Buried in John Ruskin’s discussion of Venetian windows in the second and key volume of The Stones of Venice,The Sea-Stories (1851–3, 1853) is an astonishing passage, one which comes out of the blue. It is astonishing since the whole point of Ruskin’s trilogy is to describe how Gothic form has been lost to the past, how medieval piety and benign aristocracy declined into godlessness and spiritual alienation from nature, and how these historical processes manifested as the evolution from the irregular, picturesque, and gorgeous Gothic into the insipid extravagance of the Renaissance. Ruskin is quite clear that The Fall into the Renaissance, to use the title of his third volume (1853), was catastrophic, irreversible, absolute. As he wrote to George Richmond in 1846, what was left of Gothic in Venice was disintegrating at about the rate ‘of a lump of sugar in hot tea’. And so in The Stones of Venice Ruskin sets out to measure, draw, describe and document Venetian Gothic while there is still time. What makes the buried passage to which I refer so extraordinary, then, is that in the midst of all his measuring and surveying in volume two Ruskin seems to stumble upon a Gothic form that is ‘unruined’, which is not lost to the past but is available to the present, crepuscular yet tangible, accessible in the here and now in spite of all that has happened, impervious to ruination and restoration alike. Reading this passage, one is not quite sure whether this crepuscular Gothic is only accessible if the conditions are just right and the perceiver sensitively calibrated enough, or whether good Venetian Gothic architecture is quite simply available to rent (Figs. 2.1 and 2.2):
having undergone no change in external form, and probably having been rather injured than rendered more convenient by the modifications which poverty and Renaissance taste, contending with the ravages of time, have introduced in the interiors. So that, at Venice and the cities grouped around it, Vicenza, Padua, and Verona, the traveller may ascertain, by actual experience, the effect which would be produced upon the comfort or luxury of daily life by the revival of the Gothic school of architecture. He can still stand upon the marble balcony in the soft summer air, and feel its smooth surface warm from the noontide as he leans on it in the twilight; he can still see the strong sweep of the unruined traceries drawn on the deep serenity of the starry sky, and watch the fantastic shadows of the clustered arches shorten in the moonlight on the chequered floor; or he may close the casements fitted to their unshaken shafts against such wintry winds as would have made an English house vibrate to its foundation, and, in either case, compare their influence on his daily home feeling with that of the square openings in his English wall.
Ruskin finds that the Gothic is still here in the nineteenth century, somewhere beneath some Renaissance alterations (which are usually considered irreversible disfigurements), just around the corner of the next canal. In this passage Gothic form has outlasted the Renaissance, and not only the Renaissance but also ‘the ravages of time’—all time. The Gothic ‘external forms’ are ‘unruined’, they persist in their original states untouched by history. The passing of time is contained in the ‘interiors’. If we think of the architectural convention of regarding the distinction between the building’s exterior and interior in terms of the gender binary, or indeed of social and domestic space in terms of the same, we might see Ruskin here as effecting a kind of domestication and therefore emasculation of time’s sublime force. In this way, Ruskin makes Gothic form available to the person inhabiting the present, ‘the traveller’. This tourist seems to travel time and can ‘ascertain, by actual experience, the effect which would be produced upon the comfort or luxury of daily life by the revival of the Gothic school of architecture’. Visiting these Gothic palaces, or this ultimate Gothic palace (wherever it is), the time traveller will actually experience the recovery of past Gothic form and its reconstruction in the future. As the passage launches into its extraordinary elaboration of this ‘actual experience’, ‘the unruined traceries drawn on the deep serenity of the starry sky’ and the marble balustrade still warm to the touch from the Italian sun, Ruskin’s sentences accent the repeated word ‘still’ and the prefix ‘un-’. These emphases, and the lingering of day into night, seem to make the past weigh heavily in the present, to make time slow, nearly to a stop. At the point of this near-suspension, at the point of touching the cooling warmth and seeing Gothic form glitter through the shadows, the Renaissance and the modern world, alike, vanish, melt into air. Now, coming inside the palace, the traveller closes the shutters of the pointed windows against the coming storm in the knowledge that the building will withstand winds that would blow away a street or an entire city of Georgian terraces, ‘English’ boxes with ‘square openings’ for sash windows. With this, time is relocated to the outside, sped up and acquires the fury of a winter storm. At this point in the passage, we conceive how Gothic form is not just gorgeous decoration but the sturdiest of ornamented structures, it protects the time traveller from the storm, encasing him within a protective shelter or capsule in which he may sit and contemplate at the fireside while the fierce tempests of history and time rage on outside.
In this moment on the balcony, Ruskin makes his body—and the body of the traveller, in the third person—vivid; the touching of warm stone, the coming inside from the night air. In so doing, Ruskin describes something beautiful but also frightening in its strangeness and intensity. What exactly is it that comes rushing back in the moonlight? The pitch and depth of life and sensation which Gothic form offers are available, says Ruskin, here and now. Except the ‘here’ is hard to pin down. Where is it, Venice or Verona? Padua or Vincenza? As for the ‘now’, Gothic form exists between a recovered past and a future recovery as an impossible present. We might say that in this passage Ruskin encounters a Gothic form that is both inside and outside history, in a Venice lost and found.
In what follows, I try to make sense of this passage and its inconspicuous position within the key second volume. I have come to see that the balcony scene is absolutely drenched in a strange kind of intense desire, a passionate yearning for a lost past; the fantasy built on this desire, in this passage, amounts to a repudiation of modernity. What’s strange is that the past revitalised here—made present by being rendered absolutely ambiguous—is one that Ruskin painstakingly reconstructs in empirical detail throughout The Stones of Venice in order to make urgent arguments with modernity about architecture, labour, the aesthetic, and nature. Renaissance Venice foreshadows, in Ruskin’s famous scheme, Victorian England; his story about aesthetic and moral degradation is an admonishment to the mid-nineteenth-century reader and a diagnosis of modern ills. But to cordon off the balcony scene with its passion and desire from the ‘serious’ architectural and political polemic would be an unsatisfactory reading. For Ruskin, passion and desire were very serious things indeed, and in fact they drive, at the fundamental level, much of Ruskin’s most interesting architectural analysis in Venice. His descriptions of St Mark’s Basilica and the Ducal Palace are characterised by imaginative bodily engagement with architectural form that is similar to what we find in the balcony scene, although in a different key: full of touching and caressing warm marble, and gazing in wonderment through moist air. There must, in short, be something ‘to’ the balcony passage, and something for the reader to take from it. That said, I do not propose to explain away the many ambiguities of The Stones of Venice with the balcony. Instead, I use this passage to reframe Stones and ask new questions about how desire inflects Ruskin’s attitudes to architecture and time.
The first step is to think again about what Ruskin’s desire, as it manifested in his texts, was actually like, and what (who) it was for. It is clear that the author of The Stones of Venice has projected passion onto the marble surfaces of many of the principal buildings of the city. Lots of people have remarked on this quality, but it has tended to be talked about in terms a repertoire of speculations about Ruskin’s sex life, or lack of. The chapter on Ruskin in Tony Tanner’s Venice Desired (1992) more or less opens with the observation that it ‘would be too easy and not particularly illuminating to talk of a massive displacement of the activities of the marriage bed into [Ruskin’s] exploration of the city’. This comment has the clearly intended effect that the rest of Tanner’s (in many ways superb) chapter is read precisely along those lines. J. B. Bullen suggests that Ruskin’s polarisation of Venetian architecture, chaste Gothic and harlot Renaissance, was modelled on the two women in his life at the time: his mother, Margaret, and his wife, Euphemia Gray. Robert Hewison draws an analogy between the myth of Venice as virginal wife of the sea and Effie, whose short marriage with Ruskin went, apparently, unconsummated. In an extremely gripping, gendered reading of Ruskin’s writings on Venetian Gothic, Anuradha Chatterjee argues that Ruskin’s thought-provoking concept of a dynamic architectural surface, the ‘wall veil’, is based on an analogy between the ideal Gothic edifice and the chastely dressed female body. In doing so, Chatterjee argues, Ruskin departs from mid-nineteenth-century convention by associating ‘architecture exclusively with the female body’.
The architecture of Venice is not associated exclusively with the female body in The Stones of Venice, and it is odd, to say the least, that eyes have been collectively averted from this fact for so long, in spite of infrequent but excellent discussions of the often profoundly ambiguous gender status of Ruskin’s thinking, looking, and writing—‘Ruskin’s “Womanly Mind”’, as Dinah Birch put it in 1988. In volume two of Stones, Ruskin’s eroticised analysis of St Mark’s Basilica identifies undeniably masculine qualities in the building’s surface, ones that mix and combine in his descriptions, ambiguously, fluidly, and unevenly, with feminine values. Ruskin’s disruption of heteronormativity at St Mark’s, as I will be going on to argue, has a pivotal place in his history of Venetian Gothic. From this perspective, the whole of Ruskin’s presentation of Venetian Gothic starts to look highly ambivalent in terms of gender, and in terms of multiple binary categories.
Ruskin’s projected desires do not simply mask the edifices. They activate dynamic relations in his interpretive writings between subject and object, self and building, flesh and stone, nature and art, material remains and history. They also seem to activate contradictory temporalities, so that Ruskin’s recorded bodily engagement with architectural form in the ‘here and now’ both locates the Gothic in historical architecture and releases these buildings from history, setting them loose in a maelstrom of aesthetic and erotic ecstasy. The problematic historicity of The Stones of Venice has also been much discussed. Writers on Ruskin have quite correctly pointed to chronological irregularities, abuses of historical sources, and downright distortion. Again, what’s so striking (and so Ruskinian), however, is that somehow there is order to this delightsome chaos. The Stones of Venice does undeniably work on some level as architectural history, as an analysis of the manifestation of cultural change and evolving (or deteriorating) attitudes to nature in architectural form, developing as it did out of—and moving beyond—the new historical consciousness in Victorian intellectual culture, that just cliché. As I said in some ways the balcony scene stands in counterpoint to St Mark’s Basilica and the Ducal Palace in Ruskin’s text. In other ways, however, the balcony scene is a confluence of the various intersecting threads in Stones. Taken together, the balcony scene and St Mark’s and Ducal Palace passages are saying something clearly significant, yet hard to pin down, about the purpose of Ruskin’s historical enquiry into Venice, and how this sits with Ruskin’s ahistorical argument that in its ideal form Gothic architecture achieved a close-to-perfect ecology of human and other-than-human life.
In order to unpick some of this, I am deploying recent work in queer theory on eroticism and temporality. In Time Binds (2010), Elizabeth Freeman argues that being modern consists in synchronising oneself, particularly one’s body, to the highly regulated timetable of modern life, what Freeman calls ‘chrononormativity’. Chrononormativity is thoroughly gendered. The quick temporality of labour is gendered masculine while the slow, cyclical time of leisure and rest is feminine. The masculine world of action, civilisation—in a word: ‘progress’—finds respite and renewal in the feminine realms of home and reproduction. The masculine relies on the feminine as compensation for the ravages of time, for perpetual loss. In her book about nineteenth- and twentieth-century literature and film, Freeman argues that experiences and expressions of queer erotics, that is, intense queer bodily experiences, occasion interruptions (repeats, folds, creases, blips) in chrononormativity. In embodying a different way of experiencing time, queer pleasure can thus open up new, vividly embodied routes of imaginative connection with subjects in the past, that is, new ways to experience history. Ruskin describes his encounters with Venetian architecture in terms of queer, erotically charged pleasure. However, I wish to inscribe another perspective drawn from queer theory into my analysis of Ruskin’s queer temporality. Freeman herself acknowledges her debt to Heather Love’s Feeling Backward (2007), in which Love argues that ‘backwardness’—shyness, ambivalence, failure, melancholia, loneliness, regression, antimodernism, immaturity, self-hatred, despair, shame—characterise queer experiences of history. Considering modernist English literature quite broadly, Love describes this backwardness as ‘a queer historical structure of feeling’ that synthesises the neuroses of absence inherent to desire and the historical realities of loss and violence inflicted upon queer desire in Western culture. I want to bring backwardness to the foreground alongside Freeman in my analysis of Ruskin not only because I am less inclined than Freeman is to draw a clean distinction between desire and erotics, but, more’s the point, because this distinction is impossible to draw in Ruskin’s descriptions of Venice. Some sort of combination of both states, I suggest, of ambiguously gendered erotic pleasure and complicated pain, is always structuring Ruskin’s engagement with Gothic architecture. Loss is ultimately indistinguishable from—is often the very basis, in Ruskin, of—pleasure. Nowhere is this more palpable than on the balcony. In more straightforward political terms, we will identify Ruskin’s profound conservatism in his yearning for a lost Gothic past but also observe how this yearning becomes (not entirely, but in some ways) something more than merely reactionary. My close readings of Ruskin will identify many paradoxes and the terms history, modernity, and time will intersect and pull themselves apart.
Lace, armour, veins and foam
Chatterjee’s identification of gender as a dynamic in Ruskin’s descriptions of Gothic architectural surface is astute. She argues that Ruskin admires the Ducal Palace because it entirely conceals its masonry within a beautiful adorned ‘wall veil’, a continuous, planar, enclosing surface which, as Chatterjee points out, is suggestive to Ruskin of woven textile. Chatterjee is referring to Ruskin’s descriptions of the two principal facades of the Ducal Palace (the west, facing the piazzetta, and the south, facing the lagoon) (Fig. 2.3). The exterior, polychrome walls of the upper storeys of these facades are composed of bricks of white Istrian marble and red Verona marble, arranged in a chequer pattern (Fig. 2.4). Chatterjee points out that Ruskin describes these exterior walls as ‘knit’ (i.e., knitted). Metaphorically speaking, windows have been ‘cut out’ of the walls with no regard to the chequer sequence, says Ruskin, like a seamstress would cut cloth heedless of pattern. It is as though a great woven veil, with holes cut out of it, has been wrapped around the building and fastened to its corners. Ruskin also characterises the lower two storeys of these facades in terms of decorative but somehow chaste, even severe, female dress, describing the columns, arches, sculpted ornament, balustrade, pointed arches, and quatrefoils—sequences of repeated forms and perforations, which give an impression of lightness to the vast structure, and which seem to have been started and stopped at will—as an infinite piece of ‘marble lace’ that has been ‘cut, mercilessly and fearlessly’ and stitched onto the woven wall veils above (Fig. 2.5). Ruskin’s discussion of the Palace’s upper storeys is most relevant for us. In concealing masonry structure within the textile-like ornamental surface—that is, body within veil—the Palace, in Chatterjee’s reading of Ruskin, communicates its ‘soul’ to the outside world via its beautiful, pure, and proper marble surface. Chatterjee contextualises this interpretation of Ruskin on the Ducal Palace in relation to Ruskin’s scattered thoughts about dress and the body, and ultimately to biographical assertions about Ruskin’s inability to reconcile his desires with female sexuality stemming from his fetishisation of his mother. The majestic, remote and somewhat austere Ducal Palace, medieval seat of justice, is said to represent for Ruskin the chastely clothed, sexually unthreatening, ideal woman. I am not convinced Chatterjee fully accounts for Ruskin’s conflicted attitude to the Ducal Palace. But before returning to the Palace, I consider Ruskin’s gendering of the west facade of St Mark’s Basilica, next door (Fig. 2.6). The first thing to say is that although it is an earlier ‘Byzantine’ building, in ways that will become clear St Mark’s bleeds into Ruskin’s history of Venetian Gothic, and so for the ensuing pages I treat St Mark’s as essentially Gothic for Ruskin. I will of course be returning to this chronological ambiguity.
If the Ducal Palace is an admirably dressed woman, St Mark’s is a ‘knight’ resplendent in a ‘coat of mail’, says Ruskin. Ruskin points out the brick masonry of the Basilica has been entirely clad in slabs of differently coloured and shaped marble that have been visibly fastened together by ‘rivets’, a term he himself uses. The incrustation, the covering with slabs of marble fastened together by metal rivets, is analogous to chain mail says Ruskin, a mesh of metal rings worn by a knight into battle or for ceremonial purposes. In this way, Ruskin describes the covering of the body of the building with beautiful surface as noble. This is no architectural deceit, as might at first be supposed by the northern builder who is ‘accustomed to build with solid blocks of freestone’ and therefore ‘in the habit of supposing the external superficies of a piece of masonry to be some criterion of its thickness’:
[b]ut, as soon as he gets acquainted with the incrusted style, he will find that the Southern builders had no intention to deceive him. He will see that every slab of facial marble is fastened to the next by a confessed rivet, and that the joints of the armour are so visibly and openly accommodated to the contours of the substance within that he has no more right to complain of treachery than a savage would have, who, for the first time in his life seeing a man in armour, had supposed him to be made of solid steel.
The slabs of marble declare their independence from the body of the building beneath even as they tightly hug the structure of the Basilica. Ruskin’s description here contains a series of imaginative visualisations, first of the northern (French or English) workman encountering this smooth and splendid southern structure, which presents its seductive ‘facial marble’ as though to receive a caress from its new acquaintance. We also have the marble surface hugging the structure just as the mesh of chain mail follows the ‘contours’, ridges and plateaus of the powerful torso of the knight. The ‘contours of the substance within’, Ruskin emphasises, ‘so visibly and openly’ register on the beautiful surface: the close-fitting sheath reveals, enticingly, what is within. This is a kind of veiling to be sure, but one in which virtue resides in the body being made palpable through the adorned surface. To return to the sequence of Ruskin’s description, the imagery of chain mail then feeds into the scenario of a ‘savage’, in Ruskin’s appalling term, mistaking a medieval knight for a metallic man. But educate the ‘savage’ in ‘the customs of chivalry’, continues Ruskin in the next sentence, and the apparent ‘man of steel’ will be revealed as a lord of beauty and honour. This ebbing and flowing of homoerotic imagery constitutes, then, ‘the St Mark’s architectural chivalry’. Another of the striking features of this passage is the relation established between the northern builder and the ‘savage’; this savage, in a further sense, also stands for the innocent English reader who requires tutoring by Ruskin in delicious southern ways. In the passage I want to focus on next the marble cladding will emerge as highly ambiguous in terms of gender.
A few pages earlier in this same fourth chapter of volume two, this chapter being devoted to the Basilica, Ruskin imaginatively turns into St Mark’s Place from an English cathedral square (via a bustling Venetian street) and conveys a sense of being overcome with pleasure. Looking at the western facade Ruskin luxuriates in the ‘multitude of pillars and white domes, clustered into a long low pyramid of coloured light; a treasure-heap, it seems, partly of gold, and partly of opal and mother-of-pearl’. He seems in awe of the five ‘great vaulted porches, ceiled with fair mosaic, and beset with sculpture of alabaster’. Ruskin describes the sculpture as ‘fantastic and involved, of palm leaves and lilies, and grapes and pomegranates, and birds clinging and fluttering among the branches, all twined together into an endless network of buds and plumes’. His extended description builds up a series of clauses separated by dashes, and just before the third dash he points to—and so lingers on—the ‘marbles, that half refuse and half yield to the sunshine, Cleopatra-like, “their bluest veins to kiss”’. This is a sexualised, orientalised, feminine surface, ‘“Cleopatra-like”’, presenting naked, veined flesh for caress, ‘“their bluest veins to kiss”’. Ruskin certainly could be referring specifically to the blue-veined marble slabs (‘the marbles’) coating the building but his prose glides between the incrustation and the ‘pillars’ in the porches rather freely; on looking at the west front, one takes in a combination of the flat greys streaked with blue and the pink-grey-blue-veined marble columns, and the exquisite effect chimes with Ruskin’s analogy with translucent flesh. In fact, in the scene from William Shakespeare’s Antony and Cleopatra (c.1606), the queen of Egypt is referring to her hand, which she ironically proffers to be kissed. The quotation comes from a highly sexually charged scene, which starts off with lots of phallic punning by Cleopatra, her eunuch Mardian, and her handmaid Charmian. Cleopatra proceeds to talk about going fishing and imagines impaling the ‘slimy jaws’ of fish with her ‘bended hook’, relishing her sexual ensnarement of the Roman triumvir. At once magnificent and hysterical, Cleopatra assumes the worst when a messenger arrives clearly bringing with him unpleasant news—Cleopatra dramatically proffers her hand to the messenger, as though in thus condescending she could proclaim bad news to be good. But the news turns out to be even worse than she had imagined: Antony has married Octavia. Ruskin inserts into his description of the west front of St Mark’s Basilica, then, a quotation from a scene replete with non-heteronormative innuendo, and swerving and frustrated erotic energy.
As though mounting the building, Ruskin’s description then begins to ascend the facade and eventually (after another dash) reaches the top, where, he says, the ‘crests of the arches break into a marble foam, and toss themselves far into the blue sky in flashes and wreathes of sculptured spray, as if the breakers on the Lido shore had been frost-bound before they fell, and the sea-nymphs had inlaid them with coral and amethyst’ (Figs. 2.7 and 2.8). The half-coy and half-yielding feminine object is transformed in Ruskin’s ekphrasis into active masculine ornament that reaches a point of ecstasy and ejaculates marble foam into the sky. Subject and object, masculine and feminine, and life and art cross each other, the latter becoming indistinguishable so that even the living doves, Ruskin goes on to say, ‘nestle among the marble foliage, and mingle the soft iridescence of their living plumes, changing at every motion, with the tints, hardly less lovely, that have stood unchanged for seven hundred years’. This imagery of birds being sustained and glorified is beautiful beyond belief. The cathedral of St Mark stands as a monument to organic life, it generates an almost living, almost timeless facade. It’s striking how non-heteronormative sexuality is absolutely a part of this, the chain mail becoming Cleopatra’s flesh, emitting crests of foam. As a destabilising operation, collapsing binaries and distinctions, queerness activates the full potential of Gothic. We begin to see in this passage that to Ruskin Gothic architectural form is epicene. At St Mark’s, the doves live on, and in Ruskin’s description it is as though the feathers of their wings and the down of their breasts crystallise—or dissolve—into golden mosaic twinkling and flashing in the sun.
In his description of the crests of the arches tossing themselves like foamy waves into the sky, Ruskin is picking up on the elaborate interplay of stone and sky at St Mark’s, particularly the portions of the heavens framed within the open-sided tabernacles along the curvaceous lunettes, and answering projections of stone (figures, angels, and foliage), which Paul Hills has described as ‘an open embrace of sculptural ornament and sky’. With remarkable compression Ruskin initiates manifold crossings and re-crossings between basilica and sky, form and void, mass and colour. In Ruskin’s account, stone becomes foam. So, in this way, it moves in substance towards something comparable to cloud, initiating another kind of play with the sky it borders, as though the marble projections might lift off and float across the sky as cloudy tufts. At the same time as this de-solidification of stone, the sky becomes the liquid sea or even, to extend it further, a flat, hard field of solid azure—of lapis lazuli—splashed with milky fluid. This imagery is not sustained in the text for long, things get more normative when he starts talking about sea nymphs, but it is there. In reality, there are lots of human bodies involved in this dalliance at St Mark’s between stone and heaven. Bearded prophets are interspersed with gigantic foliage along the ogees above the two left and two right-hand lunettes—angels along the larger, central one—forming fringes of ornament curving up and down along the tip of the building, tickling the atmosphere; the saints in their tabernacles framed by open sky. And on the apexes of the ogees, atop finials, figures stand proud, triumphantly piercing the yielding and welcoming blue. In relishing this indirection of form and void, hard and soft, in and out, Ruskin describes the west front as ‘a confusion of delight’, in which active and passive, masculine and feminine become indistinct. But all of this is highly unstable. Of course, Ruskin’s description has an undeniable teleology, a gathering swell, an attempt to stagger and regulate the rising pleasure (those dashes), and irresistible climax. But with all the displacing and shifting of positions, the architectural ekphrasis folds into itself a bewildering number of contradictory tempos, acceleration and resistance, anticipation and retreat. The ascending description of the grim English cathedral beforehand is rather arduous, the long journey along the busy Venetian street full of the vividness of anticipation, ‘until at last, as if in ecstasy’ the language becomes agonisingly over-heavy with pleasure. Suspended for an impossible instant, ‘as if the breakers on the Lido shore had been frost-bound before they fell’, at the same time, the ecstasy vanishes in a flash, it is all over rather quickly. Male and female forms do not meet and ‘mate’ forming a stable, self-perpetuating edifice; rather the facade generates highly volatile effects which cannot quite be contained in the verbal analysis. And then with Ruskin we are suddenly just standing there in St Mark’s square, blinking, surrounded by the unemployed ‘basking in the sun like lizards’, and ‘the meanest tradesmen’, and the cafes lining the square ‘where the idle Venetians of the middle classes lounge, and read empty journals’. We also start to get the sense from this passage that for Ruskin, just as the Gothic eludes modern gender distinctions, the Gothic exists askance modern time. That is, the Basilica exists in a different timeline to its surroundings. It is out of phase with the regular daily timetable of the ‘empty’ Venetian newspapers read by the middle classes in the cafes along the square, and similarly asynchronous to the industrial and commercial timetables of the tradesmen. The unemployed basking in the sun like lizards are particularly out of joint. Having fallen through the cracks in the timetables, they are caught between Gothic and modern time. They are modernity’s unneeded; oblivious to a cathedral, they are unredeemed. In noticing this collision between Basilica time and modern time we see that Gothic form and Gothic sensation cannot be sustained for long. The Gothic, at least in the form of St Mark’s, cannot redeem modernity’s un-needed, any more than it can redeem empty industry and commerce, or bourgeois idleness. Modern time intrudes suddenly upon the reverie and as soon as his eroticised description of St Mark’s west front comes to an abrupt halt, Ruskin has to go and seek shelter in the baptistery, immersing himself in the dark interior of the building as though shamefully seeking absolution.
I mentioned ambiguity about the place of St Mark’s in the chronology of Ruskin’s historical narrative. Though classed as a Byzantine building, it reappears at the conclusion of the seventh chapter on the ‘Gothic Palaces’ and thus feeds into the climactic eighth chapter on Gothic, on ‘The Ducal Palace’ itself. That is, St Mark’s is pulled into the middle of the timeline of the Gothic. In an unexpected digression at the end of the ‘Gothic Palaces’ chapter, Ruskin turns to consider ‘the great outer entrance of St Mark’s’ (the central porch), which he says is ‘altogether Gothic in feeling’, even though externally it consists of ‘Byzantine forms’ (Fig.2.9). After Ruskin’s rather charming description of the allegories of the months of the year on the outermost of the inner three archivolts, he announces that finally the time has come to ‘review the history, fix the date, and note the most important particulars’ concerning ‘the building which at once consummates and embodies the entire system of the Gothic architecture of Venice,—the DUCAL PALACE’.
The serpent palace
Everything has been building towards the eighth and final chapter on the ‘Ducal Palace’. When we finally get to it, however, we don’t have ‘the entire system’ of Gothic revealed to us, still less are we able to ‘fix’ its ‘date’. It’s true, things start off promisingly. Ruskin provides a lucid history of the Palace’s site and construction, and the exterior and interior structures are then mapped onto archival data to produce a narrative about the crystallisation of aristocratic power around the doge, underscoring how this building literally embodies the social history of Venice (Fig. 2.10). It’s worth taking in Ruskin’s fine and imaginative bird’s-eye-view woodcut of the Palace in which the letter ‘A’ marks the spot where the Gothic building, facing the piazzetta and the lagoon and turning round the corner onto the Rio canal, ceases and the Renaissance fabric begins. We see that the Palace is a historical hinge, the place where Gothic and Renaissance actually meet and touch.
This meeting between Gothic and Renaissance, however, confounds chronology. Ruskin identifies 1301 as the date when Gothic architecture began to be constructed at the site; by 1340 the very best architecture was being built there. Ruskin incorporates into his account of the epitome of the Gothic a frightening vision of the Gothic’s unravelling. His narrative frames the brief flowering of Gothic with something hellish. We do not get to enjoy the white purity of the Gothic Ducal Palace without a vivid image of its staining. As Ruskin says a few pages into the chapter, the Gothic building works begun in 1301, with the construction of the first saloon for the Great Council, ‘continued, with hardly an interruption’ to replace the old Byzantine ‘Ziani’ palace, ‘piece by piece’, and once all that was gone, the building works ‘fed upon themselves: being continued round the square, until, in the sixteenth century, they reached the point where they had been begun in the fourteenth, and pursued the track they had then followed some distance beyond the junction; destroying or hiding their own commencement, as the serpent, which is the type of eternity, conceals its tail in its jaws’. ‘The body of the Palace Serpent’, Ruskin promises his reader ominously, ‘will soon become visible to us’.  With this striking description Ruskin constructs a narrative of unstoppable momentum in which Gothic accelerates and suddenly transforms into the debauched Renaissance, consuming history in its path, or rather, the past and the future. We are already at the end before we have begun. That said, the chronology gets more complicated as the chapter progresses. At the very least we can say that in 1301 the historical forces that will lead to the Renaissance have already been set in motion, leading inexorably to 1424, and ‘the 27 March’, when ‘the first hammer was lifted up against the old palace of Ziani’. ‘That hammer stroke was the first act of the period properly called the “Renaissance”. It was the knell of the architecture of Venice,—and of Venice herself’. Sealing their fate at the Ducal Palace, says Ruskin with chilling onomatopoeia, ‘the architectural invention of the Venetians was thus lost, Narcissuslike, in self-contemplation’. At the Ducal Palace corruption comes from within. The Palace is ouroboros, feeding its own ruin.
The snake takes us back to Antony and Cleopatra. The scene which Ruskin quotes in his description of St Mark’s is in fact as full of disgusting serpent imagery as it is queer erotics. In the scene, the Egyptian queen berates the unfortunate messenger: ‘Thou shouldst come like a Fury crown’d with snakes’; ‘Hadst thou Narcissus in thy face, to me / Thou wouldst appear most ugly’, she wagers (rather hilariously). And then she lashes out against her whole kingdom: ‘Melt Egypt into Nile, and kindly creatures / Turn all to serpents!’; ‘So half my Egypt were submerged and made / A cistern for scaled snakes!’. Finally, unable to sustain her antagonism, Cleopatra describes Antony (rather amazingly) as half resembling ‘a Gorgon’, yet, ‘The other way’s a Mars’. In Shakespeare’s terms, for Ruskin the Ducal Palace is both Gorgon and Mars, it is both the epitome of chaste Gothic and it embodies in its very fabric the system of Renaissance downfall. We might note that the serpent often suggests ambivalence in terms of human gender. As a potent tube it is phallic but as a creature that is capable of folding and constant self-touching it is yonic. What, then, is Ruskin’s attitude to the Ducal Palace in gendered terms? Chatterjee’s ingenious suggestion that Ruskin identifies the supposedly chaste veiling of internal masonry behind the adorned wall veil at the Palace stands as a possible reading but only as one among many others, since Ruskin’s presentation of the Ducal Palace is so deeply ambivalent. Looking at the main facades through Ruskin’s eyes, what gender would we ascribe to the body whose pink flesh we almost glimpse through the white lacy chequers? At the Ducal Palace, going further than at St Mark’s (and in this way the Ducal Palace is more Gothic for Ruskin), ornament and structure are intermixed. In the ‘Gothic Palaces’ chapter (and so, once again, out of chronological step with his own narrative) Ruskin makes much of the Ducal Palace architects’ improvement upon the Frari tracery by their putting the quatrefoils between the arches, significantly lightening and strengthening the structure. They thus achieve a powerful daintiness or delicate strength; the Ducal Palace, too, is epicene. And the Ducal Palace is a diabolical timelessness, a type of eternity, even as it manifests in its very walls the chronicles of Venice. If St Mark’s is in some sense too early to be true Gothic, in some ways the Ducal Palace is already belated in 1301, the Gothic is already lost to the past, impossible to sustain in history.
We’re nearly ready to reconsider the balcony scene. But the sexual, even erotically over-the-top elements of Ruskin’s investment in these buildings are not the whole story. In the middle of his history of Venetian architecture Ruskin inserts an essay which describes an entirely ahistorical Gothic as an ecological architecture embodying an unbroken chain of human and other-than-human relations down through time. ‘The Nature of Gothic’ interrupts the historical narrative abruptly. It’s necessary next to explore Ruskin’s ideal Gothic architecture, before returning to consider how this ideal manifests—strangely, and imperfectly—in historical Venice.
The thicket cathedral
‘The Nature of Gothic’ is the sixth chapter of volume two, positioned between the Byzantine and Gothic sections of the book. In describing his ideal category of architecture, Ruskin argues that Gothicness can be evaluated at two levels: first the ‘mental tendencies’ of the builders and second the ‘external forms’ of the building. In Ruskin’s account of the Gothic, the builders’ mental tendencies become lodged in the stones they carve with their hands, and in carving these Gothic forms their spirits and minds proceed deeper into Gothic tendencies, rediscovering the strength and beauty of nature’s structures every time they carve the cusp of the arch and the blossom of the hawthorn. These carved stones, infused with residue of the spirits of the builders, teach subsequent generations about the human love of nature through structure and ornament, teaching them not only how to carve but how to look at nature with their own human eyes. The sixth mental tendency, ‘redundance’, is the sweetest and simplest one and for Ruskin it sort of sums up the Gothic spirit. By redundance he means generous ornamentation, ‘the uncalculating bestowal of the wealth of its labour’, which is a paradoxical sign of humility. We might understand Gothic redundance as a vigorous energy, an unquenchable thirst for the natural splendour of the material universe and its representation in stone. Ruskin personifies this Gothic spirit as an ur-sculptor or first sculptor (in my phrase) who is imagined erecting stones as monument or lonely shelter, in a forest clearing somewhere in Europe, long ago:
The sculptor who sought for his models among the forest leaves, could not but quickly and deeply feel that complexity need not involve the loss of grace, nor richness that of repose; and every hour which he spent in the study of the minute and various work of Nature, made him feel more forcibly the barrenness of what was best in that of man: nor is it to be wondered at, that, seeing her perfect and exquisite creations poured forth in a profusion which conception could not grasp nor calculation sum, he should think that it ill became him to be niggardly of his own rude craftsmanship; and where he saw throughout the universe a faultless beauty lavished on measureless spaces of broidered field and blooming mountain, to grudge his poor and imperfect labour to the few stones that he had raised one upon another, for habitation or memorial. The years of his life passed away before his task was accomplished; but generation succeeded generation with unwearied enthusiasm, and the cathedral front was at last lost in the tapestry of its traceries, like a rock among the thickets and herbage of spring.
This passage describes the genesis of the Gothic. Eventually the first sculptor dies and he is replaced by communities of others like him who selflessly add, in succession, to their simple forebear’s stones until they build up a mighty cathedral. We imagine its facade, higher than the trees, reflecting the sunlight and aflutter with birds, and death itself seems to lie vanquished at its feet. Ornament, dense with human lifetimes, gradually accumulates across the building’s surface, like a stone becoming hidden beneath stems of briar and nettle, behind bush and flower. The cathedral emerges from but also recedes into the landscape. The ‘tapestry’ subsumes the building’s structure like a dense cloud wrapping itself around a mountain.
The reader may well have noticed that much of the way Ruskin describes what I call the thicket cathedral resembles French Gothic—my reaching for the image of hawthorn blossom was a reaction to that—but I think it would be missing the significance of this passage to regard it as simply a passing nod to a French cathedral, with nothing to contribute to the analysis of Venetian architecture in which it intervenes. With the thicket cathedral Ruskin presents the reader with the ideal form of Gothic, in which the human is sustained through time—redeemed—by its relations with the other-than-human. ‘The Nature of Gothic’ in which the thicket cathedral is theorised is the digression which redeems Ruskin’s aesthetic and erotic indulgence at Venice. Ruskin’s point is that this ideal Gothic actually partially appeared in Venice, at St Mark’s and the Ducal Palace.
In search of lost form
As I said earlier, the Basilica’s edifice is nearly alive with interlacing branches, blossom, and birds. So, on the one hand St Mark’s fulfils the promise of the thicket cathedral, or rather is a vivid premonition of it, coming as it does in chapter four. The birds nestle in the marble foliage, amidst the capitals of ‘rooted knots of herbage’, perch on the ornamental ‘continuous chain of language and of life’, and preen among the ‘white arches edged with scarlet flowers’. In describing nature and art becoming almost indistinguishable at St Mark’s, however, Ruskin teeters on the edge of something like aestheticism. The doves actually mistake the marble for real foliage, and ‘mingle the soft iridescence of their living plumes, changing at every motion, with the tints, hardly less lovely, that have stood unchanged for seven hundred years’. The birds freeze, petrify into golden mosaic. No longer caring to soar through the sky, the doves turn to stone, into the stones of Venice.
At St Mark’s, it is as though the first sculptor travesties the Creator. Like St Mark’s, the Ducal Palace is also the thicket cathedral partially manifesting, yet shot through with a terrible death. In the way it sums up Venetian history, the way it is both beginning and end, the Ducal Palace bleeds out of its allotted place in Ruskin’s historical programme, popping up as it does against the grain of Ruskin’s chronology in the earlier ‘Gothic Palaces’ chapter. So, in so far as the Ducal Palace for Ruskin represents a New Jerusalem, an eternal white box at the centre of the world, we get intimations of paradise in the creases of history. In the ‘Ducal Palace’ chapter itself, however, we have already seen that Ruskin identifies the forces of modernity acquiring unstoppable momentum as they devoured history. Ruskin’s metaphor of the train outrunning the junction is telling. Consider Ruskin’s other metaphor, of the bell, the Renaissance ‘knell’. The hammer strike of 27 March 1424 resounds through time. Once heard, this terrible toll cannot be unheard. We might note Ruskin uses a bell metaphor at the opening of Stones to signify how the passage of time is constantly chipping away at historical meaning, and how this process is accelerating. Of what remains of the city, he writes:
I would endeavour to trace the lines of this image before it be forever lost, and to record, as far as I may, the warning which seems to me to be uttered by every one of the fast-gaining waves, that beat like passing bells, against the STONES OF VENICE’.
As we read Stones, it is as if we can hear the bell toll louder and louder page after page. By the time we get to the Ducal Palace, that first hammer strike of 27 March 1424 sounds the end of Gothic history. The ensuing Renaissance is a perpetual, permanent death. At the very end of volume two, after the Renaissance knell has sounded, then, Ruskin laments the shoddy restoration of canvases by Veronese and Tintoretto hanging inside the Palace, which can never return them to their past glories; and he reminisces about gazing on the once-beloved building during his evening walks on the Lido, using a conspicuously past-tense formulation:
sometimes when walking at evening on the Lido, whence the great chain of the Alps, crested with silver clouds, might be seen rising above the front of the Ducal Palace, I used to feel as much awe in gazing on the building as on the hills, and could believe that God had done a greater work in breathing into the narrowness of dust the mighty spirits by whom its haughty walls had been raised, and its burning legends written, than in lifting the rocks of granite higher than the clouds of heaven, and veiling them with their various mantle of purple flower and shadowy pine.
Pride, Ruskin knew, comes before a fall. How unlike the thicket cathedral are these ‘haughty walls’, which seem to stand in rivalry with rather than in relation to the mountains, and forests, and thickets and herbage of spring. In this closing passage Ruskin describes losing his faith in the Ducal Palace, maybe even in Venice itself.
It is now time to return to the balcony scene (Fig. 2.2).
The balcony scene
Speaking of the modern traveller, we remember, Ruskin writes:
He can still stand upon the marble balcony in the soft summer air, and feel its smooth surface warm from the noontide as he leans on it in the twilight; he can still see the strong sweep of the unruined traceries drawn on the deep serenity of the starry sky, and watch the fantastic shadows of the clustered arches shorten in the moonlight on the chequered floor.
In this extraordinary passage Ruskin conjures a crepuscular Gothic that has all the solidity of marble and which is simultaneously as elusive as shadow. The waxing and waning of form, the ebbing and flowing of disintegration, are held here by Ruskin in some kind of impossible, fleeting suspension. Let us remind ourselves that time is gendered differently on the balcony, in ways it is difficult to unpick. Time is emasculated, contained in the interior of the building. Yet Ruskin retreats into this feminine realm to wait out modernity. Architecture is also ambiguously gendered on the balcony. Beautiful ornament enhances the integrity of structure. Unresolved, private, elegiac, in conflict with itself, the balcony scene is not really erotic at all, yet there’s a trace of a sense of Ruskin standing there in splendid and sorrowful isolation, having insisted on staying behind while Effie went out to enjoy herself at a party with lots of handsome Austrian soldiers. The masochism amplifies Ruskin’s strange pleasure, laced as it is with intense pain. It’s particularly vivid how Ruskin’s encounter with the crepuscular Gothic comes about through—registers as—bodily contact with stone. Leaning on the balustrade, Ruskin’s legs or waist sense the cooling warmth of the marble. With this Ruskin distils elements from both the fleeting encounter with Gothic form, in all its delightsomeness, at St Mark’s and the recognition of Gothic form’s lostness to the past made at the Ducal Palace. By making Gothic a cooling warmth, both form and formless, Ruskin is able to reimagine it in all its fullness—unruined—even as it retreats in the night. Thinking back to Freeman, Ruskin conceives of the Gothic through bodily experience of form haunted by memories of queer pleasure. At the same time, thinking back to Love, it is by framing it as loss that Ruskin is able to conceive of a future for the Gothic, the revival of the Gothic school of architecture.
In order to explore further why Ruskin imagines a moment when form is both absent and present, both lost to the past and palpable in the here and now, I think through how Ruskin appears to be appropriating and adapting a famous passage in one of the founding texts of art history. In fact, the chronological irregularities in The Stones of Venice as a whole might be compared with those in Johann Joachim Winckelmann’s Geschichte der Kunst des Alterthums (History of the Art of Antiquity, 1764), with its ultimately unresolved combination of historical inquiry into ancient civilisation and ahistorical encomium to the classical ideal. In Winckelmann’s scheme, the most highly prized works of art, such as the Apollo Belvedere, are by implication belated (rather like the Ducal Palace), coming after the full bloom of ‘high’ classical culture has faded. Winckelmann’s homoerotically charged ekphrases of classical masterpieces are out of step with his systematic history of ancient culture. The balcony scene in particular makes one think of the conclusion to the History, where Winckelmann describes a woman standing on the seashore tearfully bidding farewell to her lover sailing into the distance, making the point that the art historian is always longing after an interminably receding past. This calls to mind Ruskin’s yearning for the Gothic, all the more so if we substitute the common translation ‘subject of’ for ‘reproach to’ in the final sentence of this quotation, as Alex Potts has recently proposed:
Just as a beloved stands on the seashore and follows with tearful eyes her departing sweetheart, with no hope of seeing him again, and believes she can glimpse even in the distant sail the image of her lover—so we, like the lover, have as it were only a shadowy outline of the reproach to our desires remaining.
As the object recedes into the past, becoming less visible, imaginative space is opened up in which one’s desires can be allowed to expand. Translations differ as to whether ‘we’ are ‘the lover’ on the ship or, alternatively, ‘the maiden’ on the shore; either way, Winckelmann’s allegory describes art history as a dynamic of loss and desire like the one existing between these two personifications. The ship continues to shrink on the horizon, or the shore recede into the distance, but the art historian encounters and reimagines some fragment of the past on the ship, or the seashore, of the present. This happens via imagination, or fantasy, or whatever, of course. But it compels us all the same, ‘I could not keep myself from gazing’. Ruskin appropriates and adapts Winckelmann’s conclusion, putting it in the middle, more or less, of his account of Venetian Gothic. The chapter in which the balcony scene comes is very empirical, full of detailed observations of fenestration, arcades, and doorways. With Ruskin’s transformation of the ship/seashore into the balcony, the actual fragment of the object of study becomes the stage, the arena, for art-historical reflection on time’s passage. On the balcony, traceries and arches are simultaneously materially present, still warm to the touch, and they are ‘shadowy outlines’ to use Winckelmann’s phrase, dissolving in the moonlight. As the sun sets, the edges of the disintegrating palazzi become even more indistinct, inviting imaginative reconstruction by the observer. This won’t last, the night will draw in, form become shadow, but there is also the promise of the next evening. In all sorts of ways Ruskin is bending time on the balcony, and thereby manipulating—prolonging—desire. On the balcony, it is almost as though Ruskin and the reader are overcome with sensation, with the sounds of the sea retreating and of the fast-gaining waves crashing against the stone, of the deafening bell, vibrating through the body, and of the deafening silence, and of the pulse racing in our ears, slowing in the absence of the object, quickening at the prospect of its imaginative reconstruction, and potential release—and release postponed. This is desperation, a craving like Cleopatra’s craving for Antony. It is nearly madness, temporal vertigo, but something grounds Ruskin on the balcony and I suggest it is the first sculptor. When Ruskin imaginatively carves ‘the strong sweep of the unruined traceries drawn on the deep serenity of the starry sky’ and ‘the clustered arches’, which acquire mass and form even as they dissolve into shadow and ‘shorten in the moonlight on the chequered floor’, it is as though Ruskin clasps the hand of the Gothic workman, the first sculptor, and traces with him the forms of the essence of the Gothic through the twilight air. The first sculptor is the humbling force steadying Ruskin’s hand. He is reimagined by Ruskin on the balcony and warms the marble with the heat of his body. The first sculptor is the sun in the sky, he is God, he is the lover on the ship, he is the time traveller, and he is in some sense Ruskin himself. In folding the spatial distance between the seashore and the ship receding on the horizon into this twilight in which different timelines coexist—past and present, historical and ideal, day and night, form and shadow—a considerable emotional toll is exacted on Ruskin. But as well as loss, there is gain. For on the balcony a future becomes visible: the renewed ‘comfort or luxury of daily life’, which ‘the revival of the Gothic school of architecture’ will—really will—bring about. A dream of the past becomes a future worth fighting for. This Gothic future is at its most powerful as an idea when at its most ambiguous, however. The concluding words of The Stones of Venice, with their optimistic imagery of the thicket-cathedral arriving in the Thames Valley (via Tuscany, Paris and Picardy), ring rather hollow, they don’t have sufficient gravity to arrest the unstoppable momentum of the fast-gaining waves, beating, page after page, like passing bells. The balcony scene is The Stones of Venice’s real centre of gravity, and Ruskin’s politics, we must finally conclude, were as generatively and troublingly unresolved as his sexuality.
Turning back to Ruskin’s opening, to just before those fast-gaining waves beating against the stones of Venice like passing bells, it’s worth noticing one final way Ruskin has transformed Winckelmann—because the extent to which Stones is a response to Winckelmann and in turn forges a new, affectively charged kind of response to art, architecture and history that is full of loss, desire, yearning, and ecology, has been very much overlooked by art historians. Winckelmann’s phantasmagorical image in the sail at his conclusion is transformed by Ruskin into his opening, unforgettable description of Venice as: ‘a ghost upon the sands of the sea, so weak—so quiet,—so bereft of all but her loveliness, that we might well doubt, as we watched her faint reflection in the mirage of the lagoon, which was the City, and which the Shadow’. Ruskin’s ensuing volumes fill in the shadowy outline with much study, much observation, and reflections on the operation of imaginative historical recovery via erotically charged embodied experience of the remains of architectural form.
Coda: In Search of Lost Time
In what remains, I venture an interpretation of how Ruskin’s queer temporality as I have described it was adapted by another great author, not an art historian but one for whom material form was evidently very important. The significance of St Mark’s, of Venice, and therefore of Ruskin at the denouement of Marcel Proust’s novel À la recherche du temps perdu (In Search of Lost Time, 1913–27) has been widely noted by critics. In Le Temps retrouvé (Time Regained, 1927) the narrator is on his way into an afternoon party at the Prince de Guermantes’s house in Paris when he trips on uneven paving stones, triggering a memory of the uneven floor in the baptistery at St Mark’s, opening the door in turn to a flood of further memories. With a newfound fullness of self, the narrator is able to recover a sense of his literary vocation. One of the most engaging writers on Proust, Tony Tanner again, neatly describes Ruskin’s presence behind Proust’s courtyard epiphany as ‘Venetian stones in Parisian pavements’. Only Tanner and David Spurr link this epiphany in the courtyard to the narrator’s visit to Venice in the penultimate novel to ‘take notes for some work I was doing on Ruskin’, and the despondency the narrator feels after his mother departs when, as he is sitting on his hotel terrace overlooking the canal, he experiences the history of Venice collapse in on itself and the palaces reduce themselves to ‘lifeless heaps of marble’. Tanner and Spurr are certainly onto something in linking these scenes, but they both have a tendency to diminish the role of materiality, of created objects, in Proust’s language, which is to do a disservice to Proust’s investment in the intertwined aesthetic and erotic aspects of form, to the ideas ‘incarnated in bodies of sculptured marble’, in Proust’s description, in the preface to his 1904 translation of Ruskin’s The Bible of Amiens (1880–5), of the way Ruskin’s thought, having ‘materialised in space’, draws you to material things.
The way I would put it goes like this: Proust makes of Ruskin’s balcony scene a keystone of In Search of Lost Time. If the disillusionment on the terrace in Proust is a reversal of Ruskin’s ecstasy on the balcony, the narrator’s epiphany in the Guermantes courtyard can in turn be seen as a kind of reversal of the initial reversal of Ruskin’s balcony scene. On Ruskin’s balcony and in the Guermantes courtyard there is the same sudden bodily contact with the fragment, the sudden rushing back of the past as intense sensation, the same swooning, the same lonely luxury. Of course, the evacuation of self from the present that the narrator realises he has to perform in order to write his book—an aestheticism, in a way, or ‘Writing for Writing’s Sake’—is not something Ruskin could ever have explicitly endorsed on moral grounds, although his writing on Venetian architecture certainly approaches aestheticism, as I have made clear. Because in the morning Ruskin gets up and sets out to measure another palazzo or sits down to write more polemic about porphyry, determined to change the course of the Gothic Revival and of western Political Economy. The narrator, Proust, stokes the fire and gets back into bed.
It is tempting, then, to leave it at that, and to see the epiphany in the Guermantes courtyard as the extent of Proust’s adaptation of Ruskin’s queer temporality. However, as one of Proust’s very best critics Malcolm Bowie has argued, Proust also invites us to read against the resolution implied by the superstructure of the epic novel. The reader is confronted with innumerable ambiguities and paradoxes which come to light as we move forwards through the narrative in time, and also which unfold retrospectively as circumstance and memory rework the past. In this way the reader finds the true temporal plenitude the narrator seeks and ultimately composes. This idea is worth pursuing because it will reveal further depths to Proust’s adaptation of Ruskin’s queer temporality. In setting up a number of his arguments, Bowie picks out the painter Elstir’s scandalous and mesmerising watercolour of the young Odette Swann (then de Crécy) acting as Miss Sacripant dressed as a young man, wearing a white shirt and a slightly frayed velvet jacket. As Bowie says, this watercolour keeps appearing in In Search of Lost Time in transmuted but related forms, linking together pivotal characters and scenes. In the second novel, À l’ombre des jeunes filles en fleur (Within a Budding Grove, 1919), when the narrator is in Balbec he contrives to be introduced to a band of young women that has captured his attention, among whom numbers, unbeknownst to him at the time, his future paramour, Albertine. While visiting Elstir’s studio in the hope of securing an introduction to the girls, the lustful narrator stumbles across this bewitching portrait of a young woman ‘of a curious type’ wearing a bowler hat. The picture is buried in Elstir’s studio like a guilty secret, and it momentarily diverts the narrator from his erotic mission. A little later, after a disastrous non-introduction to the girls, the narrator correctly guesses the identity of the sitter, provoking further revelations about Elstir’s character. The narrator then reflects that the watercolour functions to consign Odette to the past, Elstir’s early style being unmistakeably ‘contemporary with the countless portraits that Manet or Whistler had painted of all those vanished models, models who already belonged to oblivion or to history’. In fact various timelines gather and intersect in this transvestite portrait of the courtesan. Odette’s affair with Charles Swann, related in the first volume, fascinated the young narrator. It becomes the model for the narrator’s own love affairs and ultimately his relationship with Albertine, which is soon poisoned by intense jealousy provoked by Albertine’s fluid sexuality. The watercolour, then, points backwards but also forwards in time, uniting Balbec, Combray, Paris of yesteryear and of tomorrow, hinting at truths both yet to be revealed and soon to be rewritten. A photographic reproduction of the portrait appears in Le Côté de Guermantes (The Guermantes Way, 1920) when it is delivered to the narrator, with other effects belonging to his late uncle Adolphe, by the young man Charlie Morel. This occurs in a highly sexually charged scene (even by the standards of In Search of Lost Time) involving a seamstress and red velvet, with the narrator, of course, looking on. In passing into the narrator’s possession, the photograph initiates further revelations as to the entangled pasts of Adolphe and other characters, and as to the narrator’s childhood memory of encountering a mysterious ‘lady in pink’ eating a tangerine, who turns out to have been Odette all along. This scene also functions as Morel’s introduction into the plot; much intrigue in the latter novels turns on the violinist’s exploits, with people of both sexes. And in the fifth novel, the picture is alluded to when the grand and promiscuous Baron de Charlus, who becomes infatuated with Morel, discloses his involvement in Odette’s murky past. For Bowie, the way Proust repeatedly deploys the portrait to tie together various sexual goings-on epitomises the writer’s relish of desire in all its permutations. This is ‘Pansexual Proust’, we are told. That may be true, but Bowie’s characterisation overlooks the pain which Proust repeatedly inflicts upon the narrator and which often arises because of the many strong currents of non-heteronormative desire swirling through the very stuff of the novel, at the centre of which, I suggest, lies the portrait of Odette as Miss Sacripant dressed as a young man. There are countless places in the voluminous novel these queer currents might take us. One that stands out is the narrator’s utter dejection upon learning that his dashing aristocratic friend Robert de Saint-Loup, who becomes the husband of the narrator’s erstwhile crush Gilberte before being slain at the front, had homosexual encounters, including with one Morel. Another is how in the final novel, conversing with this same Gilberte, the narrator learns his delicate young self had botched a crucial opportunity for assignation with her. So, we see Proust’s depictions of sexuality in all its forms is bookended with thwarted desire and pain. We can map this completer picture of how queerness and complicated temporality intersect in Proust back onto Ruskin and Venice.
It makes some sense if we think of Proust’s transvestite portrait in terms of Ruskin’s St Mark’s. We might say the portrait of Miss Sacripant, for Proust, and St Mark’s, for Ruskin, are both twists or knots in time, materialised. Objects that shatter categories, they defy all attempts at fixing and definition. Highly ambiguous, mesmerising, they explain nothing, change everything. At the same time, the portrait resembles the Ducal Palace in The Stones of Venice in the way it keeps popping up in In Search of Lost Time, almost in the creases of the plot. Something about the way the portrait’s profound implications encompass the whole of the narrator’s life speaks to the way Ruskin has the Ducal Palace encapsulate all of Venetian history.
I mentioned Proust’s Writing for Writing’s Sake credentials. But it is quite true that much of the very stuff of Proust’s novel is a satire of the late-nineteenth and early-twentieth-century French class system. This aspect of the novel has a decided shape. At first the young narrator is dazzled by the aristocracy, but his revelation at the Guermantes party leads him, finally, to take his leave of the decrepit Faubourg Saint-Germain (though it makes good fiction). The vicious and bourgeois Mme Verdurin’s apotheosis as the new Princesse de Guermantes dispels any last trace of illusion. And so at the end of Time Regained, the narrator, now perceiving the literary task before him, imagines the family housekeeper Françoise as his amanuensis, pasting back together his torn ‘paperies’ as she would have mended a dress at Combray. We might see Françoise as Proust’s version of the Gothic workman. So, it is clear that Ruskin’s queer Gothic temporality proved, in the many depths of its structure, integral to the fabric of In Search of Lost Time. The analogy between Françoise and the Gothic workman only goes so far, however, and the distance by which it falls short ultimately forms a gulf that separates Proust from Ruskin. In Proust, genius is singular and remote, and his subordinate helper labours away at keeping track, laying the foundations of his literary cathedral. On the contrary, the radicalness of the balcony scene lies in the intimate imaginative bodily contact Ruskin makes with the Gothic workman, the first sculptor, the way Ruskin almost imaginatively clasps the first sculptor’s hands—as they trace together the strong sweep of the unruined traceries across the starry sky—hands so old and calloused now as to feel as hard as stone, yet still warm to the touch.
I am eternally grateful to Caroline Arscott, Hilary Fraser, Kelly Freeman, Jeremy Melius, Alex Potts, and the two anonymous reviewers, for their comments on this essay and previous manifestations of it. I am also immensely grateful to Ken and Jenny Jacobson for kindly allowing me to reproduce the Ruskin-Hobbs daguerreotypes, to Hervé Simon and Judy Dean for allowing me to reproduce their excellent contemporary photographs of the Ducal Palace and St Mark’s, respectively, and to Karin Kyburz, the Picture Researcher at The Courtauld, for her invaluable assistance in identifying and reproducing the late-nineteenth-century albumen print photographs of Venice held in the Conway Library.
 John Ruskin to George Richmond, 30 August 1846, Ruskin 36.62–5, p. 63.
 Ruskin, 10.312 (The Stones of Venice 2, 1853).
 Tony Tanner, Venice Desired (Oxford: Blackwell, 1992), p. 68. The other writers discussed by Tanner are Lord Byron, Henry James, Hugo von Hofmannsthal, Marcel Proust, and Ezra Pound.
 J. B. Bullen, ‘Ruskin, Gautier, and the Feminisation of Venice’, in Dinah Birch and Francis O’Gorman (eds.), Ruskin and Gender (Basingstoke: Palgrave, 2002), pp. 64–85.
 Robert Hewison, Ruskin on Venice: ‘The Paradise of Cities’ (New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 2009), p. 418.
 Anuradha Chatterjee, John Ruskin and the Fabric of Architecture (London and New York: Routledge, 2018), chapter 2. On sexual differentiation in Victorian conceptualisations of architecture, and in some cases the mating of gendered forms, see George L. Hersey, High Victorian Gothic: A Study in Associationism (Baltimore and London: The John Hopkins University Press, 1972), pp. 48–60.
 Dinah Birch, ‘Ruskin’s “Womanly Mind”’, Essays in Criticism 38 (1988): pp. 308–24, reproduced in Birch and O’Gorman (eds.), Ruskin and Gender, pp. 107–120; this is a powerful essay, though I have reservations about the characterisations of William Morris and Edward Burne-Jones. See also Hilary Fraser, ‘Gender and Romance in Ruskin’s “Two Boyhoods”’, Nineteenth-Century Contexts: An Interdisciplinary Journal, 21:3 (1999): 353–370 and Sharon Aronofsky Weltman, Performing the Victorian: John Ruskin and Identity in Theater, Science, and Education (Columbus OH: Ohio State University Press, 2007).
 Matthew Reeve explores queerness in eighteenth-century English Gothic in Gothic Architecture and Sexuality in the Circle of Horace Walpole (University Park PA: Penn State University Press, 2020). Queerness in Victorian Gothic is less well studied, however. Michael Hall considers the intertwinement of the Aesthetic Movement, Anglo-Catholicism, and queerness in relation to some later Gothic revival buildings, George Frederick Bodley and the Later Gothic Revival in Britain and America (New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 2014), especially chapter 17; see also Ayla Lepine, ‘Queer Gothic: Architecture, Gender and Desire’, The Architectural Review, 20 January 2015, accessed 25 November 2020, https://www.architectural-review.com/essays/gender-and-sexuality/queer-gothic-architecture-gender-and-desire. More work needs to be done to reframe Ruskin’s complicated yet undeniable influence on the Victorian Gothic Revival in terms of sexuality, but the emphasis of this chapter is on Ruskin’s writing per se.
 With some justification, Paul Sawyer sees Stones as representing a new investment on Ruskin’s part in ‘history’ and therefore as a watermark in Ruskin’s evolution as a writer on culture: Ruskin’s Poetic Argument: The Design of the Major Works (Ithaca NY and London: Cornell University Press, 1985). Gerald Bruns goes as far as to identify Stones as a preeminent work of Victorian diachronic history writing of Earth-bound change over time, which he sees as evolving out of Romantic synchronic metaphorisation in which value was located with an eternal ‘Nature’ and ‘God’ (with Ruskin of Modern Painters 1 and 2 still in Romantic synchronic mode), ‘The Formal Nature of Victorian Thinking’, Proceedings from the Modern Language Association, 90:5 (1975): pp. 904–18. Bruns makes important observations about Victorian thought, but the historicity of Stones is profoundly problematic. Furthermore, Bruns misunderstands the architectural aesthetics of Ruskin’s Gothic, calling its association with ‘Naturalism’ ‘arbitrary’ and ‘puzzling’, p. 913. Jeanne Clegg notices chronological irregularities in Stones in Ruskin and Venice (London: Junction Books, 1981). Hewison, summing up the commentary on The Stones of Venice, charts a reasonable middle way in which Ruskin is seen to be as ‘historical’ as he ever gets in these three volumes, although Hewison convincingly argues that Ruskin is equally invested in metaphorical and transcendental planes intersecting history, belated Romantic that he was, Ruskin on Venice, pp. 118–21.
 Elizabeth Freeman, Time Binds: Queer Temporalities, Queer Histories (Durham NC and London: Duke University Press, 2010).
 Heather Love, Feeling Backward: Loss and the Politics of Queer History  (Cambridge MA and London: Harvard University Press, 2009), p. 146. Love’s book is proposed as a corrective to utopian thinking in queer theory in which the difficult experiences of loss, shame, and irresolution, which are integral to queer experience are, understandably, downplayed. For Love it is only by facing backwardness that a real way forward can be envisaged. Freeman pivots things back towards pleasure. The distinction I go on to mention is in Freeman, Time Binds, pp. 13–14.
 Chatterjee quotes both Stones and the earlier The Seven Lamps of Architecture (1849), (in sequence): 10.280 (The Stones of Venice 2, 1853); 8.183 (The Seven Lamps of Architecture, 1849); 11.284 (The Stones of Venice 3, 1853, Final Appendix), where Ruskin says this is true of all the grand tracery at Venice, including at the Ducal Palace. John Ruskin and the Fabric of Architecture, chapter 4. For the wall veil see 9.85–90 and 9.347–58 (The Stones of Venice 1, 1851) and also Stephen Kite’s chapter in this book.
 Ruskin, 10.95 (The Stones of Venice 2, 1853).
 Ruskin, 10.94–5, Ruskin’s emphasis.
 Ruskin, 10.95.
 William Shakespeare, Antony and Cleopatra [c.1606], Act 2, Scene 5, in William Shakespeare: Complete Works, Jonathan Bate and Eric Rasmussen (eds.) (The Royal Shakespeare Company: London, 2007), pp. 2184–7.
 Ruskin, 10.82–3.
 Ruskin, 10.84.
 Paul Hills, Venetian Colour: Marble, Mosaic, Painting and Glass 1250–1550 (New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 1999), p. 63.
 Ruskin, 10.84; ‘a confusion of delight’ and ‘until at last, as if in ecstasy’ are on p. 83.
 Ruskin, 10.315.
 Ruskin, 10.327.
 Cook and Wedderburn inform us the ‘A’ was added in the Travellers’ Edition of Stones and they elect to reproduce it in the Library Edition, 10.332n1.
 Ruskin, 10.341.
 Ruskin, 10.352.
 Ruskin, 10.328.
 Shakespeare, Antony and Cleopatra, Act 2, Scene 5, pp. 2185–7.
 See, for example, T. J. Clark’s description of the ‘sexual magic’ of the snake for the Romans and for Nicolas Poussin. Clark goes on to describe the snake as embodying ‘that sought-after (dreaded) moment in sexuality where all founding distinctions flow into each other’. The Sight of Death: An Experiment in Art Writing (New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 2006), pp. 224, 227. See also pp. 172–81. Marc Simpson proposes Ruskin’s fixation with snakes was a symptom of neuroses about sexuality and masturbation, ‘The Dream of the Dragon: Ruskin’s Serpent Imagery’, in John Dixon Hunt and Faith M. Holland (eds.), The Ruskin Polygon: Essays on the Imagination of John Ruskin (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 1982), pp. 21–43.
 Ruskin, 10.273 (The Stones of Venice 2, 1853).
 Ruskin, 10.243. Timothy Chandler explores the ‘grotesque’ as the epitome of the Gothic, although as Chandler points out Ruskin defers the full theorisation of the grotesque until Stones 3. See Chandler’s chapter, ‘Feeling Gothic’, in this book.
 Ruskin, 10.244–5.
 The way Ruskin confuses human and other-than-human scales (the cathedral, the rock, the herbage of spring) resonates with the contemporary ecological decentring of human scales in the era of the Anthropocene. Furthermore, the way Ruskin introduces this immemorial Gothic time in the midst of his history of Venice approaches the kind of creative thinking about nature and temporality sought in debates concerning the climate crisis. See Andrew Patrizio, The Ecological Eye: Assembling an Ecocritical Art History (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2019), which discusses scales of space in the introduction (pp. 6–7) and of time in the conclusion (p. 186). On scale and epistemology in Ruskin and John Tyndall see Polly Gould’s chapter in this book.
 Chatterjee reads this passage as describing northern Gothic, a step on the way to the fully dressed architecture of Venice, ‘Introduction’, in John Ruskin and the Fabric of Architecture, unpaginated.
 Ruskin, 10.83 (The Stones of Venice 2, 1853).
 For example at 10.283, 287, 309–310.
 Ruskin, 9.17 (The Stones of Venice 1, 1851).
 Ruskin, 10.438–9.
 See Alex Potts, Flesh and the Ideal: Winckelmann and the Origins of Art History (New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 1994). For a modern translation see Johann Joachim Winckelmann, History of the Art of Antiquity , (trans.) Harry Francis Mallgrave, introduction by Alex Potts (Los Angeles: Getty Research Institute, 2006).
 Alex Potts, ‘Winckelmann: Historicity and Multiple Temporalities in the Art of Antiquity’ (keynote paper presented at the conference Ideals and Nations: Reception of Winckelmann’s Aesthetics, Christ Church College, Oxford, 29 June 2018). See Winckelmann, History, (trans. Mallgrave), p. 351.
 In a celebrated essay Whitney Davis’s translation initially has the ‘we’ as ‘the maiden’, but Davis goes on to argue that the self of the art historian as presented by Winckelmann is split between the male object and female subject. Davis proposes Winckelmann’s nuanced conclusion crystallises the psychic dynamics of non-pathological art history. ‘Winckelmann Divided: Mourning the Death of Art History’ , in Donald Preziosi (ed.), The Art of Art History: A Critical Anthology (Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press, 1998), unpaginated. I would not, however, describe Ruskin as non-pathological.
 Winckelmann, History, p. 351.
 Ruskin, 9.17 (The Stones of Venice 1, 1851). George P. Landow is one of the only ones to have explored Ruskin’s affinity with Winckelmann’s aesthetics: in general (p. 17); regarding unity and harmony (p. 118); and regarding proportion (p. 127), The Aesthetic and Critical Theories of John Ruskin (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1971). Landow essentially argues that Ruskin imperfectly synthesised neoclassicism and Romanticism; I would add that to seek perfect synthesis would be to misread Ruskin. It is all, to coin a phrase, ‘a confusion of delight’.
 I am using the Modern Library paperback edition, but the passages can easily be found by consulting the commonly appended synopses. Marcel Proust, Time Regained , (trans.) Andreas Mayor, Terence Kilmartin, and D. J. Enright (The Modern Library: New York, 2003), pp. 254–7.
 Marcel Proust, The Fugitive , (trans.) C. K. Scott Moncrieff, Terence Kilmartin, and D. J. Enright (The Modern Library: New York, 2003), pp. 874, 884. Tanner, Venice Desired, the quotation is p. 264; chapter 6 is on Proust. I take issue with David Spurr’s conclusion that the modernist Proust ultimately had different investments in architecture to ‘the ethical and social preoccupations of Ruskin’s Victorianism’ because for Proust architectural forms ‘serve as metaphorical projections of the narrator’s successive states of mind’. We cannot really argue with the idea that architecture in Proust is ‘subjective’, but I have been pointing out that Ruskin conceptualises architecture in terms of intense, subjective responses involving desire and loss, at the same time as offering incisive, ostensive criticism and historical perspective. Architecture and Modern Literature (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 2012), p. 164. See Richard A. Macksey, ‘Proust on the Margins of Ruskin’, in Hunt and Holland (eds.), The Ruskin Polygon, pp. 172–97; and Diane R. Leonard, ‘Ruskin and the Cathedral of Lost Souls’, in Richard Bales (ed.) The Cambridge Companion to Proust (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2001), pp. 42–57.
 Marcel Proust, ‘Post-Scriptum’ to the preface of his translation, John Ruskin, La Bible d’Amiens [1880–5], (trans.) Marcel Proust (Paris: Mercure de France, 1904), pp. 78–95, reproduced in Marcel Proust, On Reading Ruskin, (eds. and trans.) Jean Autret, William Burford, and Philip J. Wolfe (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1987), p. 59. In addition to The Bible of Amiens in 1904, Proust translated Sesame and Lilies (1865) as Sésame et les lys in 1906. For interesting textual information and analysis see Cynthia Gamble, Proust as Interpreter of Ruskin: The Seven Lamps of Translation (Birmingham, AL: Summa Press, 2002).
 Accepting the textual instabilities of the ‘Séjour à Venise’ chapter. See Spurr, Architecture and Modern Literature, p. 163.
 I am grateful to Alex Potts for suggesting this apt rephrasing of ‘Art for Art’s Sake’, the slogan associated with the Aesthetic Movement in late-Victorian England. In the postscript to the preface to La Bible d’Amiens, from which I quoted above, Proust charges Ruskin with ‘idolatry’, by which he means a tendency to elevate the aesthetic above duty and morality. He argues that Ruskin sometimes professed moral doctrines simply out of appreciation for their beauty. Proust is certainly putting his finger on an ‘Art for Art’s Sake’ streak, avant la lettre, running through Ruskin’s thinking but it also must be the case that Proust wanted, on some level, to take the sting out of the political and religious imperatives which are in truth always structuring Ruskin’s aesthetics. Proust, ‘Post-Scriptum’. This charge is frequently mentioned in Ruskin-Proust criticism, much of which I have cited above. Marion Schmid contextualises Proust’s concept of idolatry in relation to Walter Pater and Oscar Wilde and identifies allusions to the English Aesthetic Movement in the Recherche: see chapter 3, ‘Esthétisme et idolâtrie’, in Proust dans la décadence (Paris: Honoré Champion, 2008).
 Malcolm Bowie, Proust Among the Stars (Fontana Press: London, 1998).
 Marcel Proust, Within a Budding Grove , (trans.) C. K. Scott Moncrieff, Terence Kilmartin, and D. J. Enright (The Modern Library: New York, 2003), p. 583.
 Proust, Within a Budding Grove, p. 604.
 Marcel Proust, The Guermantes Way , (trans.) C. K. Scott Moncrieff, Terence Kilmartin, and D. J. Enright (The Modern Library: New York, 2003), pp. 360–1.
 Marcel Proust, The Captive  and The Fugitive , (trans.) C. K. Scott Moncrieff, Terence Kilmartin, and D. J. Enright (The Modern Library: New York, 2003), pp. 400–401. The portrait is mentioned again at the beginning of The Fugitive when the narrator is reflecting on love, jealousy, and memory, p. 592.
 Bowie, Proust Among the Stars, p. 238.
 Proust, The Fugitive, p. 934.
 Proust, Time Regained, pp. 4–6.
 It’s worth noting that Proust’s appropriations and transformations of sexually ambiguous art and architecture in Ruskin were extensive and multi-layered. Emily Eells has proposed that Elstir’s work should be seen as an extension of the way Turner renders land and sea indistinguishable in Ruskin’s criticism, combining as Elstir does those ultimate categories, male and female, in Miss Sacripant. Emily Eells, ‘Images of Proustian Inversion from Ruskin’, in Ruskin and Gender (eds.) Birch and O’Gorman, p. 196. Eells also proposes Shakespearean and Pre-Raphaelite origins for Miss Sacripant, p. 197.
 Proust, Time Regained, pp. 509–10.