From dead-end to gateway: (re)locating Rome on Ruskin’s map of Europe

WEDNESDAY 30 OCTOBER 18.00-19.30

Jeanne Clegg (Ca’ Foscari)


‘The city on the whole better than I expected, but that is not saying much.’

The first impression of Rome noted in his diary by the 21-year-old, sick and love-sick John Ruskin on 29 November 1840 did not bode well for the six weeks spent here over Christmas and the New Year. As his diaries and drawing show, he was to find more beauty and interest in the city than he had hoped for, but as with most of this long family tour across France and Switzerland, down through Italy to the Amafli coast and back up north via Venice, it was Proutesque picturesque landscape and Turnerian light and colour that absorbed him and determined the high points on his first map of Europe. The 1845 journey was to change all that, and re-direct the course of Modern Painters towards the painting and the architectural decoration of Byzantine, medieval and renaissance Italy, not in a Roman context. It was not until 1871, 31 years after his first visit, that Ruskin returned, to what had just become the capital, and ‘discovered’ the frescoes of Botticelli, Perugino and Signorelli in the Vatican and Sistine Chapel. In 1874 he was to return to make some of his most wonderful ‘copies’, and lay the groundwork for his reading in the Oxford lectures and in Fors Clavigera of the Catholic ‘Reformation’. Rome, though perhaps not the Rome we think of, thus serves as a gateway to a new cultural map of Europe.

Jeanne Clegg was born in Cornwall and studied at the Universities of Bristol (B.A.), York, Canada (M.A.) and Oxford (D. Phil.). She has published extensively on John Ruskin, especially on his  Venetian work, and organized exhibitions in England for the Arts Council of Great Britain, and in London and Lucca for the Guild of St George. She still maintains an interest in Ruskin but her main field of research now is in the cultural history of eighteenth-century England. She has published on fictional and non-fictional representations of the Glorious Revolution, and of law enforcement in Early Modern London; she is at present in the throes of completing a book on Defoe’s Moll Flanders and Colonel Jack entitled Catching Thieves: Defoe’s Stories of Law Enforcement. Jeanne Clegg taught at the Universities of Calabria, Pisa and L’Aquila and was Professor of English Literature at the University of Ca’ Foscari, Venice, from 2010 until retiring in 2016.