Read with Ruskin

John Ruskin was born in London, England in the year 1819. He was an author, philosopher, art critic, and historian of the Victorian Era known for his writings on art, architecture, geology, literature, political economy, and ornithology, thus making him a highly influential author in his era.  The writing styles he adopted were elaborate and focused on the connection between nature, art, and society. He was engaged in the work of Viollet-le-Duc, a French architect and author, famous for restoration and mediaeval projects in France. Ruskin considered Duc’s Dictionary to be “the only book of any value on architecture”. Ruskin’s writings promoted Gothic architecture and influenced Neoclassicism

The very famous three-volume book – ‘The Stones of Venice’, is on Venetian art and architecture. In these volumes, he examines the art, architecture, and history of Venice. The books were written during an immense period of change in Europe, marked by the rise of industrialization and urbanisation. He used it to show us a mediation of the relationship between art, architecture, society, and civilization. He viewed Venice as a symbol of the values and virtues of the pre-industrial era. Focusing on architectural analysis, development, styles, and significance, he explored Gothic architecture, ornamentation, and construction. 

In the books, he often critiques the modern world and its negligence of traditional craftsmanship, beauty, and culture. He compares the organic Venetian architecture with the concrete industrial development. The Gothic Revival movement was influenced by the book and inspired architects, artists, and thinkers of Ruskin’s time and beyond.      

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Sketch of an architectural detail by John Ruskin made for his book The Stones of Venice (Published 1851)_©The Morgan Library & Museum

Tints with Turner

Joseph Mallord William Turner, known as William Turner, was an English Romantic painter, printmaker, and watercolorist. He was a child prodigy, Turner studied at the Royal Academy of Arts from 1789, enrolled when he was 14, and exhibited his first work there at 15. His imagination was sparked by storms, sunlight, rain, shipwrecks, etc. He was fascinated by the violent power of the sea, as shown at the 1840 exhibition, where The Slave Ship (1840), and Rockets and Blue Lights (Close at Hand) to Warn Steamboats of Shoal Water (1840) were first shown.

He was championed by the leading art critic John Ruskin in 1840 and is today regarded as having elevated landscape painting to an eminence rivalling history painting. The art critic, John Ruskin described him as the artist who could most “stirringly and truthfully measure the moods of nature.” Turner became to be known as ‘the painter of light’, owing to his increasing interest in brilliant colours as the main constituent in his landscapes and seascapes.

The Dynamic Duo

Turner was particularly drawn to the way Ruskin captured the interplay of light and water in Venice, which is evident in Turner’s later works featuring the city’s iconic canals and buildings. Ruskin’s understanding of specific water pictures was reconstructed through the help of Turner. The book demonstrates that water is important as a multifaceted compilation of contemporary themes, for tradition, progress, nationalism, and patriotism find their iconography in its depiction.

Ruskin and Turner’s two-way relationship was brought about by Ruskin’s detailed observations of nature and Turner’s exploration of light and atmosphere. Turner’s lively landscapes may have influenced Ruskin’s appreciation for the raw beauty of the natural world. Ruskin, being a social commentator, saw Turner’s art as a reflection of an era before industrialization. 

Their work together brought about a lasting impact. Turner’s paintings helped to redefine art in a way that revolutionised landscape paintings with extraordinary light and colour. Ruskin’s passion for art elevated art criticism and its influence on the public. Their works act as a bridge between eras. 

Turner’s ideas about Venice were derived from several literary sources like Canaletto, Shakespeare’s Venetian plays, “The Merchant of Venice” and “Othello”; as well as Byron’s poems and verse-dramas. These works inevitably brought through Turner’s paintings and watercolours of the city. The final part of Byron’s “Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage”, was an influential piece for Turner. 

Turner in Venice

In 1819, Turner took his first trip to Venice. Though he exhibited only 25 of his paintings from the entirety of them, the years 1819, 1833, and 1840 stand as his most celebrated years.  The colour templates and seamless flow of the shades of paint are seen to put out smooth and soothing artwork. His paintings balanced the contrast between warm and cool colours and the art of loose brushwork and blurs to create a painting in depth and to look subtly dramatic. 

Venice – From the Porch of Madonna della Salute, 1835

Currently located in New York City at The Met, this painting shows us his experience and brilliance of technique as a watercolorist to create this view, in which the foundations of the palaces of Venice merge into the waters of the lagoon employing delicate reflections. These reflections of the Venetian palaces show not only his dedicated determination to conscious detail but also showcase his skills as a marine painter. The sky’s warm golden hues with the cool blues of the water, create a sense of contrast while it blends in harmony. The specific point of view depicted in the painting might be a creative invention by Turner.

His paintings created a sense of calmness yet felt in romanticism. Its lightness and expressive yet loose brush strokes capture the scene vividly and evoke a sense of imagination.

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Venice – From the Porch of Madonna della Salute_©The Metropolitan Museum of Art

Venice – San Giorgio Maggiore at Sunset, from the Hotel Europa 1840

The watercolour painting depicts a view of Venice, Italy from the Europa Hotel. The colours of the sky show us a view of the sunset. The warm peach and orange shades reflected into the cool blues of the water seamlessly depict his use of blurred brushstrokes that contribute to the romantic atmosphere. The painting is overall light in tone with the sky reflected in the water, in a slightly darker tone. 

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San Giorgio Maggiore, Venice, at Sunset, from along the Riva degli Schiavoni_©Tate

The Upper End of the Grand Canal, with San Simeone Piccolo; Dusk, 1840

This painting depicts the view of the Grand Canal. The evening sky is set with dark tones of purple and blue while the water is seemingly light and the unique brushstrokes show us movement. The painting brings in simplicity and lightness, though in-depth in contrast to the highly decorated baroque facade of the Church of San Simeon Piccolo on the right. 

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The Grand Canal, with San Simeone Piccolo; Dusk_©Tate

The relationship between Ruskin and William Turner fostered a lasting impact on the art world, as their collaboration helped redefine landscape painting and art criticism, and also as each individual shaped their respective work as well. Through Ruskin’s writings and Turner’s paintings, the interplay of light and water in Venice became a prominent theme, demonstrating the multifaceted compilation of contemporary themes in art. Their contributions acted as a bridge between eras, and their influence continues to be felt in the art world today.

“The Stones of Venice,” presented the importance of craftsmanship and beauty in between all the industrialization. The writings helped in the revival of Gothic Architecture and also provided a lens through which society viewed the evolving relationship between art, architecture, and culture. 

The mpact of architectural literature extends far beyond its immediate context while resonating deeply within the realms of architecture, art criticism, and societal values. Literature adds in-depth value to what is overlooked in today’s society. The two forms of art come together as a strong major and are presented to the world beautifully.


  2. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. Joseph Mallord William Turner: Venice, from the porch of Madonna della salute.
  3. Coulling,I. Images of Venice. Turner in Venice. 09/05/2023.
  4. The Collector. Discover J. M. W. Turner through 8 paintings. 24/07/2023.

A nature lover who is passionate about art and design which only helped widen the multidisciplinary perspective of architecture. Juggling between being a full time architect, an entrepreneur and a budding writer she also tries to fulfill her travel diaries and takes ballet lessons.