The Stones of Venice

We've been on a bit of a John Ruskin kick lately. In Issue Ten, we printed an excerpt from his classic work, The Stones of Venice, in which he extols the virtues of free workmanship. The opening spread of that article (titled "Savageness") might be my favorite ever. As I wrote in the introduction to that excerpt, Ruskin's impact on the world would be hard to overstate. As a brilliant thinker, social critic, and art scholar, Ruskin's ideas shaped cultural reforms in England, India, France, and many other places. 

I managed to track down a beautiful, complete set of The Stones of Venice on eBay for less than $50. This is an 1886 edition, published by George Allen. Allen was an early pupil and friend of Ruskin's, who later became instrumental in producing engravings and new editions of Ruskin's work. These volumes are truly enjoyable to thumb through – the debossed text and gorgeously detailed plates offer food for the senses. Oh, and the writing is pretty good, too. I know that this work is easily available online as a digital version for free, but there is something far more powerful in reading words that are printed on thick, tactile paper – they are experienced, rather than skimmed. By the way, that is exactly why we will never produce a digital version of the magazine. 

It seems that printing mistakes are nothing new. Tucked into one of the volumes was this loose plate (below) of Doge's Palace in Venice, and the included semi-aplogetic note from the publisher explaining the accidental omission of this page from the original printing. Oops. My wife, who is far better traveled than I am, tells me that the bridge connecting the buildings in the engraving is called "The Bridge of Sighs," where prisoners caught their last glimpse of sunlight as they were marched to dark cells. It's a beautiful print.

But this set is full of such beautiful surprises. As my daughter carefully thumbed through, she would audibly gasp as she came across a color plate of Gothic architectural details or a sketch of a cathedral spire. The faint musty smell of the pages completes the whole experience – there's nothing like old books. 


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