|Perseus and Medusa, Cellini|
By the 19th century the dearth of originality was palpable. Craftsmen were increasingly debased to skilled laborers, simply executing specifications received from architects, drawn from pattern books. Granted, to our 21st century eyes much of this ornamental work was of high quality, still being made from heritage materials, using traditional techniques, produced by the human hand. However, Ruskin and his contemporaries were very sensitive to the direction the Decorative Arts were heading as he expressed, "There are many forms of so called decoration in architecture...I have no hesitation in asserting to be not ornament at all, but to be ugly things, the expense of which ought to be in truth to be set down in the architect's contract, as 'For Monstrification.'"
I'll attempt to highlight some examples of what Ruskin saw as abuses of the period and in his spirit, temper the 'monstrosities' with some healthy examples.
|Christ's College Gatehouse|
|Tiffany & Co.|
Scrolls and Inscriptions
|Apollo and Daphne, Bernini|
The festoon is such a strange, oft displaced creature. Perhaps the gathering of flowers in stone to lay across a sepulchrum in perpetuity bestows both beauty and merit. The question though is really one of architectural appropriateness. It usually appears in the severest of architecture, at a high elevation unable to be truly appreciated, a lopsided crescent gathering soot. I personally feel this at one of my favourite buildings in Paris, Le Panthéon. As Ruskin observed in a similar instance at St. Paul's in London, the awkward "displaced abundance" of the festoon results in the bare wall appearing "poverty stricken", undermining its sublimity.
I could go on and bore everyone with Ruskin's view of dripstones employed in the Gothic Revival but I'm sure you've had enough. I'll just conclude by saying that I feel Cellini's Perseus and Medusa shown at the outset is one of the greatest nude statues ever conceived. Perhaps you have guessed the monster by now. No, not the head of the gorgon. Rather the true monster is the strap across Perseus' otherwise bare body with the inscription of the sculptor and the date of his work. Oooh Cellini, how could you?
Thankfully he next post in the series will return to a decidedly more positive topic: The Lamp of Life
Contributed by Patrick Webb