Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Ruskin's Rose

Venice casts a spell on most of its visitors, me included. After spending a week there four years ago I sought to recapture my feelings by reading many books related to Venice . That's how I came across Ruskin's Rose. Not only was this book about Venice, it was also about esteemed art historian John Ruskin, author of and Modern Painters and The Stones of Venice.

To say that Ruskin's life was colourful is an understatement. He had a string of misfortunes including his scandalously annulled marriage, his loss of faith , a greatly diminished fortune and the death of his much loved Rose La Touche. He continues to be a figure of great interest to writers who conjecture about the state of his mental health and sexual preferences. If this little introduction piques your curiosity and you research further, you'll reach your own conclusions.

Rose La Touche
John Ruskin, 1861

After Rose's death Ruskin went to Venice to heal. Ruskin's Rose uses materials from their letters and Ruskin's autobiography and other writings. It is beautifully illustrated with letters, maps, flowers, lockets and other artifacts. I'm a romantic at heart and quite liked this little book for its sentimentality in words and illustrations.

Although Ruskin fled to Venice to escape his pain, the city cast its usual spell on him and his time there actually intensified his emotions. He moved through the days without focus until he stumbled across the painting of Vittore Carpaccio, a 15th century artist and found his Rose again in the fairy-tale portraits.

And now for some of the less romantic facts which I discovered after reading the book. I admit the information deflated the fairy tale I had created while reading the book.

Ruskin fell in love with a deeply religious and high - spirited Rose when she was eleven and proposed marriage when she was 17 and he was 40. He met her while working at a girls' school. Rose's parents refused his request because of his coloured past and his atheism and Rose herself refused marriage when she came of age because of religious differences. Unfortunately Rose died in 1875 in a Dublin nursing home. Her death is credited with causing the onset of bouts of mental illness in Ruskin from 1877. He convinced himself that the Renaissance painter Vittore Carpaccio had included portraits of Rose in his paintings of the life of St. Ursula. Ruskin also took to Spiritualism trying to contact Rose's spirit.

All this information is needed to get to this artwork....

Ruskin's Rose (2009) mixed media on canvas (16 x 16)

Venice still flows through my veins after four years. I've compared every European city I visited since to it and none have matched the pull of Venice. The old section of Venice is small with all these little rabbit warren streets that go hither and yon. Every day was a new adventure where little things caused me to celebrate being there and being alive- textures on a wall, colouful window baskets, glimpses of ornate fabrics and house details, snatches of songs, the lyrical cadence of spoken Italian, children in a square, birds chirping, the water taxis moving their cargo, glimpses of water from the many bridges etc. I noticed the small things in Venice and every new day brought anticipation. I was never disappointed.

Venice is in my blood. Ruskin's Rose (my painting) celebrates my feelings about Venice and how the memories still flow through in the same way the canals flow through the city. You can't spend time in Venice without being attracted to the ways gold is used especially in churches and in fabrics. Venice is where Ruskin found his Rose again. I think Venice itself was also Ruskin's rose. I chose a red rose to symbolize Venice because of the history of red roses. Red roses mean "I love you", they also represent courage, respect and unconscious beauty.


hwfarber said...

A beautiful piece of art. Ruskin's life reminds me of "Love in the Time of Cholera."

Poetic Artist said...

A beautiful piece.

Kathy said...

Margaret - you weave a fascinating tale that perfectly leads to your painting! The rose is rich and full and the textural background enhances that image. The underlying meaning is intriguing. Although I've spent lots of time in Italy doing research, sadly I never got to Venice. You've inspired me to go!

-Don said...

What a great story segueing into the reasons behind this wonderful work of art.

OK, I started typing my response, glanced over, saw Kathy's response and realized I'm typing what she wrote almost verbatim. So, instead I'll say, "yeah, what Kathy said". :-)

...Well, except for the part about time in Italy. I've never left the continental US other than to visit New Brunswick as a young child. All my international traveling, so far, has been done vicariously thru friends, family and good books.

Happy Creating,


Mary Paquet said...

Margaret, you created such rich texture in the background, and the rose looks so perfect against that texture. Beautiful piece, and your recounting of why you painted it was fascinating.

I have your same love for Venice. During two of my three visits, I stayed in the Pensione La Calcina overlooking the Giudecca Canal. To get there, you walk straight back from the Academia Bridge and turn left on the Zattere waterfront. Ruskin stayed there for 3 months in 1877. You can check it out here:

My knowledge of the history of art is getting better, but at the time I was too ignorant to appreciate the historical Ruskin information on the walls.

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