'Ruskin and the Art of Relations' to be Art History Department's Dickson Lecture

August 30, 2018

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — The Penn State Department of Art History will host an upcoming Dickson Memorial Lecture, "Ruskin and the Art of Relations” by Jeremy Melius, assistant professor of art history at Tufts University, at 5 p.m. on Sept. 20 in 112 Borland Building on the University Park campus.

Melius wrote this about "Ruskin and the Art of Relations":

"When the great Victorian critic John Ruskin published the fifth and final volume of Modern Painters in 1860, he offered a conclusion of sorts, but also broke new ground. 'Modern Painters V' offers some of Ruskin’s most searching treatments of individual paintings as well as his most sustained theorizations of pictorial composition, gathered together under the rubric “Of Ideas of Relation.

"This lecture seeks to reconsider Ruskin’s account of relations, “natural” as well as social. On the one hand, it investigates the extended allegory of composition and social comportment offered in Ruskin’s analysis of plant growth in 'Modern Painters V' – the relational system of leaf acting upon leaf, branch upon branch, tree upon tree – pursued with almost hallucinatory slowness in 'Of Leaf Beauty,' the volume’s first section. On the other, the paper examines the relational structures Ruskin draws out of high Renaissance Venetian art as complementary to this ‘moral history’ of trees, focusing especially on his description of the enmeshed composition of Veronese’s Adoration of the Virgin by the Cuccina Family (1571) in Dresden.

"For this and other paintings, Ruskin attempted to forge a descriptive language that could trace the distribution of compositional links in all their promiscuity, extending from the Virgin down to the family dog along one great 'chain of lowering feeling.' Following those links allows us to bring into focus the radical nature of Ruskin’s search for an ecology of pictorial structure, one staged in his descriptions less as a system of fixed bonds than an atmosphere of potential affinities — an elastic relationality, if you like, to which pictures might give provisional form."


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Last Updated August 31, 2018