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"The Eye of Mr. Ruskin": James's Views on Venetian Artists by W. R. Martin, University of Waterloo, Ontario In March 1869 Henry James, newly arrived in Europe for virtually the first time on his own, wrote home to his mother saying that a portrait by Titian gave one "a new sense of the meaning of art" (HJL I, 103). That same spring he declared excitedly from London to his brother William: "I passionately love Titian"; Titian's "Bacchus and Ariadne" was "'one of the great facts' of the universe" (Edel, The Untried Years 295); in June he declared to his friend John LaFarge, the painter, that this picture was "a thing to go barefoot to see. . . . For [Titian], methinks, I'd give you all the rest" (HJL I, 121). One feels the ardor of a young sensibility charged with veneration for the established monuments of unageing intellect and art that James felt America was so scantly furnished with. Almost ten years later he would say, "[Americans] are conscious ... of being placed on the circumference of the circle of civilisation rather than at the centre" (H 153). Titian had, of course, long been established as a master. James was to be confronted by other monuments and masters, however. Soon after his arrival in London he reported to William that at Ruskin's he had seen not only an "ineffably handsome Titian," but also a "beautiful Tintoret" (HJL I, 100). Ruskin, too, was established as perhaps the leading contemporary authority on modern and Renaissance art, and James would not have needed any prompting from his friend Charles Eliot Norton, soon to be Professor of fine arts at Harvard, to read Ruskin's The Stones of Venice (1851-53). In an important letter to William from Venice a few months later (25/26 Sept. 1869) James writes: "I strongly urge you to look up in vol. 3d of Ruskin's Stones (last appendix) a number of magnificent descriptive pages touching [Tintoretto's] principal pictures. The whole appendix by the way, with all its exasperating points is invaluable to the visitor here and I have profited much by it" (HJL I, 140). James is referring to Ruskin's "Venetian Index," a "succinct guide in alphabetical form to the major buildings, painting and sculpture of Venice" (Ruskin's Venice 4), and his judgments are very much influenced by it—particularly by Ruskin's elevation of Tintoretto and his concomitant , almost reciprocal, relegation of Titian . In the Venetian Index Ruskin adjures his reader to "devote his principal attention, if he is fond of paintings, to the works of Tintoretto, Paul Veronese and John Bellini, not of course neglecting Titian , yet remembering that Titian can be well and thoroughly studied in almost any great European gallery. ... I have supplied somewhat copious notices of the pictures of Tintoretto, because they are much injured, difficult to read, and entirely neglected by other writers on art" (14). In this same letter of Sept. 1869 James says, "For the present I give up Titian altogether," though the only reason he gives is one that Ruskin advances in the Venetian Index: Titian is "not adequately represented" in Venice. James also puts forward the same three names as Ruskin— Tintoretto, Veronese and Bellini, though the first time he mentions the last of these he writes "Jacopo" in error for "Giovanni." One might infer a slight qualification of James's enthusiasm for Veronese from his writing of not only "the perfect unity," but also the "placidity" of Veronese's talent (HJL I, 137-38). This reserve is more explicit in the essay James published in Italian Hours, "Venice: An Early Impression" (1872): "Mr. Ruskin, whose eloquence in dealing with the great Venetians sometimes outruns his discretion, is fond of speaking even of Veronese as a painter of deep spiritual intentions. This, it seems to me, is pushing matters too far" (IH 58). A decade later James finds that the essence expressed by Veronese in, for instance, "The Rape of Europa" in the Ducal Palace, is an unmatched sense of "enjoyment" (IH 23). In this 1872 essay James claims that he has examined the Venetian painters again, after three years, to see if he...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1080-6555
Print ISSN
0273-0340
Pages
pp. 107-116
Launched on MUSE
2010-03-25
Open Access
No
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