8th February 2017
Born on this day in 1819, John Ruskin remains remembered as one of the most influential intellectuals and activists of the Victorian Age. You may have heard of his name in relation to the Arts & Crafts Movement due to the fact William Morris (often deemed the ‘father’ of the movement) held Ruskin and his work in such high regard and was strongly influenced by both his writings and social commentaries. Morris recalled being first introduced to Ruskin’s work, “To some of us when we first read it, now many years ago, it seemed to point out a new road which the world should travel.”
It can be claimed that it was Ruskin and his writings during the 19th Century which laid the foundations for the Arts & Crafts movement to flourish. The most important idea was that he called for a revival of traditional craftsmanship- as we’ve written about in past blogs, the Movement was fronted by those that saw industrialisation was killing artistry and craftsmanship for the ordinary man. This came from Ruskin in two of his most influential works, “The Seven Lamps of Architecture” (1849) and “The Stones of Venice” (1851-53- a trilogy works.)
Born in London to Margaret and John James, he was home schooled and well educated. His appreciation of art and literature came from his father, a prosperous sherry importer and art collector; he encouraged his son to take an interest in the arts. His mother was a Evangelical Christian, so raised in this environment he had Christian ideals instilled upon him from a young age; reading the Bible every morning from the age of 3.
Aged 11 he published his first poem- and his first prose at 15 showing talent from an early age! Attending Christ Church, Oxford in 1843, during his years here he not only earned a reputation for being a fine watercolour artist, but also won the Oxford Newdigate Poetry Competition in 1839 and was presented the award by William Wordsworth- an idol of his during his youth.
One example of Ruskin’s views towards industrialisation comes from volume II of his ‘The Stones of Venice’ series;
“And the great cry that rises from all our manufacturing cities, louder than their furnace blast, is all in very deed for this- that we manufacture everything there except men; we blanch cotton, and strengthen steel, and refine sugar, and shape pottery; but to brighten, to strengthen, to refine, or to form a single living spirit, never enters into our estimate of advantages.” – John Ruskin, The Stones of Venice: Volume II (1853.)
Looking back through history, there are always figures we need to thank for their contributions to keeping beautiful architecture preserved and restored so we can still see it today. Ruskin is one such figure- interested in the Gothic Revival he saw it as a huge importance to preserve and restore Gothic architecture of the Middle Ages.
Also, Ruskin was known for his support of Pre-Rephaelitism as a movement, and the artists within the movement- writing of his support.
A visionary of the time, he spoke and wrote about topics not popular common issues at the time. These included women’s education, minimum wage, pensions, global warming and pollution among many others. Not only is he remembered today for his own writings and works, but the ideas he had at the time which were far beyond the time he lived in. We also remember him for the influence he gave to Morris, and how his ideas helped Morris’ own to flourish.