Ruskin on Venice 'The Paradise of Cities' Robert Hewison

Paul Mellon Centre for Studies in British Art
Publication date:
14 Jan 2010
500 pages: 258 x 233 x 34mm
25 colour images + 105 black-&-white illustrations

For John Ruskin, one of the leading cultural critics of the nineteenth century, Venice represented his ideal of civic society, where culture, government and faith were in creative harmony - 'The Paradise of Cities'. This was not the fallen city of the Renaissance, the Paradise Lost that it became in his lifetime, but the Gothic Eden that he imagined had existed before the sixteenth century. In this elegant and compelling book, Ruskin's long and intricate relationship with the city is traced: from 1835 he watched Venice change from post-Napoleonic ruin to a province of the Austrian Empire, and then experience new ruin in the revolution of 1848. Venice was witness to the failure of his marriage, and, later, the collapse of his hopes for a new one. By the time of Ruskin's final visit in 1888, the march of modernity had made Venice a dead replica of its former glory. Robert Hewison shows how Ruskin shed his Romantic vision, formed by Byron and Turner, and developed a harder, clearer conception of neglected Gothic Venice through an intense study of the city's physical fabric that changed international understanding of the city. He highlights the parallel drawn by Ruskin between the Venetian and British Empires, a warning that sounds throughout his key work, "The Stones of Venice", and he reveals how, later, Veronese and Carpaccio helped Ruskin articulate the changes in his religious and social beliefs. Carpaccio's paintings also became the frame for Ruskin's private myth: his tragic love for Rose La Touche, which reached its crisis in Venice in 1876. Drawing on the rich resources of Ruskin's drawings, architectural notebooks and manuscripts (including previously unpublished daguerreotypes from Ruskin's own collection), Hewison offers fresh insights into both Ruskin and Venice and reveals how Ruskin's work and his connection with the city from youth to old age have helped to shape the image of the Venice we know today.

Robert Hewison is Professor of Cultural Policy and Leadership Studies at the City University, London, Honorary Professor at Lancaster University and Associate, Demos. He writes for the 'Culture' section of the Sunday Times and his many books include John Ruskin: The Argument of the Eye (1976), Under Siege, Literary Life in London 1939-45 (1977), Ruskin and Venice (1978) and Irreverence, Scurrility, Profanity, Vilification and Licentious Abuse: Monty Python The Case Against (1981).

‘This book charts in fascinating detail the story of his obsession with the city and the debt it owes him.’ -Country Life

“The book is a magnificent achievement. A life’s learning finds convincing form across its stylish, readable, and challenging pages…..In it’s penetrating detail, and controlled sweep, Ruskin on Venice makes these positions comprehensible without ever making them seem inevitable.”—Marcus Waithe, The Eighth Lamp – Ruskin Studies Today

“Robert Hewison’s absorbing book gives detailed accounts of the circumstances and outcome of each of Ruskin’s visits to Venice…However Ruskin on Venice offers much more than a series of glimpses of its subject at different stages of his life: by linking Ruskin’s various stays in Venice together into a larger evolution of thought, it provides an unfolding drama of his myriad preoccupations and ever-fluctuating state of mind... The importance of Ruskin’s role as guardian of the fabric of a city which he loved but where he suffered great distress is today recognised, both in Italy and abroad. Robert Hewison’s book makes a vast further contribution to that awareness.” —Christopher Newall, Apollo