John Ruskin: leading art critic of the Victorian era, famous for his volume of essays “Modern Painters” and his endorsement of Turner and the Pre-Raphaelites. Art historian Paul O’Keeffe delivers four of Ruskin’s Edinburgh lectures in his likeness, discussing architecture, Turner, Landscape paintings, and the Pre-Raphaelites.
O’Keeffe provides an excellent rendition of Ruskin’s classic lectures, which are still illuminating to today’s audiences and accessible as well as captivating.
The performance I attended was the lecture on architecture. O’Keeffe achieves a stunning resemblance to Ruskin, with his sideburns, Victorian dress and exceedingly clear and emphatic enunciations. His delivery brings to life Ruskin’s text with his impassioned, often provocative tone. In his lecture on the contexts of Edinburgh’s architecture, Ruskin gives an enlightening exposition on what he considers to be the two staple principles of architecture - the roofing of a building, and the steep gable. O’Keeffe helpfully accompanies the lecture with clear illustration.
Ruskin’s aesthetic ideals underly the lecture. He emphasises the importance of pleasure in art, declaring that “there is no art that is independent of pleasing”. He points out that even words that describe certain architectural parts - “spire”, “turret”, “tower”, “pinnacle” - are themselves pleasing to the ear and are an index for what’s delightful and pleasing to the eye. It also becomes clear what an important role Ruskin played as an arts educator. Often addressing the audience directly, in a confrontational manner, he urges us to cultivate a taste for art, an appreciation of beauty in the every day. All good architecture, he claims, comes not from the public, but from the private and domestic. He urges us to carry out the roofing of our own homes and spaces in an interesting, beautiful way.
Ruskin’s text is in many ways of its time. In the lecture he often - as is characteristic of much of his writings - calls on a deity to justify beauty. The Gothic pointed arch is beautiful because it resembles a leaf and objects in nature demonstrate what God has ordained as the most perfect forms. There are also parts of the lecture which point out things to us that now seem obvious and sometimes simplistic. But, O’Keeffe provides an excellent rendition of Ruskin’s classic lectures, which are still illuminating to today’s audiences and accessible as well as captivating.