"Voyaging through strange seas of thought, alone ..." William Wordsworth

17 June 2022

Wreathed.

Ruskin, North Porch of the West Front of the Cathedral of Amiens, 1871


The Gothic architecture arose in massy and mountainous strength, axe-hewn and iron-bound, block heaved upon block by the monk’s enthusiasm and the soldier’s force; and cramped and stanchioned into such weight of grisly wall, as might bury the anchoret in darkness, and beat back the utmost storm of battle, suffering but by the same narrow crosslet the passing of the sunbeam, or of the arrow. Gradually, as that monkish enthusiasm grew more thoughtful, and as the sound of war became more & more intermittent beyond the convent or keep, the stony pillar grew slender and the vaulted roof grew light, till they wreathed themselves into the semblance of the summer woods at their fairest.

For the very first requirement of Gothic architecture being that it shall admit the aid, and appeal to the admiration, of the rudest as well as the most refined minds, the richness of the work is a part of its humility.  That humility, the very life of the Gothic school, is shown not only in the imperfection, but in the accumulation, of ornament. The inferior rank of the workman is often shown as much in the richness, as the roughness, of his work; and if the co-operation of every hand, and the sympathy of every heart, are to be received, we must be content to allow the redundance which disguises the failure of the feeble, and wins the regard of the inattentive. There are, however, far nobler interests mingling, in the Gothic heart, with the rude love of decorative accumulation : a magnificent enthusiasm, which feels as if it never could do enough to reach the fullness of its ideal; an unselfishness of sacrifice, which would rather cast fruitless labour before the altar than stand idle in the market; and, finally, a profound sympathy with the fullness & wealth of the material universe.

John Ruskin, from The Stones of Venice

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