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Durham University

Institute of Advanced Study

Past Events

Venice Public Lecture - The Lamp of Memory: Ruskin and Venice

8th February 2010, 18:15 to 19:30, Room 201, Elvet Riverside, Professor Dinah Birch

This is the sixth Venice Public Lecture.

Ruskin's long relationship with Venice had an exceptional personal intensity, but it also carried far-reaching material and political consequences for his readers. It was in thinking about the canals and palaces of Venice that Ruskin formulated his many of his ideas about architecture, about the vitality of labour, about the work of the imagination, and about the uses of history.

This lecture singles out a very particular aspect of Ruskin's understanding of the city - its relations with changing concepts of memory, in their broadest literary and cultural definitions. The history of Venice, public and personal, was for Ruskin an emblem both of the memory of Europe and his own memory, and of the practical meaning of what is remembered. Ruskin's writing on Venice turns on a difficult balance between public activity and a private, elegiac and Romantic understanding of how the past continues to act on the present. Distancing himself from his early idealisations of Venice, derived from Byron and Turner, Ruskin constructs a darker and more demanding account of the city's past. Venice's fall from greatness serves as a warning, and it is to warn his English readers that they might follow Venice into decline that Ruskin wrote The Stones of Venice (1851-3). Later, Ruskin's own troubled life became part of that warning. But his story of the Venetian republic, and of the Gothic values that he identified at its heart, remained a powerful ideal - ‘simple, valiant, actual, beneficent, magnificent.' Ruskin's complex readings of Venice have become part of the history of European imagination.

This lecture series focuses on the city's representation in painting, music and literature since 1800. The period is one in which Venice's trading heyday had long since vanished; a byword for lost liberty under Austrian rule, it becomes the subject of elegiac broodings on fallen greatness, but also a place in which masqued revelry, carnival, licence, and dissolutions of normal perspectives still abide as possibilities. In the period, Venice becomes a playground for the imagination, but one in which the playful and the serious, aesthetics and history, entwine.

For more information about this series please visit:

All lectures are free and open to all to attend.

Contact m.s.o';; for more information about this event.