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Here the Great Flaw in the Man: A Prolegomena to Ruskin’s Marginalia in Viollet-le-Duc’s Dictionnaire raisonné de l'architecture française du XIe au XVIe siècle for Contemporary Historic Preservation

Kennedy, Travis

John Ruskin (1819-1900) and Eugène Emmanuel Viollet-le-Duc (1814-1879) are pioneers of the modern Historic Preservation movement. For at least a century, scholars have been trained to view the respective approaches to working with historic buildings of both thinkers with polarity, casting Ruskin and Viollet-le-Duc as diametrically opposed in their attitudes towards restoration. Original, primary-source research on Ruskin’s marginalia within his copy of Viollet-le-Duc’s Dictionnaire raisonné de l'architecture française du XIe au XVIe siècle conducted during the summer of 2017 at The Ruskin Library and Research Centre at Lancaster University demonstrates that Ruskin engaged deeply with Viollet-le-Duc’s work, relying on it as both a practical field resource and an authoritative scholarly work—leaving nearly a thousand private notes, marks, and musings in the margins of its pages. In one place, within Viollet-le-Duc’s section on sculpture, Ruskin scrawls, across two pages, as if in a scream “Here the great flaw in the man!” and he circles a large section of text. In this particular section of the text, Viollet-le-Duc is discussing how unlikely it is that the bourgeoisie of medieval Europe gave up their own self-interest for sufficiently extended periods of time and in a sufficient number of cases to erect the great cathedrals, citing the very geometry of the buildings as evidence that there was a professional force behind their construction. This flies in the face of Ruskin’s theory of the “lamp of sacrifice,” and here we have Ruskin, in his own hand, identifying explicitly that here, this is his problem with Viollet-le-Duc. The prevailing understanding, since the rise of William Morris’ “Antiscrape” movement, is that the two men equivocate on the lamps of Truth and Memory (e.g. the problematics related to idealized restorations), not on the lamp of Sacrifice (e.g. the spirit in which gothic architecture was constructed). Elsewhere, Ruskin makes editorial comments ranging from “base” and “vile!” to “admirable!” and “Glorious!”, a range that demonstrates not so much a categorical rejection but a conflicted simultaneity of admiration and critique on Ruskin’s part. This revelation demanded a close, critical reappraisal of the dynamic between Ruskin and Viollet-le-Duc because it shows that scholars have long been missing a critical element of Ruskin’s thought. This thesis takes up the mantle of that reappraisal, being both a response to Ruskin’s marginalia and a prolegomena to the larger project of understanding its comprehensive significance to Historic Preservation, one that seeks to first understand Ruskin and Viollet-le-Duc in their own words and then identify the origin of the now-prevailing notion of polarity and trace its diffusion into contemporary scholarship before analyzing the significance of Ruskin’s identification of the “great flaw” in Viollet-le-Duc. Ruskin’s marginalia demonstrates that the prevailing notion of polarity is an oversimplification of a dynamic that is, in truth, characterized by a rich and lovely complication. This thesis prepares the academic community to embrace that complication, laying the groundwork necessary to comprehend the immensity the new knowledge that this single resource presents on a subject long considered closed by scholars.

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More About This Work

Academic Units
Historic Preservation
Thesis Advisors
Otero-Pailos, Jorge
Degree
M.S., Columbia University
Published Here
September 25, 2018
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