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Bowing before Ruskin at Santa Croce 04/12/2010

Posted by florencecapital in Uncategorized.
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c. 1910

These remind those of us who read Ruskin of a certain passage in his Mornings in Florence, concerning one particular fourteenth-century tomb, greatly admired by him, appreciation of which he insists upon as being an infallible test of the intelligence and taste of the modern traveller. Stroll into Santa Croce some spring morning, and you may witness the not unusual spectacle of a group of Anglo-Saxon tourists gathered about the effigy of old Galileo Galilei, an ancestor of the famous astronomer, examining it with eager interest, and turning from time to time to the text-book in their hands. This is the passage they are studying: ‘’If you can see that the lines of that cap are both right and lovely, that the choice of the folds is exquisite in its ornamental relations of line, and that the softness and ease of them is complete, though only sketched with a few dark touches, then you can understand Giotto’s drawings and Botticelli’s, Donatello’s carving and Luca’s. But if you see nothing in this sculpture, you will see nothing in theirs, of theirs. Where they chose to imitate flesh, or silk, or to play any vulgar, modern trick with marble (and they often do) – whatever, in a word, is French, or American, or Cockney in their work, you can see, but what is Florentine and for ever great – unless you can see also the beauty of this old man in his citizen’s cap – you will never see.’ Poor tourists! What a rock to make shipwreck on! Little did the pious Galilei think, when he caused this stone to be carved for his father, that hordes of barbarians from those mysterious lands over the seas, of which, perchance, he had heard from some adventurous traveller, would come in later times to gaze at that sculptured effigy, with no murmured prayer for the repose of the soul of the learned doctor, but with the desperate intention of applying Ruskin’s test to their own inexperienced souls, as a guide among the shoals and shallows of Florentine Art.

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