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508 LETTERS IN CANADA 1984 his art history. This objection has little in common with what the author terms'the resistance to the idea of dragging art's ideal values through the mud of politics and ideology.' Such an arbitrary separation is inevitably distorting and misleading. Nevertheless, the weaknesses of Guilbaut's work derive from an insufficientrecognition of the extent to which artistic ideologies and practices form real yet relatively independent historical forces in their own right, and not merely thin veils over political and economic interests. His intelligent and illuminating account of the depoliticization of the American avant-garde during the Second World War fails to deal adequately with the question of how the succeeding ideology of artistic modernism possessed its own historical momentum while at the same time interacting with the broader fields of politics and social ideology. For this reason, Guilbaut's substitution of a political interpretation for the traditional formalist version ofAbstract Expressionism , while introducing much new and essential material, results in an equally one-sided and incomplete history. (BRIAN GROSSKURTH) John Unrau. Ruskin and St. Mark's Thames and Hudson. 24°,38 colour plates, 128 bw illus. £12.50; $19.50 The task of unravelling and clarifying the writings of John Ruskin that focus on the church of St Mark's in Venice has recently been undertaken by John Unrau. This task is unusually difficult. Ruskin was a polymath and a neurotic, prey to attacks of religious bigotry and visionary insanity which finally culminated in mental breakdown. His approach to art criticism was extraordinarily highly evolved, informed by research in numerous disciplines; thus an extensive knowledge of mineralogy, geology, and botany were brought to bear upon his unique form of architectural analysis. Certainly his familiarity with materials, structure, and decoration, not to mention the history of art, was advanced far beyond the average perceptions of contemporary architectural critics or indeed even architects. A draftsman whose exquisite sense of line and colour was constantly evolving, as well a linguist who could read Aquinas, Dante, and Plato in the original texts, he has disconcerted many students and historians alike simply by the scale of his genius. A mind supremelywell equipped to grasp the world ofmedieval Christendomis a daunting challenge to any scholar who is not singularly well qualified to deal with such complexities. Ruskin and St. Mark's is in some ways an outgrowth of Unrau's earlier and well-received Lookingat Architecture with Ruskin, though his approach in the volume under review opens new ground. Undoubtedly St Mark's, among the greatest monuments of late medieval art and architecture in Europe, was one of Ruskin's major preoccupations. His watercolours and HUMANITIES 509 other drawings - expressions of his superb capacity to conflate the analytic and the evocative, and thus entirely parallel in character to his writings - span the years 1835 to 1879. In the present study Ruskin's varied and profuse writings on the church - including the six hundred unpublished pages of notes 'left over' from The Stones ofVenice (1851-3)are collated and synthesized into a well-ordered and entirely intelligible whole. In the process, Unrau necessarily imposes an order from without; in consequence the sense of system which Ruskin could not sustain in his own mental life is here achieved through the critical logic of the historian. Inleading the reader in a step-by-step exploration of the church's physical fabric, it is in his use of illustrative material that Unrau applies his own imaginative ability to illuminate the text with wonderfully chosen and reproduced plates. Ruskin's daguerreotypes and drawings combine with remarkably sensitive photographs taken by the author to drive home points in the text and to show the reader what cannot be said. Every aspect of the building is laid bare. We move from plinths to capitals, from dentilled arches to carvings, from the porches to the sides and thence to the interior and finally the mosaics. Not an observation is missed, not an inspired piece of prosody ignored, not a telling illustration left out. Ruskin's remarkable vision slowly emerges before our eyes. To close this seductive exposition we are left to follow the tragicomedy of the attempts and...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1712-5278
Print ISSN
0042-0247
Pages
pp. 508-509
Launched on MUSE
2014-07-02
Open Access
No
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