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John Ruskin: Writer, Critic, Artist & Philosopher

(1819-1900)

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Black and white photo of 19th century writer critic John Ruskin, wild bushy beard

John Ruskin

Photo by Culture Club/Getty Images ©2013 Culture Club
Hand written opening chapter of John Ruskin's The Lamp of Memory

Part of the Seven Lamps manuscript, opening chapter of "The Lamp of Memory." Photo by Culture Club/Getty Images ©2013 Culture Club

Interior of Gothic-designed John Ruskin-influenced Oxford University Museum of Natural History

Gothic Interior of Oxford University Museum of Natural History

Photo By RDImages/Epics/Getty Images ©Epics/2010 Getty Images

Rebelling against classical styles, John Ruskin reawakened British interest in heavy, elaborate Gothic architecture. He also disdained anything machine-made, and paved the way for the Arts & Crafts movement.

Born:

February 8, 1819 in London, England

Died:

January 20, 1900

Education:

Christ Church College at Oxford, MA degree, 1843

Important Writings:

John Ruskin traveled to France and Italy, where he sketched the romantic beauty of medieval architecture and sculpture. Through his essays, including The Poetry of Architecture (free from Gutenberg) and his 1849 book The Seven Lamps of Architecture (Compare Prices), Ruskin awakened interest in medieval Gothic architecture.

In 1849, Ruskin traveled to Venice, Italy and observed Venetian Gothic architecture influenced by Byzantine influences as Christianity spread throughout Europe. The rise and fall of spiritual forces reflected through Venice's changing architectural styles impressed the enthusiastic and passionate writer. In 1851 Ruskin's observations were published in the three-volume series, The Stones of Venice (Compare Prices). Download the introductory chapters for free (PDF).

The 19th century Gothic Revival period of architectural design in England, better known as Victorian Gothic, was in large part due to the writings of John Ruskin.

Influence on Drawing and Art:

John Ruskin was a writer, critic, scientist, poet, artist, environmentalist, and philosopher. His workbook The Elements of Drawing (Compare Prices) remains a popular course of study. As one of the most important art critics of the Victorian era, Ruskin gained respectability for the Pre-Raphaelites, who rejected the classical approach to art and believed that paintings must be done from direct observation of nature. Through his writings, Ruskin rescued the Romantic painter J. M. W. Turner from obscurity.

Influence on Architecture:

John Ruskin rebelled against formal, classical art and architecture. Ruskin championed the asymmetrical, rough architecture of medieval Europe. His passionate writings heralded the Gothic Revival movement in Britain and paved the way for the Arts & Crafts movement in Britain and the United States. Like William Morris and other Arts & Crafts philosophers, John Ruskin opposed industrialization and rejected the use of machine-made materials.

Important Building:

One of Ruskin's chief interests was the construction of the Oxford Museum of Natural History. Ruskin worked with the support of his old friend, Sir Henry Acland, then Regius Professor of Medicine, to bring his vision of Gothic beauty to this building. The Oxford Museum of Natural History remains one of the finest example of Victorian Gothic Revival (or Neo-Gothic) style in Britain.

Important Styles:

In the Words of John Ruskin:

We have thus, altogether, three great branches of architectural virtue, and we require of any building,—

  1. That it act well, and do the things it was intended to do in the best way.
  2. That it speak well, and say the things it was intended to say in the best words.
  3. That it look well, and please us by its presence, whatever it has to do or say.

—"The Virtues of Architecture," Stones of Venice, Volume I

Architecture is to be regarded by us with the most serious thought. We may live without her, and worship without her, but we cannot remember without her.—"The Lamp of Memory," The Seven Lamps of Architecture

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