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Tectonic into Textile: John

Ruskin and His Obsession

with the Architectural

T his paper considers the

architectural writings of John
Ruskin (1891–1900), an important
the exterior walls. In addition, he
argued that the composition of
the decorative veneer exhibited
architecture, art and social critic in qualities of dresses and textiles.
Victorian England and interprets This article terms this as Ruskin’s
his preoccupation with surface theory of the adorned “wall veil.” It
ornament. The paper reveals that, argues that this was the motivation
for Ruskin, architecture was a for his interest in the architectural
living entity. His idea of life was surface. The article counters the
influenced by Thomas Carlyle’s claim that Ruskin’s writings were
philosophy of clothes, according unarchitectural or, in other words,
to which the human soul was more unconcerned with space, structure
important than the body and and function. It argues that the
it could be expressed only through theory of the adorned wall veil
clothing. Ruskin translated this attempted to shift the ontological
notion into an architectural identity of architecture. It also
theory. He believed that the soul of contributed to the nineteenth
architecture was contained in the century debates on architectural
veneer of decoration that concealed ornament and dress.

Keywords: Dress, architecture, body, nineteenth century, Ruskin

Anuradha Chatterjee is the founding editor of The
Eighth Lamp: Ruskin Studies Today and Sessional Textile, Volume 7, Issue 1, pp. 68–97
Faculty at the Faculty of the Built Environment, DOI: 10.2752/175183509X411771
University of New South Wales (UNSW). She has Reprints available directly from the Publishers.
completed her doctorate in architectural history Photocopying permitted by licence only.
and theory from UNSW. © 2009 Berg. Printed in the United Kingdom.
Tectonic into Textile: John
Ruskin and His Obsession
with the Architectural Surface
Introduction common; because a building
John Ruskin (1891–1900) wrote two raised to the honour of God, or
widely read and reviewed books in memory of men, has surely
in Victorian Britain on the history a use to which its architectural
of medieval and Renaissance adornment fits it; but not a use
architecture. These were The which limits, by any inevitable
Seven Lamps of Architecture (1849) necessities, its plan or details.
and the three-volume study The (Ruskin [1903–12] 1996, 8: 29)
Stones of Venice (1851–53). While
In this passage, Ruskin appeared
Ruskin influenced the Gothic
to overstate the case about the
revival movement in Victorian
superfluity of ornament. Decorative
Britain, evidenced in the design of
features were meant to be enjoyed
the Oxford University Museum of
for their own sake and the symbolic
Natural History (1860) by Thomas
function of these elements was
Deane (1828–99) and Benjamin
unrelated to an architectural
Woodward (1816–61) and the Arts
purpose. As a result, Ruskin’s
and Crafts movement because of
perception of architecture was
his theory of creative labor, his
condemned as being painterly, and
status as an architectural theorist
his allegiance to Byzantine and
has been given less credence. His
Gothic architecture was regarded
writings were not only controversial
as being indicative of backward-
but they were also difficult to
looking religious medievalism.
grasp. In Seven Lamps, he stated
that architecture was the addition
commentators felt that his
of “venerable or beautiful” but
perception of buildings was not
“unnecessary” features to an
architectural, as he privileged color
edifice. He claimed that: “no one
and ornament over structure.1
would call the laws architectural
Along similar lines, twentieth-
which determine the height of a
century historians such as Charles
breastwork or the position of a
H Moore and Paul Frankl claimed
bastion. But if to the stone facing
that Ruskin’s grasp of Gothic
of that bastion be added an
style was poor, as it showed little
unnecessary feature, as a cable
awareness of structural principles
moulding, that is Architecture.”
and interior spaces (Moore 1924:
He added:
17; Frankl 1960: 560–61).2 Later
Architecture concerns itself scholars such as Kristine Garrigan
only with those characters of argue that he was constrained
an edifice which are above and by two-dimensional vision. As a
beyond its common use. I say result, he could admire Italian
Tectonic into Textile 71

Gothic buildings but he could not is in terms of the disposition of inlaid ornament from medieval
appreciate the three-dimensional masses and volumes” (Swenarton buildings across Europe were
complexity of the Gothic cathedrals 1989: 12). These claims are not sketched, collated and presented as
of northern Europe (Garrigan unjustified. a collage of fragments, which were
1973).3 More recent scholars such The basis for these claims can isolated from the larger context
as Mark Swenarton note that be found in the illustrative method of the building (Figures 1 and 2).
“rarely did Ruskin think in a more used by Ruskin. The plates in Seven The method of focusing on surface
strictly architectural manner that Lamps show that naturalistic and fragments intensified in Stones,

Figure 1
Ornaments from Rouen, St. Lô and
Venice (Ruskin 1889: 27).
72 Anuradha Chatterjee

Figure 2
Pierced ornament from Lisieux,
Bayeux, Verona and Padua (Ruskin
1889: 95).

where profiles and elevations of a to any reader that the emphasis

whole array of archivolts, jambs, was on ornament and not on the
bases, cornices and capitals from building.
different buildings were composed This article is a critical
into a single image, representing examination of Ruskin’s
a comparative study of parts. The preoccupation with surface
content and composition of these ornament. It shows that Ruskin
illustrations would have suggested was interested in the surface
Tectonic into Textile 73

because he reinterpreted the was the means through which figure along with the studies of the
anthropomorphic tradition in “something invisible and ultimately “human proportion in relation to
architecture, using Thomas unknown was grasped and plans, facades, entablatures and
Carlyle’s moral theory of the body. made familiar” (Klassen 1994: even whole cites” (Drake 2003: 45).
In this theory, the soul was more 58). Joseph Rykwert argues that Rykwert points out that di Giorgio
important than the body and it the analogy between body and was the “first to draw the human
was expressed through clothing. building “is deeply ingrained in all profile imposed on the section of a
Following these ideas, Ruskin recorded architectural thinking” cornice” (1996: 59). Di Giorgio was
suggested that the surface was (Rykwert 1996: 29). The earliest interested in the “application of the
like clothing and the single most evidence of this was in Vitruvius’s analogy between the whole human
important element of architecture. De architectura (17 bc). Following body and building” (Rykwert 1996:
This indicated an attempted shift the Pythagorean tradition of 59). He explained that the human
in the ontological identity of knowledge, based on mathematics, body was “divided into nine parts,
architecture, which was defined Vitruvius derived a set of numeric otherwise into nine heads” which
by interior space, structure and relationships between parts guided the design of the façade
function. Furthermore, his writings of the body (such as the palm, (Rykwert 1996: 59). A powerful
advocated vivid analogies between head, chest, face and foot) and illustration by him showed a “man
the architectural surface and the the whole (Drake 2003: 2). These with his hands extended, his trunk
form of the dress and the patterns proportional relations were used and head corresponding to the
in textiles. This contributed to for understanding the disposition nave of the church, the sloping
debates concerning dress and of various parts of the building. The arms direction the inclination of the
architecture, particularly as it was body, according to Vitruvius, could aisle roofs,” such that the “nave
concerned with interrogating the also be understood in geometric articulates from the aisles at the
meaning of ornament. terms. It reflected the combination elbows,” the “main door opens
The article is presented in of earthly and transcendent at the knee joints” and finally
sections. The first section outlines order, as it could be inscribed the “head is ‘in’ the pediment”
the history of body analogy in simultaneously within a circle and (Rykwert 1996: 59). The motif of the
architecture and Ruskin’s position a square (Drake 2003: 3). This idea Vitruvian man also influenced the
in relation to these debates. came to be known as the “Vitruvian plans of centrally planned churches
This section outlines Carlyle’s man,” illustrated for the first time between late fifteenth and early
philosophy of body, soul and by sixteenth-century theorists who sixteenth centuries.
clothes. It considers Ruskin’s translated De architectura.4 The The classical theory of the
allegiance to these ideas and their invisible inscription of the body body analogy was revitalized in
architectural implications. The in architecture through numerical the nineteenth century by the
second section examines Ruskin’s and geometrical means was given British architect and theorist, C.R.
fragmented oeuvre and reframes it an expressive dimension by the Cockerell (1788–1863). Cockerell
as the theory of the adorned “wall various orders. The Doric, Ionic was influenced by Vitruvius’s text
veil.” It reveals the theoretical, and Corinthian orders represented and the teachings of Quatremère
formal and historiographical ideal bodies, possessing strength, de Quincy (Kohane 1993: 327–76).
processes through which Ruskin discipline and vigor. These ideas During his professorship at the
justified this theory. inspired Renaissance architectural Royal Academy of Arts in London,
practice and theory. he stated his departure from
Ruskin’s Theory of the Body, The interest in the body the academic view of classical
Soul and Clothes continued to fascinate Renaissance architecture. Cockerell rejected
The analogy of the body has been theorists. This is exhibited vividly the mechanistic and dogmatic
a chief source of meaning in the in the designs of Francesco di belief that bodily presence in
classical theory of architecture. Giorgio (1395–1482). His notebooks architecture could be achieved only
The image of the human body were full of studies of the Vitruvian by following numerical proportions
74 Anuradha Chatterjee

and geometries, or by employing for completing the larger form,

the various orders (each having a similar to the way various pieces
particular human attribute) of a jigsaw puzzle fit together
(pp. 336–37). He believed that the (p. 315). This point is explored in
building was not a literal but an detail by Martin Bressani, who
“abstract representation of the argues that Viollet-le-Duc’s study
body’s proportions and contours” of medieval architecture was like
(p. 335). Cockerell was inspired by an “anatomist examining the
the body’s capacity for controlled human body, providing a structural
biomechanical movement and he physiology” (Bressani 2003:
believed that this was a sign of 120). Bressani perceptively notes
health and vigor. He noticed that that, in “Viollet-le-Duc’s patient
these attributes could be evidenced dismantling of a medieval building,
in the presence of curves on the in which absolutely no references
surface of the body (p. 327). He to the science of engineering can
argued that a bodily presence could be found, architecture becomes
be imparted to all the elements of a combination of organs working
the building, by introducing subtle together” (p. 121). Viollet-le-
curves into their profiles (p. 337). Duc was also influenced by the
The viewer would have a subjective anatomist Marc Jean Bourgery
and a psychological reaction to the (1797–1849). Bressani argues that
subtle allusions to the body in the Viollet-le-Duc’s complex analysis of
overall composition, and would a series of exploded perspectives
therefore derive pleasure (p. 337). and cutaway perspectives of the
In classical theory, the surface of springing point of Gothic arches
the material body was idealized evoked the visual technique of
to derive qualities that could be Bourgery, who depicted “each
incorporated into architecture. particular bone’s diverse mode
In the nineteenth century, the of articulation with its adjacent
classical approach to the body neighbor and its relative position
analogy was challenged by the within the ensemble that makes up
emerging scientific attitude. the skull” (p. 126).5 The idea that
According to Antoine Picon, the body is a rational combination
French architect and writer Eugène of parts, working together as a
Emmanuel Viollet-le-Duc (1814–79) mechanical whole, legitimized
linked his “vision of structure” a mechanized approach to
(in the Gothic cathedral) with architecture.
the “conceptions of organism Similar to the Renaissance
prevailing around the same theorists and nineteenth-century
time in the life sciences” (Picon rationalists such as Viollet-le-
1999: 314). Picon explains that Duc, Ruskin saw a connection
Viollet-le-Duc was influenced between architecture and the
by the work of French naturalist human figure. However, he aligned
and zoologist Georges Cuvier himself neither with the “ancients”
(1769–1832), who upheld the view nor with the “moderns.” Ruskin
that organisms were functional was opposed to the classical,
wholes. They were organized such Renaissance and nineteenth-
that every part was necessary century interest in the material
Tectonic into Textile 75

body. He rejected the authority of opinions” exhibited a mechanical tissue”, the “vestural tissue”, that
Vitruvius, which had been upheld character (p. 103). The mechanistic “man’s soul wears as its outmost
for centuries by architects in Europe attitude meant that physical wrappage and overall; wherein his
and England.6 He rejected the science thrived, while metaphysical whole other … tissues are included
idealization of proportions and the and moral sciences vanished and screened, his whole faculties
codification of orders on the basis (p. 103). The physical sciences were work, his whole self lives, moves
that they encouraged mindless concerned with the “material, the and has its being” (p. 2). Clothes
and unimaginative copying of past immediately practical, [and] not the were imparted with a corporeal
forms. In addition, Ruskin was divine and [the] spiritual” (p. 111). quality and an importance greater
critical of the rise of the natural This emphasized the “outward” than the body. Carlyle believed
sciences in the nineteenth century, (body) and ignored the “inward” that clothes were the “master
because of which he did not share (soul) realm (pp. 105, 107 and 115). organ” or the “soul’s seat,” and
Viollet-le-Duc’s rational vision Carlyle felt that the irreconcilable that it was possible to gain insight
of organic structures. Ruskin’s dichotomy between the body and into a person’s inner spirit, by
understanding of life was linked the soul, the material and the looking “fixedly on clothes, or
to Victorian Romanticism. This spiritual was the fundamental even with armed eyesight, till they
stream of Victorian thought was a condition of the nineteenth become transparent” (pp. 48, 50).9
response to industrialization and century. He felt that society had Clothes were so significant that he
the increasing mechanization of the not developed the language for compared them with architectural
intellectual life of society (Sussman the expression of the inner and styles. Carlyle argued that:
1968: 5). It favored the idea of the spiritual dimension and as a result,
living organism, as it contained the soul would always remain neither in tailoring nor in
the promise of unpredictability, repressed by the bodily and the legislating does man proceed
irregularity and freedom. Therefore, material realm.7 by mere accident, but the hand
Ruskin used terms such as “life,” Carlyle’s pessimistic attitude is ever guided on by mysterious
“soul” and “spirit” while writing towards the soul changed in operations of the mind. In
about architecture. Sartor Resartus (1833–34). In this all his modes and habilatory
In order to comprehend book, he argued that clothes in endeavors, an architectural idea
Ruskin’s understanding of life, their literal and metaphoric form will be found lurking; his body
it is important to consider the expressed a hidden and an inner and the cloth are the site and
ideas of prominent Victorians, idea. The central argument of the materials whereon and whereby
like Thomas Carlyle (1795–1881), book was that “society is founded his beautified edifice of a person,
who recast the philosophical upon cloth” (Carlyle [1833–34] is to be built. Whether he flows
meaning of the body and the soul. 1983: 38).8 Carlyle argued that gracefully out in folded mantles,
Herbert Sussman explains that, for “all visible things are emblems” based on light sandals, tower-
Carlyle, “England’s mechanization and “all emblematic things are up in high headgear, from amid
appeared bound to philosophical properly clothes, thought-woven peaks, spangles and bell-girdles;
mechanism, the occupation with or hand-woven” (p. 54). The very swell out in starched ruffs,
material means rather than spiritual basis of culture was symbolic buckram stuffings and monstrous
ends” (Sussman 1968: 15). In a and all symbols were clothes that tuberosities; or girth himself into
provocative essay, “Signs of the expressed a hidden idea. Even separate sections and front the
times,” Carlyle declared that the language was called the “garment world an agglomeration of four
nineteenth century was the “age of thought,” as it revealed limbs—will depend on the nature
of machinery” ([1829/1858] 2004: imagination, the invisible spirit of the architectural idea; whether
100). He claimed that human beings of the human mind (p. 54). These Grecian, Gothic, later-Gothic, or
had “grown mechanical in head and arguments were extended to the altogether modern and Parisian
in heart, as well as in hand” and human body. Carlyle claimed that or Anglo-Dandiacal. (Carlyle
their “whole efforts, attachments, clothes were the “grand tissue of all [1833–34] 1983: 25–26)
76 Anuradha Chatterjee

By using the term “architectural paintings and sculptures. He

idea” and by comparing the “body hated the depiction of nudes,
and the cloth” with the “site and because he believed that the
materials,” Carlyle suggested “study of the nude is injurious,
that the unadorned body did beyond the limits of honor and
not possess an innate truth. The decency in daily life” (Ruskin
body could be signified (given a [1903–12] 1996, 22: 223). In
personality and character) only his analysis of the paintings
through the literal and metaphoric by Sir Joshua Reynolds and
construction of an exterior surface. Thomas Gainsborough, Ruskin
Carlyle’s philosophy of clothes openly referred to Carlyle. He
changed the relation between asked readers to reflect upon
the soul and the body. The soul the “external and corporeal
became more important than the qualities these masters of our
body, and it was allowed to have masters love to paint,” under
a direct (on the surface) and an “Mr. Carlyle’s guidance, as well
autonomous (separate from the as mine and with the analysis of
body) expression. Sartor Resartus” (Ruskin [1903–12]
Ruskin was influenced by 1996, 33: 311). He concluded that
Carlyle’s writings and ideas. He the “charm of all these pictures
admitted: is in great degree dependent
on toilette; that the fond and
I should be very sorry if I had
graceful flatteries of each master
not been continually taught and
do in no small measure consist in
influenced by the writers whom I
his management of frillings and
love; and am quite unable to say
trimmings, cuffs and collarettes;
to what extent my thoughts have
and on beautiful flingings or
been guided by Wordsworth,
fastenings of investiture” (p. 312).
Carlyle and Helps; to whom (with
Ruskin believed that the “mere
Dante and George Herbert, in
folds of drapery” had a significant
olden time) I owe more than
“power of expression” (Ruskin
to any other writers—most of
[1903–12] 1996, 20: 274). When
all, perhaps to Carlyle, whom I
he looked at Raphael’s drawing
read so constantly, that, without
of the kneeling Madonna, he
willfully setting myself to imitate
claimed that the face “is in no
him, I find myself perpetually
wise transcendent in any kind
falling into his modes of
of expression,” and “nearly the
expression … (Ruskin 1996
entire charm of the figure is owing
[1903–12], 5: 427)
to the disposition of the drapery
He acknowledged his in accordance with tender and
indebtedness in a letter to Carlyle quiet gesture” (pp. 274–75).
in 1869. He wrote: “I have the Traditionally, the face was
Sartor with me also—it belongs to considered as a window into the
me now, more than any other of soul and the innermost emotions.
your books” (Ruskin [1869] 1982: This role was now performed by
146).10 In keeping with Carlyle’s the dress. Ruskin’s view of the
philosophy, Ruskin studied body was informed by Carlyle’s
only dressed human figures in philosophy of clothes.
Tectonic into Textile 77

Architecture was also regarded in architecture. It was expressed and not because of the damage
as having a body and a soul. Ruskin through the layer of decoration that to its inner walls or structure.
argued: concealed and transformed the Repairing the surface was like
masonry wall. Thus, architecture patching up a dead person and
What is true of human polity
was an image of the dressed body. therefore unthinkable. However,
seems to me not less so of
The spiritualization of this death was reversible. The
the distinctively political art
architecture was also evidenced building could be “reborn” if the
of architecture … Uniting the
in Ruskin’s sentimental attitude cladding and the ornamentation
technical and imaginative
towards the nineteenth century were completely ripped off and
elements as essentially as
restorations of dilapidated Venetian replaced with a new veneer of
humanity does soul and body,
buildings. Restoration normally decoration. This showed that
it shows the same infirmly
involved partial repairs to the Ruskin was thinking of a spiritual,
balanced liability to the
structure and decoration, taking the rather than a biological life.
prevalence of the lower part over
building back to its original state. The surface was like a dress. It
the higher, to the interference of
Ruskin argued against this. He contained the soul. Therefore, it
the constructive, with the purity
claimed that: could be changed to impart a new
and simplicity of the reflective
life (new meaning) to the building.
element. This tendency, like Do not let us deceive ourselves
As clothing was the essence of
every other form of materialism, in this important matter; it is
the human figure, surface was the
is increasing with the advance impossible, as impossible as
substance of architecture. However,
of the age … (Ruskin [1903–12] to raise the dead, to restore
the analogy between clothing and
1996, 8: 20–21) anything that has ever been
surface was not merely asserted.
great or beautiful in architecture.
In architecture, the body was the It was developed through complex
That which I have above insisted
“technical” or the “constructive” formal and historiographical
upon as the life of the whole,
aspects. This referred to the brute processes.
that spirit which is given only
masonry and the space inside
by the hand and eye of the
the building. This was considered
workman, can never be recalled. Tectonic into Textile: Ruskin
as the “lower” element. Ruskin
Another spirit may be given by and the Theory of the Adorned
was critical of a whole range of
another time and it is then a “Wall Veil”
building types that exposed their
new building; but the spirit of The transformation of the
constructive aspects, such as the
the dead workman cannot be tectonic into textile has a long
monotonous brick buildings in
summoned up and commanded tradition. It has its roots in the
England, the commercial buildings
to direct other hands and other anthropomorphic tradition in
that were made of iron pillars and
thoughts. And as for direct and architectural theory. It can be traced
plate glass, and Gothic cathedrals
simple copying, it is palpably back to Vitruvius’s description of
in which the ribs and the shafts
impossible. What copying can the Ionic order. In The Ten Books on
were emphasized. As the emphasis
there be of surfaces that have Architecture, Vitruvius wrote:
on the physical or the biological
been worn half an inch down?
body did not adequately celebrate Just so afterwards, when they
The whole finish of the work
human life, the blatant expression desired to construct a temple to
was in the half inch that is gone.
of the material conditions of Diana in a new style of beauty,
(Ruskin [1903–1912] 1996, 8:
strength, construction or mechanics they translated these footprints
242–43, emphasis in original)
did not express the soul of into terms characteristic of the
architecture. According to Ruskin, Ruskin’s ideas on restoration slenderness of women and
the soul of architecture was the were unusual and paradoxical. The thus first made a column the
“imaginative” or the “reflective” “death” of the building happened thickness of which was only one
quality of buildings. It was as a result of the destruction of its eighth of its height, so that it
considered as the “higher” element cladding and the ornamentation, might have a taller look. At the
78 Anuradha Chatterjee

foot they substituted the base under serious scrutiny during

in place of a shoe; in the capital the post-enlightenment period in
they placed the volutes, hanging Europe and Britain, as a result of
down at the right and left like the archaeological, scientific and
curly ringlets and ornamented artistic discoveries. Ornament did
its front with cymatia and with not embody traditional ideals and
festoons of fruit arranged in its meaning was reconsidered.13
place of hair, while they brought One of the key aspects of this
the flutes down the whole debate was the speculation about
shaft, falling like the folds in the textile origins of architectural
the robes worn by matrons. ornament by Gottfried Semper
Thus in the invention of the two (1803–79). In The Four Elements of
different kinds of columns, they Architecture: A Contribution to the
borrowed manly beauty, naked Comparative Study of Architecture
and unadorned, for the one (1851), Semper discussed the
and for the other the delicacy, Caribbean hut. He argued that
adornment and proportion the first enclosure was a screen,
characteristic of women. which was made out of woven twigs
(Vitruvius 1960: 103–4) and leaves, replaced thereafter
by mats and carpets, and held up
During the Renaissance, the by a timber screen. He explained
analogy between clothing and that solid masonry walls were
architecture was not limited to introduced to take the load of the
the design of classical orders. It carpets and for permanence and
became applicable to the entire better security. However, the wall
building. This was due to the had nothing to do with dividing
notion of decorum—a social ideal, space. Semper notes that the
in which behavior, conduct and solid wall was an “inner, invisible
appearance were expected to structure hidden behind the true
reflect the status of the individual and legitimate representatives
with the social order. An important of the wall, the colorful woven
aspect of decorum was dressing carpets” (Semper [1851] 1989: 104).
according to ones position within With the development of culture,
the social hierarchy. Decorum was materials more durable than textile
relevant to architecture, because began to be used for decoration,
buildings had to be adorned with such as stucco covering, bitumen
ornament appropriate to their plaster, terracotta, metal plates,
context, use and status (Hill and granite and so on. However,
Kohane 2001; Forty 1989: 10).11 despite the change in materials and
By the nineteenth century, the techniques, the motifs persisted.
notion of decorum began to fade Semper claimed that the “artists
and, according to Forty, dress who created the painted or
was “put to some very different, sculptured decorations on wood,
rather surprising, uses” (1989: stucco, fired clay, metal, or stone
10).12 The unforeseen use of the traditionally though not consciously
metaphor of dress was because imitated the colorful embroideries
of the crisis of representation. and trellis works of the age-old
Architectural representation came carpet walls” (p. 104). He argued
Tectonic into Textile 79

that the evidence for this was the followed the form of the body (Forty unlike Semper, Ruskin was
bas-reliefs found on the walls of 1989: 10–11). As in architecture, concerned with the entire dressed
the buildings discovered in Nineveh the thirteenth-century clothing body. This may have been due to
and Nimrud, which showed strong was designed in accordance with the different intellectual contexts
affinities with Assyrian carpets. Inutility and reason. By imposing within which they were operating.
other words, the decorated surfaces the idea of rational expression on While Semper was responding
of masonry structures signified the medieval dress, Gothic architecture to the archaeological discoveries
textile origins of the wall.14 was reinterpreted as a structurally and ethnological theories of the
While Semper used the theory honest construction. 1840s, Ruskin was influenced by
of origin and dress to justify Ruskin participated the dress reform movement in
architectural ornamentation, Viollet-
enthusiastically in the debates Britain. Furthermore, Ruskin and
le-Duc used the metaphor of dress concerning the relation between Viollet-le-Duc espoused thirteenth-
to propagate the idea of rationalityarchitecture and dress. In the final century clothing as the model
in Gothic architecture. He wrote a volume of Stones, he declared: for architectural ornamentation.
four-volume publication on applied “Precisely analogous to this However, unlike Viollet-le-Duc, who
arts titled Dictionnaire du mobilierdestruction of beauty in dress has associated Gothic architecture as
français (1858–75), and a large partbeen that of beauty in architecture; well as thirteenth-century clothing
of this was devoted to dress.15 Forty
its color and grace and fancy, with rational depiction of structure
explains that, according to Viollet-being gradually sacrificed to the and body, Ruskin emphasized
le-Duc, France rejected Byzantine base forms of the Renaissance” concealment. Ruskin justified
and Romanesque building methods (Ruskin [1903–12] 1996, 11: 225). the theory of the adorned wall
and evolved the new style of Ruskin proposed a new theory of veil through complex theoretical
Gothic architecture by adopting architecture. The paper terms this readjustments, as well as
rational principles of construction as the theory of the adorned “wall historiographical and interpretive
(Forty 1989: 10). In Dictionnaire veil.”17 The term “wall veil” was processes.
du mobilier, he applied the same coined by Ruskin. It was actually The theoretical readjustment
rationale to the development of the exterior masonry wall of a was made in terms of the wall.
clothing. After discussing the building and the term veil was used Ruskin proposed that the wall
Graeco-Roman clothing in the deliberately instead of the term (wall veil) was the key element
twelfth century, Viollet-le-Duc body. It signified the outermost of architecture. However, he was
claimed that: part of the human body (skin and not the first one to do so. In De re
flesh) that concealed and protected aedificatoria (1452), Leon Battista
in the thirteenth century it was
a fragile interior space.18 However, Alberti noted:
rapidly succeeded by a plain
as Ruskin was concerned with
garment, comfortable, common
the dressed body, the wall veil When considering the methods
to almost all classes and which
had to be adorned with a flat and of walling, it is best to begin
drew its value from the style in
thin layer of chromatic and relief with its most noble aspects.
which it was worn … They sought
ornamentation, which would run This is the place therefore where
the form best suited to daily
from end to end and base to coping, columns should be considered
habits and just as in
covering every part of the masonry and all that relates to the
architecture—which is also a
wall without being constrained by column; in that a row of columns
garment—they sought the most
function and necessity. is nothing other than a wall
rational way of clothing the
There were significant that has been pierced in several
structure. (Viollet-le-Duc 1872,
differences between Ruskin’s places by openings. Indeed,
4: 429)
theory and that of Semper and when defining the column
Thirteenth-century dress was Viollet-le-Duc. Ruskin’s writings itself, it may not be wrong to
ideal because it did not conceal echoed Semper’s theory of textile describe it as a certain, solid and
physical defects and it closely origins of ornament. However, continuous section of wall, which
80 Anuradha Chatterjee

has been raised perpendicularly Ruskin had read Alberti and

from the ground, up high, for he was influenced by his writings.
the purpose of bearing the roof. Cornelius Bajon notes that there
(Alberti 1988: 25) are strong similarities between
the structure of De re aedificatoria
The wall was a column-like
and the first volume of Stones,
element. It could be pierced as
especially as architecture “in both
well as raised vertically to take
is approached in terms of stone
on the role of a load-bearing
walls rather than of beams and
element. In other words, it was the
lintels” (Bajon 1997: 406). Despite
fundamental constructive element
these similarities, the emphasis
of architecture. However, Alberti
on the wall was for different
reasons. While Alberti’s reason
In the whole art of building the for suggesting “wall architecture”
column is the principal ornament was historiographical, Ruskin’s
without any doubt; it may be interest in the wall was to do with
set in combination, to adorn a ontology or the qualities of built
portico, wall, or other form of structures that give them the status
opening, nor is it unbecoming of architecture.
when standing alone. It may In “The six divisions of
support a trophy; or it may act architecture” (Stones I), Ruskin
as a monument. It has grace and claimed that the wall was one of
it confers dignity. (Alberti 1988: the three elements that constituted
183–84) architecture. The other elements
were roof and apertures. In
While the wall could be addition, four chapters were
transformed into a column, the dedicated to the wall (“The wall
column was only ever an ornament base,” “The wall veil”, “The wall
that was added onto a structure cornice,” and “The wall veil and
consisting solely of walls.19 This can shaft”), while the rest of the
be seen in Alberti’s design for the chapters discussed surface details.
church of San Sebastiano (1459) The illustrations documented
at Mantua, which consists of a wall decorations and profiles of
solid wall face adorned by a large elements. Considered together, the
entablature that appears to rest textual and graphic documentation
on thin pilasters (Wittkower 1988: suggested the development of
51–52). Wittkower explains that this a new language—that of surface
tendency may have had to do with architecture. In Seven Lamps,
the fact that Alberti’s only guide Ruskin expressed that the wall was
was Roman imperial architecture, the only element in architecture that
which “may generically be was worth considering. He argued:
described as half-way between the
Greek and the Renaissance. It is Of the many broad divisions
essentially a wall architecture, with under which architecture may be
all the compromises necessitated considered, none appear to me
by the transformation of the Greek more significant than that into
orders into decoration” (Wittkower buildings whose interest is in
1988: 41). their walls and those whose
Tectonic into Textile 81

interest is in the lines dividing was not merely one of the various arcades, assumes that of a very
their walls. In the Greek temple elements of the building. It was closely veiled private house, with
the wall is as nothing; the entire synonymous with architecture. door and windows of ordinary
interest is in the detached The wall veil was described as a size … (Ruskin [1903–12] 1996,
columns and the frieze they membranous and elastic element. 10: 275–76)
bear; in French Flamboyant and Ruskin accomplished this through
in our detestable Perpendicular, a play of literary metaphors. In an Ruskin was a proponent of
the object is to get rid of the unpublished draft of the chapter stylistic continuity. He believed
wall surface and keep the eye “Gothic palaces” (Stones II), he that the “germ” of the “Gothic
altogether on tracery of line: argued that the: arrangement is already found in
in Romanesque work and the Byzantine” buildings (Ruskin
Egyptian, the wall is a confessed first conception of any given [1903–12] 1996, 10: 276). This
and honored member and the storey of a house in the passage revealed that the basis
light is often allowed to fall Byzantine mind is that of a for stylistic evolution was an
on large areas of it, variously space enclosed by a wall-veil increasing level of privacy. The
decorated … (Ruskin [1903–12] crowned with a simple cornice interior of Gothic palaces were
1996, 8: 108–9) … The second idea is to cut this completely concealed because
wall-veil into pieces, cornice the wall had fewer and smaller
The exterior surface of Greek and all … and head the intervals openings. The wall was like a veil
temples consisted of shafts. The with arches; the simple cornice between the inside and the outside.
surface of the French Flamboyant remaining wherever the wall-veil In addition, the transformation of
and English Perpendicular Gothic was left and becoming a capital architectural styles did not take
buildings was composed of wherever the wall-veil became place through changes in plan or
flexible tracery bars. In both types a shaft … And in this stage the construction systems. It took place
of architecture, the exterior is whole width of the house is by cutting, contracting, shrinking
composed of linear elements that considered as one arcade with and lifting the wall. This showed
constitute a perforated surface. intervals more or less wide. But that a new language of architecture
However, for Ruskin, the wall was in the third stage the idea of the was invented, which transformed
“wide, bold and unbroken” (Ruskin continuous arcade is lost. The the materiality of the wall. The
[1903–12] 1996, 8: 109). This was groups of its arches contract theory of the wall did not coincide
evidenced in Egyptian temples, themselves only windows; the with its constructive reality. It was
which consist of solid walls incised cornice, as if unable to bear as if the wall was not constructed
with low-relief ornamentation and the contraction, snaps and by builders and masons, through a
Romanesque buildings such as the remains only in fragments at precise and laborious manipulation
Pisa cathedral (1063–1350) that the top of the narrow pilasters. of heavy and rigid materials.
have continuous spans of relieved The windows as they shrink in The pliable nature of the wall
walls that are covered with colored width, shrink in height also, was illustrated in Ruskin’s
bands. This had major implications. draw up their feet, as it were and drawing, the “Pier Base” (Stones I)
Ruskin suggested a new way of instead of falling to the general (Figure 3). This image shows a
studying historical architecture, foundation of the building, schematic diagram of five types
which moved beyond the receive, as we have just seen, of wall construction systems—the
frameworks of style, period and a narrow plinth or still for a solid wall, two sets of pilastered
type. His classificatory system was foundation of their own. At the walls, a row of piers and a row
based entirely on external walls. same time the great arch of the of shafts. However, Ruskin did
In fact, the terms “Gothic” and entrance sinks into a mere door; not regard these wall types as
“Renaissance” were indicative and the building, instead of distinct systems of construction.
of different attitudes to the the appearance of a great court The composition of this image
architectural surface. The wall or public place surrounded by suggested that it was a picture of
82 Anuradha Chatterjee

Figure 3
Pier base (Ruskin 1886, 1: 122).

the developmental stages of the that to “arrange (by invention)

wall veil. Ruskin argued that the the folds of a piece of drapery,
“whole pier was the gathering of or dispose the locks of hair on
the whole wall, the base gathers the head of a statue, requires
into base, the veil into the shaft as much sense and knowledge
and the string courses of the veil of the laws of proportion, as to
gather into these rings” (Ruskin dispose the masses of a cathedral”
[1903–12] 1996, 9: 128). The (Ruskin [1903–12] 1996, 12: 86).
cornice became the capital and the These ideas were illustrated in his
plinth of the wall became the base discussion of a Renaissance and a
for the shaft. In other words, wall, Romanesque wall. Ruskin praised
shafts, piers, pilasters, capitals the Rio façade of the Ducal Palace
and cornices were continuous. It (Figure 4). He claimed:
was as if the entire surface of the
building was constructed out of a Its majesty, indeed, depends
fabric-like material that was easily chiefly on this, that it is a
gathered, cut and stretched. The wall: not a group of regularly
wall was to architecture what cloth designed parts, but one mighty
was to fashion and tailoring. wall, variously pierced and
The three-dimensional form of paneled and its divisions are
the wall evoked the image of the so irregular, so small and so
linear folds in a dress. Ruskin noted multitudinous in proportion
Tectonic into Textile 83

Figure 4
Rio façade, Ducal Palace, Venice, photo
by author.

to its mass, that it is utterly The Rio façade is adorned with of which is either exactly in, or
impossible to contemplate numerous vertical projections. positively out of, its place” (Ruskin
it as divided and very nearly However, instead of fragmenting [1903–12] 1996, 8: 205, emphasis
impossible either to analyze the wall, these elements add in original). In these buildings, the
or describe the method of its interest. Ruskin felt that similar surface is folded like the fabric of
division. The eye is led from qualities were present in the a dress. In addition, the folds of a
one part to another, or rather polychromatic pilastered wall of dress do not follow a predetermined
receives all at once; and it the church of San Giovanni (1119), arithmetic order. Along similar
requires considerable effort to Pistoia, Italy. He found the surface lines, the panelings and pilasters
fix the mind on any separate part of San Giovanni intriguing, because exhibit subtle and unpredictable
of it, or find the key to anything the eye was “thoroughly confused variations, in number as well as in
like an intelligible symmetry and the whole building thrown width. The form of the wall in the
among the perpetual varieties of into one mass, by the curious Rio façade and the church of San
its composition. (Ruskin [19–12] variations in the adjustments of Giovanni evoked the fall of a dress.
1996, 11: 33–34) the superimposed shafts, not one The metaphor of the dress informed
84 Anuradha Chatterjee

not only the massing of the wall veil face of the mountain was like a wall
but also its construction. (Figure 5). It exhibited verticality. It
The adorned wall veil was clearly also had architectural elements like
divided into surface and depth. the cornice and coursed masonry,
This condition was germane to the and it was composed of different
relationship between the dress and types of stone. However, after a
the body. Ruskin found evidence for close observation, Ruskin realized
this in geological formations such as that the rock formation was not only
mountains. In “Wall veil” (Stones I), a wall but also a dressed object. He
Ruskin noted that Mont Cervin in noted that the “mass of loose and
the Alps was not a peak or a tower, slaty shale, of a dull brick-red color,
but a “vast ridged promontory, which yields beneath the foot like
connected at its western root with ashes” covered hard rock beneath
the Dent d’Erin and lifting itself like that was “disposed in thin courses
a rearing horse with its face to the of these cloven shales” (Ruskin
east” (Ruskin [1903–12] 1996, 9: [1903–12] 1996, 9: 87). He argued
86). He observed that the “courses that there were no cliffs, which did
of its varied masonry are seen in not “display alternations between
their successive order, smooth and compact and friable conditions
true as if laid by line and plummet, of their material” (p. 88). In other
but of thickness and strength words, a delicate and decorative
continually varying and with silver outer layer concealed the solid
cornices glittering along the edge inner core. The separation between
of each” (p. 88). In other words, the an inner and an outer layer was the

Figure 5
View of Mont Cervin (Matterhorn) from the east and north east (Ruskin 1996 [1903–12], 6: 284).
Tectonic into Textile 85

fundamental precept of Ruskin’s concealed. The Baptistery of Ruskin accurately noted that
theory of the adorned wall veil. Florence, which is, in reality, as the external wall was independent
The separation between the much a buttressed chapel with of the mechanical parts of
surface and depth in the adorned a vaulted roof, as the Chapter construction and its internal
wall veil was not just physical. It House of York—in order to spatial arrangement. The wall
was also symbolic. In other words, conceal that buttressed structure, was a separate membrane that
the ornamentation of the wall was (not to decorate, observe, but was detached from the actual
disconnected from its construction. to conceal ) a flat external wall is building, enclosing, concealing
Ruskin explored this idea in relation raised; simplifying the whole to and simplifying its bulky structural
to the Romanesque building, a mere hexagonal box … surface aspects. He compared the wall to
Baptistery of St John (1059–1128), of which the eye and intellect are a “Harlequin’s jacket.” This was
Florence (Figure 6). He called it to be interested by the relations an appropriate metaphor, because
the “central building of European of dimension and curve between the colorful diaper patterned
Christianity” (Ruskin [1903–12] pieces of encrusting marble of fabric that was used for making
1996, 23: 298). In Lecture I, “Of different colors, which have no the harlequin’s jacket made no
the division of arts” (1870), Ruskin more to do with the real make of reference to the form of body.
declared: the building than the diaper of a Along similar lines, the arches,
Harlequin’s jacket has to do with shafts, bays and floor levels
The first building I shall give his bones … (Ruskin [1903–12] delineated using colored marble
you as a standard will be one 1996, 20: 217, emphasis in were illusions. They did not explain
in which the structure is wholly original) the actual disposition of space or

Figure 6
Baptistery of St John (1059–1128),
Florence, Alinari Archives, Florence.
86 Anuradha Chatterjee

structure inside the building.20 repeatable decorative units—

Ruskin regarded the building’s instead of clustering together into
exterior as a pictorial surface. conspicuous forms—would fuse
He called it “one piece of large and link together to form a flat, thin
engraving. White substance, cut and flexible membrane. It would be
into and filled with black and dark like a film that would spread over
green” (Ruskin [1903–12] 1996, 23: a substantial area without losing
344). His drawing of the Baptistery its form. The three-dimensional
depicted a cropped view of one quality of ornament was diminished
of the bays. It suggested that the and the distinction between figure
composition of the external wall and ground, ornament and surface
could be appreciated as if it was an was dissolved. The ornament was
independently executed art object. flattened and it became identical
The ornamentation of the wall veil with the cladding.
was arbitrary and it did not perform The ornament had to be
any function. It represented an organized according to the logic
alternate reality, something other of the weave. This is illustrated in
than materiality, fact and utility. Ruskin’s drawing and discussion
The analogy between wall and of a sculptured bracket from the
dress also informed the design Lyons cathedral.21 In the drawing,
of the surface ornament. Ruskin the bracket is not simply filled with
proposed a literal analogy between naturalistic ornament; the foliage
surface ornament and the pattern is flattened as well as contained
and texture of textiles. In Modern within a two-dimensional frame.
Painters I, he argued “that which Ruskin felt that there was a feeling
makes drapery be drapery, is not its of cohesion in this ornament.
being made of silk, or worsted, or He noted: “You will observe how
flax, for things are made of all these beautifully that figure is thus
which are not drapery, but the ideas pointed to by the spray of rose and
peculiar to drapery” (Ruskin [1903– how all the leaves around it in the
12] 1996, 3: 151). He added that the same manner are subservient to the
“properties which, when inherent grace of its action. Look, if I hide
in a thing, make it drapery, are one line, or one rosebud, how the
extension, non-elastic flexibility, whole is injured” (Ruskin [1903–12]
unity and comparative thinness. 1996, 12: 60). By examining the
Everything which has these drawing, it becomes clear that
properties, a waterfall, for instance, the sense of cohesion present in
if united and extended, or a net of the arrangement of the foliage
weeds over a wall, is drapery, as is not accidental. The foliage is
much as silk or woolen stuff is” interlaced and entangled. A leafy
(p. 151). In other words, drapery was branch from one of the sides of the
a metaphor that could be applied quatrefoil enters one of the foils,
to objects that were not actually loops around and emerges on to
woven. This laid the foundation the other side, suggesting that all
for a new type of ornament that parts are knitted together. Because
could challenge the use of attached of this woven quality, nothing could
architectural ornamentation. In be added or subtracted without
the new approach to ornament, disrupting the whole.
Tectonic into Textile 87

The idea of the weave informed than that which we receive from expressed as a dressed surface. In
not only low-relief ornamentation the fine meshes of the robe, “The eagles nest” (1872), he asked
but also pierced ornament. Ruskin the braiding of the hair and readers to:
was referring to surfaces perforated the various glittering of the
observe that what is true
with foliations (Verona, Padua and linked net or wreathed chain …
respecting these simple forms
Lisieux, illustrated in Figures 1 and Byzantine ornamentation, like
of drapery is true of all other
2), inlaid ornament and marble that of almost all nations in a
inorganic form. It must become
screens in Islamic buildings. He state of progress, is full of this
organic under the artist’s hand
argued that the architect can kind of work: but it occurs most
by his invention. As there must
“without danger, leave a hollow conspicuously, though most
not be a fold in a vestment too
behind his covering slabs, or use simply, in the minute traceries
few or too many, there must not,
them, like glass, to fill an aperture which surround their most solid
in noble landscape, be a fold in a
in the wall, he can, by piercing capitals. (Ruskin [1903–12]
mountain, too few or too many …
them with holes” (Ruskin [1903–12] 1996, 10: 163–64)22
in Turner’s “Valley of Chamouni”
1996, 10: 108–9). However, the
the mountains have not a fold
solid masses that were left over According to Ruskin, surface
too much, nor too little … (Ruskin
after the deduction of the voids ornament should evoke the images
[1903–12] 1996, 22: 219)
tended to look “scattered and of linking, braiding, weaving
spotty” (p. 163). Therefore, he and entangling. An appropriate Ruskin was referring to an
suggested that such surfaces were demonstration is the capitals on engraving by J.M.W. Turner
best treated, when: the western porch of the church (1775–1851), titled “Mer de Glace,
of St. Mark’s basilica in Venice Valley of Chamouni, Savoy,” 1812.
intermediate spaces were (Figure 7). Ruskin liked these The ridges and valleys in the
carved into the semblance capitals because the stone netting mountains were compared to the
of interwoven fillets, which covered a solid form within. These folds in a drapery. Along similar
alternately sank beneath and capitals were a reflection of the lines, he claimed that, in the
rose above each other as they adorned wall veil – a weaker, glaciers, the form of the snow had
met. This system of braided decorative and woven membrane been “modified by the under forms
or woven ornament was not covering a solid mass. The idea of the hill in some sort as dress
confined to the Arabs; it is of the weave is also evidenced in is by the anatomy of the human
universally pleasing to the Gothic buildings in Venice, such as frame” (Ruskin [1903–12] 1996, 3:
instinct of mankind … the more in Ca’ d’Oro (1428–30), a Venetian 447). He argued that, by the “little
profound reason lies in the palace on the Grand Canal (Figure twigs the most important fabric on
innate love of mystery and unity; 8). The marble veneer on the façade the face of the earth was woven”
in the joy that the human mind is extended horizontally, giving rise (Ruskin [1903–12] 1996, 7: 467). He
has in contemplating any kind to the traceries. The individual bars also claimed that the “leaves of the
of maze or entanglement, so of the tracery intermingle to form forest are ceaseless toilers; all their
long as it can discern, through a marble mesh that is stretched existence long they are spinners
its confusion, any guiding clue across the front of the upper and and weavers and miners; and the
or connecting plan … we are lower balconies. This creates timber of our largest trees displays
never tired of contemplating a surface that is perforated yet the warp and woof of the multiple
this woven involution; and that, united. The emphasis on weaving threads” (p. 467).23 In essence,
in some degree, the sublime was an outcome of Ruskin’s study Ruskin believed that nature
pleasure which we have in of nature. consisted solely of woven surfaces.
watching the branches of trees, He applied Carlyle’s philosophy This outlook had a religious
the intertwining of the grass of clothes to the study of the undertone. Ruskin praised the
and the tracery of the higher natural world and he felt that divine “preparation of the earth for
clouds, is owing to it, not less the inner vitality of nature was him (human being), with beautiful
88 Anuradha Chatterjee

Figure 7
Capital, Western porch, St. Mark’s
Basilica (1063), Venice. Photo by author.

means of life. First, a carpet to dressed natural forms. As the act

make it soft for him; then, a colored of creating was synonymous with
fantasy of embroidery thereon; dressing, masons and builders
then, tall spreading of foliage to mimicked the divine work in
shade him from sun heat” (Ruskin architecture. They created textile
[1903–12] 1996, 7: 15). He converted and fabric analogies in stone.
elements of the landscape into The relation between dress
woven and matted objects. As a and architecture was reinforced
result, the field of green grass by employing a contentious
was like a carpet, flowers were historiographical methodology.
the embroidery on this carpet, Ruskin argued that the:
and the interlaced branches of the
trees were the canopy. The divine Gothic builders were no longer
creation of earth as a habitable satisfied with the faint and
space for human beings was delicate hues of the veined
possible because of the creation of marble; they wished for some
Tectonic into Textile 89

Figure 8
Ca’ d’Oro (Palazzo Santa Sofia), Grand
Canal, Venice. Photo by author.

more forcible and piquant mode simple early medieval costume his belief that architecture was a
of decoration, corresponding developed into a vividly colored reflection of the human body. Ruskin
more completely with the and embroidered style of clothing had a radically different approach
gradually advancing splendor of in the thirteenth and the fourteenth toward the human body. Compared
chivalric costume and heraldic centuries. Along similar lines, the with classical theorists or Gothic
device … while, as we have veined marble veneer of Byzantine revivalists such as Viollet-le-Duc,
seen, a peculiar simplicity is buildings gave way to Gothic who had high regard for the physical
found also in the forms of the walls that were decorated with body, Ruskin’s model of the body
architecture, corresponding to “chequers of very warm color, a was based on Carlyle’s philosophy
that of the folds of the robes, russet inclining to scarlet more of clothes. According to Carlyle, the
its colors were constantly or less relieved with white, black soul was more important than the
increasing in brilliancy and and grey” (Ruskin [1903–12] 1996, body and it could be expressed only
decision, corresponding to those 11: 27). By constructing a single through clothing: without clothing,
of the quartering of the shield history for dress and architecture, the body was meaningless. This
and of the embroidery of the Ruskin naturalized the idea that gave rise to the moral triad of the
mantle. (Ruskin [1903–12] 1996, the building was a dressed body. body, soul and clothes. Ruskin
11: 23, emphasis in original) The adorned wall veil was an all- extended this theory to architecture.
encompassing theory that informed He believed that the masonry
The first assumption was that all aspects of the wall design. structure and the space within
there was continuity between the building was the body. The
different architectural styles. New Conclusion decorative layer that concealed and
styles of architecture evolved This paper has analyzed Ruskin’s covered the masonry structure was
as a result of the improvements writings on architecture to like clothing, which expressed the
made to the surface decoration understand the implications of his soul of architecture.
of an older style. The second emphasis on surface ornament. In In the second section, the
assumption was that the evolution the first section, it demonstrated paper argued that the moral triad
of architecture took place in that Ruskin’s interest in the surface of the body, soul and clothes
tandem with the changes in dress was not because he was not trained encouraged Ruskin to generate the
style. Ruskin argued that the as an architect. It was because of theory of the adorned wall veil. It
90 Anuradha Chatterjee

revealed the complex theoretical, of body and dress, he put forward

formal and historiographical an all-encompassing theory of
processes through which Ruskin architecture, in which the design
justified his argument that the of the minor ornament to the
exterior surface of architecture was massing of the wall could be
analogous to dress and textile. considered analogous to dress.
First, he suggested that the wall Most importantly, Ruskin’s
was not only the building block but theory had a moral foundation;
also the essence of architecture. the belief that the soul was more
Second, through the play of literary important than the body and that
metaphors of cutting, lifting, it attained autonomous expression
shrinking and gathering, Ruskin through clothing allowed a subtle
converted the tectonic language questioning of the ontological
of architecture into a language identity of architecture.
of tailoring and upholstering. The first assumption to be
Third, Ruskin suggested that the challenged was that architecture
ornamental cladding was a plane was defined by interior space,
positioned parallel to and outside structure and function. In Seven
the structural system. The physical Lamps, Ruskin distinguished
and symbolic separation between between building and architecture.
construction and decoration was He explained that to build was
evocative of the relation between to “put together and adjust the
body and dress. Fourth, Ruskin several pieces of any edifice or
rejected attached and sculptural receptacle of a considerable size”
ornamentation out. Instead, (Ruskin [1903–12] 1996, 8: 27).
he privileged pierced screens, In other words, building was a
traceried openings, inlaid surfaces spatial and mechanically stable
and flattened low-relief ornament, object. However, Ruskin argued
because they evoked images of that “mere utility and constructive
linking, braiding and entanglement. merit” did not make it architecture
Finally, Ruskin constructed parallel (Ruskin [1903–12] 1996, 12: 84).
histories of architecture and He admitted that architecture was
dress. He made the “evolution” of the addition of the “unnecessary
architectural styles correspond to feature” or the “useless” element
the changes taking place in dress to building. In other words, the
styles. additional and the superficial was
The theory of the adorned wall architecture.
veil addresses a gap in the history Even though the emphasis
of architecture and dress. It shows on exterior and aesthetic
that Semper’s writings were not qualities of buildings suggests
the sole origin of these debates. an art historical framework
Through an original interpretation for architectural criticism, the
of historical buildings, Ruskin evasion of discussions of space
proposed a parallel theory of and structure was deliberate.
equal relevance. It progressed John Unrau argues that Ruskin
beyond the suggestion that had a well-developed spatial
architectural decoration had consciousness. This was
textile origins. Using the analogy evidenced in Ruskin’s drawing
Tectonic into Textile 91

of the interior of San Frediano, production (structure and material).   2. Charles H. Moore claimed
Lucca; passionate descriptions of Ruskin’s emphasis on the atectonic that Ruskin’s “apprehensions
cathedral interiors in The Bible of surface emerged out of the belief were not grounded in a proper
Amiens (1880–85); and diagrams that clothing was an expression of sense of structure and he had
and descriptions of vaulting in the soul, which was not influenced no practical acquaintance with
French medieval buildings in by the body. It was a direct and the art of building” (1924:
his numerous notebooks (Unrau autonomous expression of the soul. 117). This opinion is echoed by
1978). Paul Hatton suggests that, This article concludes that Ruskin’s Paul Frankl in his authoritative
in “Ruskin’s case, awareness and theory of the adorned wall veil was publication The Gothic: Literary
interest must not be confused” a response to the prevalent ideas Sources and Interpretations
(Hatton 1992: 129). This paper in architecture. It proposed a new through Eight Centuries (1960).
argues that the emphasis on direction for architectural theory Frankl claimed that Ruskin’s
the surface was an outcome of and practice. interest was always fixed on
his belief that clothing was the the two-dimensional aspects,
essence of the human figure, on the manner in which
because it expressed the most Notes ornament contributed to the
important aspect of the human   1. In the nineteenth century, perception of the surface as
being—the soul. Therefore, for one of the well-known an “integral whole” and that
Ruskin, the wall and its decorative commentators on Ruskin was he did not really understand
veneer were no longer merely Samuel Higgins, who argued important advancements in
elements of architecture. It was in 1853 that architecture architecture, because he did
the new essence or the substance is the “art of the beautiful not adequately visualize or
of architecture. For the first manifested in structure, of understand three-dimensional
time, architecture was equated which, by its very nature, as a interiors (1960: 560–61).
exclusively with visual affect.24 structural art, form must be the   3. Garrigan explained that
The second assumption to be dominant principle.” Higgins Ruskin was interested not
challenged was that architectural claimed that a “building in just in walls but in their
ornament should be tectonic, i.e. which construction is made planarity. She claimed that
expressive of space, function or subservient to and whose he viewed a “building as a
structure. This was a prevalent idea chief glory is color, whether series of planes,” that “may
in nineteenth-century architectural obtained by painting the be undecorated, beautiful
theory.25 Ruskin’s theory of the surface, or by incrustation with in themselves because of
adorned wall veil emphasized precious and colored material, the lovely patterns inherent
the atectonic surface. Ornament cannot be architecture at all, in in their materials” (1973:
evoked extra-architectural the proper sense of the word” 42). This explains Ruskin’s
images such as folds, weaves and (Higgins 1853: 722–24, 743–44). admiration for Italian Gothic
fabrics. As a result, it denied its His opinion was supported and ambivalence towards
constructed nature. In addition, by an anonymous reviewer Northern Gothic cathedrals.
it followed its own logic, such in 1853, who claimed that by Garrigan perceptively notes
as flatness, knitted and woven focusing on the ornament that, because of their strong
quality and extension. Ornament rather than structure, Ruskin classical heritage, the Gothic
had no decorative function. It did made the “same mistake as it buildings in Italy demonstrated
not address the spatial layout, would be to describe the coat “volumetric clarity and serene
fenestrations or structure. In instead of the man, sometimes resolution of horizontal and
other words, representation not even the coat, but the vertical elements” (p. 36).
(the form and symbolic content buttons and braid which cover These structures were simple
of the decoration) was always it” (Anonymous 1853: 467, and logical. Their bounding
unmistakably disengaged from 514–15, 602–4). walls were planar and solid
92 Anuradha Chatterjee

and covered by a thin film conceivable road is through

of mosaic or marble. Italian the outward; that, in short,
Gothic did not possess the what cannot be investigated
intricate sculptural quality and understood mechanically,
or the interpenetrative cannot be investigated and
volumes of the Northern understood at all” (Carlyle
Gothic cathedrals. Instead 2004 [1829/1858]: 105).
of dissolving the walls,   8. For a discussion of Carlyle’s
these buildings affirmed the philosophy of clothes, see
falseness and flatness of the Keenan (2001: 1–50) and
exterior (p. 36). Carter (2003: 1–17).
  4. The Vitruvian man was first   9. Original emphasis on the word
drawn by Leonardo da Vinci transparent has been removed.
in 1490. It was included in 10. For an account of the friendship
Fra Giovanni Giocondo’s between Ruskin and Carlyle,
1511 edition of Vitruvius’s see Kegel (1964: 219–29) and
De architectura (see Geddes Wheeler (1993–94: 2–13).
2004). The Italian translation 11. This was evidenced in the
of De architectura by Cesare Filarete’s statement: “As
Cesariano, Di lucio Vitruvio men should be dressed and
pollione de architectura (1521), adorned according to their
also featured the Vitruvian dignity, so ought building.”
man (see Francesco 2004). This quotation is from Filarete,
  5. Bressani explains that Treatise of Architecture,
Viollet-le-Duc was well translated by J.R. Spencer
acquainted with the (Yale University Press, p. 84),
anatomical work of Bourgery. quoted in Forty (1989: 10).
In addition, Bourgery shared Along similar lines, Inigo Jones
with Viollet-le-Duc the passion claimed: “In all invencions
for Gothic. The quoted passage of Caprecious ornaments, on
is from Étienne Delécluze, must first designe the Ground,
“Variétés Traité complet de or ye thing plaine, as it is for
l’anatomie de l’homme …”, youse and on that varry yt,
Journal des débats politiques addorne yt, compose yt with
et littéraires, 15, November Decorum according to the
1834, quoted in Bressani youse and the order yt is of.”
(2003: 126). This meant that buildings are
  6. For Ruskin’s criticism of built plain and then dressed
Vitruvian thought, see Ruskin with ornament appropriate to
(1996 [1903–12], 11: 119). the status of the building and
  7. Carlyle claimed that “an its occupant (see Anderson
inward persuasion has long 1997: 50).
been diffusing itself and 12. According to Forty, the concept
now and then even comes to of decorum faded due to
utterance, that, except the the “abandonment of social
external, there are no true distinctions in dress,” which
sciences; that to the inward “rendered this meaning
world (if there be any) our only of the metaphor useless”
Tectonic into Textile 93

(1989: 10). Hill and Kohane (2000–4), a public pavilion in form of the building than a
suggest other reasons for the Son en Breugel, Netherlands, piece of lace veil would have,
disappearance of this concept. which shows that a structurally suspended beside its gates
Between seventeenth and stable form was developed on a festal day” (Ruskin 1996
eighteenth century, decorum by bundling, weaving, [1903–12], 20: 216).
was isolated and codified. It interlacing, braiding and 21. Ruskin explains that the Lyons
was not a pervasive quality knotting soft members cathedral exterior had niches
of good architecture. In (tensile steel elements) (see that are filled in with statues.
addition, Roland Fréart and Tramontin 2006: 53). For a The pedestals that support
Claude Perrault questioned discussion of the connection these statues are held up by
the connection between between Semper and current “flat-bottomed brackets of
architectural orders and architectural practice, see stone, projecting from the
the universal order. In the Hartoonian (2002 and 2006) wall,” about a “foot and a half
nineteenth century, ornament and Quinn (2006). square” in dimension. These
was increasingly perceived as 15. The full title of the book is brackets are shaped as a
an aesthetic element, which Dictionnaire raisonné du quatrefoil. Four small figures
gave the building a pleasing mobilier français de l’époque are placed in each foil, with
appearance by reiterating its carolingienne à la renaissance two large ones in the center.
hidden structure (2001: 2). (1858–75) and it comprised six Ruskin wrote that he had time
13. See Bergdoll (2000). volumes. enough to make a “drawing
14. Semper’s theories were 16. This is quoted in Forty (1989: of one of the angles of these
interpreted variously by 10). pedestals; that sketch I have
modern architects. On the 17. The term wall veil has been enlarged, in order that you
one hand, Otto Wagner discussed by Brooks (1989: may have some idea of the
(1841–1918), Joseph Hoffman 88) and Van Zanten (1977: 50). character of the sculpture”
(1870–1956) and Max Fabiani 18. For a discussion of the wall (Ruskin 1996 [1903–12], 12:
converted the surfaces of their veil, see Ruskin (1996 [1903– 59–60).
buildings into flat pictorial 12], 9: 79–81). 22. In a lecture titled, ‘The
surfaces (see Leatherbarrow 19. For a discussion of Alberti’s influence of imagination in
and Mostafavi 2002: 80–91). theory of the wall and column, architecture’ (1857), Ruskin
On the other hand, Adolf see Hartoonian (1989: 45), noted the significance of
Loos (1870–1933) argued that Sicca (1990: 90) and Wittkower weaving. He argued that as
the white plaster coat on the (1988: 41–56). “there is nothing in life, so
exterior wall was the simple 20. Ruskin explains this point there is nothing in lifelessness
and unornamented clothing in relation to the church San which has not its lesson for
of modern man (see Wigley Zenone, Verona. He claims you, or its gift; and when
1993). Semper’s illustrations that the “pleasantness of you are tired of watching the
of knotting, weaving and the surface decoration is strength of the plume and the
braiding in “primitive” cultures independent of structure; that tenderness of the leaf, you
have been revived in current is to say, of any architectural may walk down to your rough
practice. Lars Spuybroek of requirement of stability. river-shore, or into the thickest
NOX architects claims that The greater part of the markets of your thoroughfares;
their design philosophy sculpture here is exclusively and there is not a piece of torn
“radically updates and goes ornamentation of a flat wall, or cable that will not twine into a
beyond Semper,” such that of door-panelling; only a small perfect molding; there is not a
the “textile” becomes the portion of the church front is fragment of castaway matting,
“tectonic.” This is evidenced in thus treated and the sculpture or shattered basket-work, that
the design of Son-O-House has no more to do with the will not work into a chequer or
94 Anuradha Chatterjee

a capital” (Ruskin 1996 [1903– Australian practices like Lyons,

12], 16: 366–67). He admitted Dale Jones Evans and Ashton
to his “love of all sorts of Raggatt McDougall. The main
filigree and embroidery, from publications in this topic are
hoarfrost to the high clouds. Leatherbarrow and Mostafavi
The intricacies of virgin silver, (2002), Benjamin (2006:
of arborescent gold, the 1–34), Taylor (2003) and Hodge
weaving of birds’-nests, the and Mark (2006).
netting of lace, the basket 25. The theory of tectonic
capitals of Byzantium” (Ruskin ornament has been articulated
1996 [1903–12], 35: 157). by a number of theorists.
23. For more references to nature One of the key thinkers on
and dressing, see Ruskin this topic was Karl Bötticher
(1996 [1903–12], 1: 284); (1806–89). Bötticher’s theory
(1996 [1903–12], 3: 425); (1996 of architecture was outlined
[1903–12], 3: 592) and (1996 in “The Development of the
[1903–12], 7: 13–19). Forms of Greek Tectonic”
24. The adorned wall veil appears (1840); The Tectonic of the
to be a precursor to the current Greeks (1844, 1852); and “The
theory of surface architecture. Principle of Greek and German
The past decade or so has seen Building Methods” (1846) (see
the re-emergence of surface Schwarzer 1993: 268). For
as a legitimate theoretical Bötticher, the “space enclosed
and artefactual entity in by a building determines
architectural theory and its particular technology of
practice. Architectural surface roofing; the roof mandates
is not merely considered as constructive requirements
the façade of a building. It is from which a structural
viewed as having not only a skeleton then emerges;
representational role but also finally, the entire system
as being capable of generating of constructive members
space and in some cases the forms the basis for artistic
architectural program. The enterprise” (Schmarsow
emphasis on the surface is and Schwarzer 1991: 52).
a critique of the modernist The tectonic ornament was
architectural thought, which an integration of space,
has up until now privileged function and construction of
space and function. This “turn” the building. A.W.N. Pugin
in architectural discourse is (1812–52) was writing around
due to the emergence of digital the same time. In The True
technologies, as well as a Principles of Pointed or
re-engagement with parallel Christian Architecture (1841),
practices such as fashion. Pugin delineated two major
Architectural practices that rules for the appropriate
merit attention are Systems relation between ornament
Architects, Surface Architects, and structure. He claimed:
Frank Gehry and Herzog “First, that there should be
and de Meuron, as well as no features of a building
Tectonic into Textile 95

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