Modern Painters V: "the painter saw that sensual passion in man was, not only a fact, but a Divine fact; the human creature, though the highest of the animals, was, nevertheless, a perfect animal, and his happiness, health, and nobleness depended on the due power of every animal passion, as well as the cultivation of every spiritual tendency" (VII, 296-297). His letters confirm the connection between art and healthy sensuality: "Nobody can be a great painter who isn't rather wicked-in a noble sort of way," he wrote Mrs. Browning (XXXVI, 292), [184/185] and on his return he wrote Norton that a great painter "mustn't be pious." In the same letter he adds that "at 39 one begins to feel a life of sensation rather too much for one" (XXXVI, 293) — implying perhaps that it is a life of mere sensation, without the depth of emotional fulfillment, that can seem "too much." Although the incident is well known, more needs to be understood about Ruskin's reading of the painting itself.
Against an ornate, classical backdrop — a central arch flanked by marble pillars and reclining statuary — stand at least two dozen figures, encumbered by a wealth of clothing, jewels, gifts, and animals, the whole of which rises at the left along the steps of Solomon's throne. To study this rich sequence, Ruskin erected a scaffold in order to make copies (the painting was hung too high for easy viewing). A young American painter later recalled the advice Ruskin gave him in the gallery: "He said 'Watch me.' He than looked at the flounce in the dress of a maid of honour of the Queen of Sheba for five minutes, and then he painted one thread: he looked for another five minutes, and then he painted another thread. At the rate at which he was working he might hope to paint the whole dress in ten years" (XVI, X1). In addition to the maid of honor, with her gold and white brocade, Ruskin did the queen's dog and the maid's servant, a black woman bearing "two birds, one of gold and one of enamel, with ruby eyes, for a present to Solomon."9 For both of these he ordered frames for his father, with dimensions precisely indicated, thus possessing himself of portions of the painting.
Clearly enough, the picture represented for Ruskin the emblem of a perfect economy of the nobly animal and the nobly spiritual. Moving from right to left, we read the humans offering up the produce of the earth in tribute, that is, in sacrifice; moving from left to right, we follow the view of the God-like king downward through a chain of being, clear to the right corner, where the servant stands with her birds. Ruskin cannot but find it good. The king's court is the economy in miniature of a wise commercial nation, while the many animals allow the picture to mediate between the imagery of "The Nature of Gothic" and The Political Economy of Art. What makes this painting genuinely religious [185/186] for Ruskin is the typological function of Solomon. (He appears again, along with the queenly housewife of Proverbs, in Unto This Last, and then both appear as the pair of perfect rulers in Sesame and Lilies.) Solomon is the wise ruler of the earthly kingdom as Christ is of the heavenly. At the high point of the Hebrew state, he built both a temple and a commercial empire. For guidance he prayed to Wisdom and so united in one person both wealth and the wise use of wealth — the two gifts that prompted the visit of the queen, when the two rulers exchanged emblems of their wealth. Cunningly, Veronese has placed a lion and an eagle beneath the king — "types of the Divine and Human power in Christ" — which led Ruskin to call the painter "full of mischief" and "full of dodges" (XVI, XXXIX). The dodge would be that this typological union of divine and human also represents the union of animal and spiritual in humans, so that Solomon's wisdom is, among other things, erotic wisdom.
Ruskin makes this clear by his own set of dodges. Having spent weeks copying the servant woman — as though ostentatiously to proclaim the virtues of perfection and labor — he spirited her off to Denmark Hill, where she was reinstalled with her glittering clothes. Clearly enough, fine dress has become yet another sign for the erotic, yet another attempt to find in external forms a magical resolution of his unconscious contradictions. We have discovered another dimension of Veronese's importance for him. In The Political Economy of Art he says that "true nobleness of dress [is] an important means of education, as it certainly is a necessity to any nation which wishes to possess living art, concerned with portraiture of human nature" (XVI, 52). A year later he made his first public allusion to the Veronese in the Cambridge Inaugural Address, the very lecture, we recall, that set out to show how "refinements of taste" accompany the downfall of nations and that used the uxorious Cardinal as an example. Ruskin here refers to Veronese to justify his own love for gold brocade: "You may, perhaps, be surprised at this; but . . . I share this weakness of enjoying dress patterns with all good students and all good painters" (XVI, 185). Clothing is the decoration of the body, as art is the decoration of the body of a [186/187] nation: both are means of placing value on something, and in art a means of affirming the body in a way nudity cannot do, that is, symbolically. Ruskin's copying the gold and white brocade seems to act out two analogies, that between loving and treasuring and that between studying (since noble dress is a "means of education") and mastery of the sensuous.
Thus, in the lecture condemning Cardinal Maurice, Ruskin professes himself a lover of dress patterns, not simply (if at all) to defend himself against the attractions of nudity but rather to defend a system of cultural signs that place determinate value on what otherwise is frighteningly indeterminate. Clothing, moreover, is the expression or container of the presence beneath: dressing, like sublimation, like art, like civilization itself, is a blending of expression and restraint, and so a form of Wisdom. As with Carlyle, a philosophy of clothing is ultimately a philosophy of symbols. In the natural world, of course, phenomena half reveal and half conceal the soul they shadow forth (grotesque awe is the terror of revelation, the fear especially that more will be revealed than the mind can bear), but color, which is adventitious and so the type of love, the sanctifying element of the creation, confers value by means of beauty in the same way clothing confers value to the human body. To put it differently, noble dress is the sign that body and spirit are sanctified together, or again that true wealth is the expression of life. This fitting of body and clothes is the structure, finally, of all symbolism in a healthy economy: the symbols of wealth are also the symbols of life. But in a debased economy, the symbols of wealth are false because divorced from life, so that false wealth is both a disorder of the symbolizing power and an erotic disorder in the national soul.
It will turn out that Ruskin's qualification for preaching political economy after fifteen years as an art critic is his trained experience of the sensuous, as opposed to the bad economist's habit of inhumane abstraction — or, more precisely, Ruskin's trained experience in detecting universals embodied in the sensuous as signs, developed by this time into a skill in allegorical interpretation. In these same years, he also learned to read Turner allegorically, discovering in him a more disturbing form of Veronese's naughty "dodges." (Ruskin in fact took it upon himself to destroy a number of pornographic sketches discovered in the Bequest, a fact John Dixon Hunt has rightly associated with Ruskin's remarks about a great painter's wickedness.) It is as though Turner took upon himself the full burden of suffering and mortality for his times and the burden also of its dark sensuality; for the artist who appears at the climax of Modern Painters V does not present, like Veronese, a vision of the sensuous life integrated into the social life but an extreme vision of social and erotic disorder.
In the great meditation he called "The Two Boyhoods," Ruskin simultaneously [187/188] traces the careers of Giorgione and Turner, which reached a climax in an apocalyptic antithesis transcending all particular historical experience: the Heavenly City on the one hand, of which Venice was once the type, and on the other, an encompassing negative of the creation painted in imagery borrowed, as Elizabeth Helsinger has suggested, from Turner's The Angel in the Sun — itself an ironic quotation, in all likelihood, of Ruskin's own figure of Turner as Archangel:
The unconquerable spectre still flitting among the forest trees at twilight; rising ribbed out of the sea-sand; — white, a strange Aphrodite, — out of the sea-foam; stretching its gray, cloven wings among the clouds; turning the light of their sunsets into blood.
Wide enough the light was, and clear . . . light over all the world. Full shone now its awful globe, one pallid charnel-house, — a ball strewn bright with human ashes, glaring in poised sway beneath the sun, all blinding-white with death from pole to pole, — death, not of myriads of poor bodies only, but of will, and mercy, and conscience; death, not once inflicted on the flesh, but daily fastening on the spirit; death, not silent or patient, waiting his appointed hour, but voiceful, venomous; death with the taunting word, and burning grasp, and infixed sting. [VII, 386-388]
The "English death" is a historical and a metaphysical condition, the condition of life searing and devouring itself, striking without warning or justice but again and again, at moments of despair and at the apparent fulfillment of earthly joys; it is the collapse of all meaning as well, the ultimate spread of the void across the heavens that also embodies, as Helsinger has shown, the pure destructiveness of the artistic will: "The defeat of hope . . . becomes progressively more terrible as the triumph of light and colour — the triumph of the artist — becomes more overwhelming. (Helsinger, 243) This series of contrasts, perhaps the most powerful Ruskin ever put forth, is a series only, not a final statement, cast in the form of visions necessary to the great artist in particular historical circumstances. They are the apocalyptic possibilities hovering about the London that is Ruskin's as well as Turner's, emblems of the psychic destruction and creation necessary to both Ruskin and his nation in the present moment of their crisis.
In their totalizing power, these visions tremble on the brink of the unimaginable; they require stabilizing in order for Ruskin to render articulate the relationship of art to social renewal. In the following chapters, the culmination of seventeen years' labor, Ruskin reads Turner's painting as an intricate allegory of England's fall that may be [188/189] read both diachronically and synchronically-as a myth and as a set of symbolic contradictions.12 In "The Nereid's Guard" he argues that Turner's The Garden of the Hesperides is a religious allegory because it paints English religion as industrial Mammonism: the Serpent of Greek myth has become the "British Madonna" governing an unhappy isle, a "paradise of smoke" (VII, 408). In the foreground of the painting, the Goddess of Discord takes one of the Hesperidean apples, while the nymphs recline in a grove to the right. The images form a pattern of charged anticipation before the fatal touch, which, like Eve's, will set in motion the whole doom of human history. In his interpretation of the painting, Ruskin ransacks his memory of half a dozen Christian and classical authors in order to provide each element with antithetical meanings expressing all the painful ambiguities of emotional experience. Thus Juno, "the housewives' goddess," represents "whatever good or evil may result from female ambition"; the apples, which are her gift from the earth, are either "the wealth of the earth, as the source of household peace and plenty" or "the source of household sorrow and desolation" (VII, 396). The Hesperides, or nymphs of the sunset, are daughters of Night and therefore sisters of Night's other progeny, the Fates; thus, they are "a light in the midst of a cloud; — between Censure, and Sorrow, — and the Destinies" (VII, 393). "For though the Hesperides in their own character, as the nymphs of domestic joy, are entirely bright . . . yet seen or remembered in sorrow, or in the presence of discord, they deepen distress." In fact, as Dido recalls them, they are an enchantress "who feeds the dragon" (VII, 406). Only the Dragon receives no pair of meanings: he is for Hesiod the type of "consuming (poisonous and volcanic) passions" and for Dante, "Pluto il gran nemico" — "the demon of all evil passions connected with covetousness" (VII, 397, 400-401); Ruskin also associates him with Spenser's Garden of Mammon, where the Hesperidean apples grow. Against this darkness stand the nymphs, embodying bright color (which, according to Ruskin, Turner reintroduced into painting) which is also the type of love. Sexual love, "when true, faithful, well-fixed, is eminently the sanctifying element of human life: without it, the soul cannot reach its fullest height or holiness" (VII, 417). At last [189/190] Turner has come to "confess" the Hesperides; "but is it well? Men say these Hesperides are sensual goddesses, — traitresses.... Nature made the western and the eastern clouds splendid in fallacy. Crimson is impure and vile; let us paint in black if we would be virtuous" (VII, 413). Linking the sober hues of academic painting with Puritanism and an industrial "paradise of smoke," Ruskin converts the fall story into a defense of the senses, as he had in The Stones of Venice, this time pitting noble sexual love against the Dragon of economic greed.
J. M. W, Turner, Apollo and Python, 1811. [Not
in print edition; click on picture for larger image. ]
"The Nereid's Guard" presents an allegory of the present crisis; the next chapter, "The Hesperid Aegle," presents an allegory of hope, this time by leaping through several early paintings of Turner to create a composite icon. In Turner's Apollo and Python, the god battles a serpent similar but not identical to the Nereid's guard. The Hesperidean dragon was a "treasure-guardian. This is the treasure-destroyer, — where moth and rust doth corrupt — the worm of eternal decay." The second painting therefore represents "the strife of purity with pollution; of life with forgetfulness; of love, with the grave . . ., the struggle of youth and manhood with deadly sin" (VII, 420). Interestingly, Apollo takes the name of his enemy once his conquest is completed ("he is by name, not only Pythian, the conqueror of death; — but Paean, the healer of the people" [VII, 420]), an association that suggests a sanctifying of aggressive energies, or an absorption of destructive power for constructive use. The distinction between the two dragons appears to be that, as the treasure guardian is opposed to true wealth, the treasure destroyer is opposed to life — they are illth and death — and this point suggests that Ruskin has turned from the subject of sexual ambiguity to the ambiguous inherence of death in life and from a particular historical dilemma to a metaphysical conundrum. The leitmotif of this chapter is thus the nymph he names the Hesperid Aegle — that is to say, redness, or "brightness of the sunset," the "colour which the sunbeams take in passing through the earth's atmosphere." As we might expect, he associates the type of Love with sacrifice: "colour generally, but chiefly the scarlet, used with the hyssop, in the Levitical law, is the great sanctifying element of visible beauty, inseparably connected with purity and life.... the fountain, in which sins are indeed to be washed away, is that of love, not of agony" (VII, 414-417).
These meanings, and several others, concentrate powerfully in the image of the Sybil Deiphobe, culled from two more paintings, which follows closely upon the account of Apollo and the Python to represent, at least by implication, the reward waiting upon the completion of heroic action. The closing sentences of the chapter read:
And though that scarlet cloud . . . may, indeed, melt away into paleness of night, and Venice herself waste from her islands as a wreath of wind [190/191] driven foam fades from their weedy beach; — that which she won of faithful light and truth shall never pass away. Deiphobe of the sea, — the Sun God measures her immortality to her by its sand. Flushed, above the Avernus of the Adrian lake, her spirit is still seen holding the golden bough; from the lips of the Sea Sybil men shall learn for ages yet to come what is most noble and most fair; and, far away, as the whisper in the coils of the shell, withdrawn through the deep hearts of nations, shall sound forever the enchanted voice of Venice. [Vll, 439-440]
The "scarlet cloud," specifically, is some frescoes of Giorgione from which Ruskin has engraved a female nude to head this chapter — a figure he names, arbitrarily, "The Hesperid Aegle" in order to combine the careers of Giorgione and Turner; but in fact she combines the careers of all artists in their eternal, half-won struggle against time. The Deiphobe of Greek myth represents a related idea: she has received from Apollo a grain of sand for every year of life (suggesting once again the color of sunlight through the earth's atmosphere), so that here dust — as in so much of Ruskin's later work, an ambiguous emblem — does not put the term to life but "measures her immortality." It is the mortal element but also, if seed, the promise of life. (The housewife Wisdom also bore a symbol of long life in her hand.) She is also Venice-no longer the fallen harlot of the earlier books but something closer to Blake's spiritual Jerusalem — "a city and a woman," the emanation of Albion. The composite of nymph, Sybil, and sea city looks to the future in two ways: as a symbol of generativity (bearing the Golden Bough) and as a symbol of prophecy, whose whisper is no longer the waves that toll a warning but the whisper from Pandora's box.
According to Ruskin, Turner was without hope because for him the rose always gave way to the worm. The technique of this chapter is to overcome hopelessness by converting antithetical ideas into symbols of fusion. In this way the profound enigmas of experience can at least be faced — the enigmas, in particular, of the inherence of mortality in sexuality, symbolized by the sunlight passing through the earth's atmosphere, and the inherence of death in the seed of generation, symbolized by the Sybil's handful of death. The emotional correlative of these symbols is the dominant mood of the chapter, the mood, so to speak, of elegiac hope akin to what Ruskin elsewhere calls the "majestic sorrow" of the Greeks (VII, 276). The chivalric imagery of the heroic combat and the pure woman (the conventional imagery, in Victorian times, of erotic deferral) permits Ruskin to convert the elegiac mood of The Stones of Venice — the nostalgia for a thing possessed but not possessed because it has passed — into qualified hope for a thing possessed but not possessed because it may be yet to come. In this way, he fuses [191/192] his own destiny with his nation's. Ruskin, looking backward toward sorrow and censure, may look forward also — to the battle that can convert his own suffering and wrath into a healing energy (imitating the allegory of Apollo and Python) — but with a hope compromised by the loss of youth and religion and other joys that may not come again; for his nation, the renunciation of opulence may bring about a "humble" but happier life spread unto the least. By so transfusing the goal of social action with erotic longing, "The Hesperid Aegle" becomes an avowal of hope, which must be deferred; of renunciation, on which any realistic hope must be based; and of the instinct for preciousness, which alone can bring hope to fruition in deeds. Death and loss are not now the punishment of sexuality, even though the two are somehow connected — the mystery cannot be comprehended but can only be subdued by the concentrated gaze of majestic sorrow — because the seed that bears life also bears time and the ultimate conclusion of time.
The last defense of art in Modern Painters begins with the statement: "What the final use may be to men, of landscape painting, or of any painting, or of natural beauty, I do not yet know" (VII, 423). What, then has Venice and all "She won of faithful light and truth" to do with the condition of England? "Thus far, however, I do know," he continues. The world must be delivered from three great types of asceticism — monkish, military, and monetary. "A monk of La Trappe, a French soldier of the Imperial Guard, and a thriving mill-owner, supposing each a type, and no more than a type, of his class, are all interesting specimens of humanity, but narrow ones, — so narrow that even all the three together would not make up a perfect man" (VII, 424). (We notice that the monk, the soldier, and the Captain of Industry are the three heroic figures in Past and Present, the book to which Unto This Last owes more than to any other.) This threefold deficiency, above all, relates to contentment:
There are, indeed, two forms of discontent: one laborious, the other indolent and complaining. We respect the man of laborious desire, but let us not suppose that his restlessness is peace, or his ambition meekness. It is because of the special connection of meekness with contentment that it is promised that the meek shall "inherit the earth." Neither covetous men, nor the Grave, can inherit anything; they can but consume. Only contentment can possess.
The most helpful and sacred work, therefore, which can at present be done for humanity is to teach people . . . not how "to better themselves" but how to "satisfy themselves." It is the curse of every evil nation and every evil creature to eat, and not be satisfied. The words of blessing are, that they shall eat and be satisfied. [VII, 426]
To this statement, the prospectus of all his social philosophy, Ruskin appends the following verse from Proverbs: "There are three things [192/193] that are never satisfied, yea, four things say not, It is enough: the grave; and the barren womb; the earth that is not filled with water; and the fire, that saith not, It is enough!" The second and third of these terms are famished, the other two glutted, an arrangement that illuminates Ruskin's perception of Midas-like voracity, a starving desire that ever seeks the wrong objects to supply its hunger: the monk "loses" himself in vision or hope, the soldier "mortified" himself through destructive power, the merchant "mortifies" himself in "productive accumulation." Possession does not give content, however; "only contentment can possess." Near the opening of The Political Economy of Art, Ruskin had warned against a nation that "disdains to occupy itself in any sense with the arts of beauty and delight," since, as a result of this disdain, "the passions connected with the utilities of property become morbidly strong, and a mean lust of accumulation merely for the sake of accumulation, or even of labour merely for the sake of labour, will banish at last the serenity and the morality of life, as completely, and perhaps more ignobly, than even the lavishness of pride, and the likeness of pleasure" (XVI, 21). This is the legacy of Renaissance pride, the mysterious and willful turning away from the light that marks the central action of The Stones of Venice, yet nowhere in that book is it presented with such an inclusive range of social insight. Under such spiritual conditions, it is irrelevant to talk of art, for in a society of insatiable egos that "possess" all things as the grave, and that "consume" all things as the fire, art will also be swallowed up in death. But if humans can learn the true power of use, which is true wealth and which lies in meekness, then great art will become again the "type of human life," and beauty the type of the contentment that alone can truly love. In art, color is the type of love, and if, as Ruskin says, sexual love is properly the sanctifying element of human life, and if Mammonism is a disorder of the passions — the worship of a Serpent Madonna that converts all passion into forms of avarice — then a regenerated society will rest on a healthy reordering of sensual passions, an integration of the nobly animal and the nobly spiritual. The new Venice — the prophetic whisper and the scarlet shadow of art — takes the form of a woman's body.
Last modified 14 October 2010