The Royal Academy Exhibition 1859
My dear Mr. Roberts, is this like a church built of white Carrara marble? La Salute is verily as white as snow in some places; black-spotted or ochre-spotted in others; but delicate and lovely everywhere. And then the gondoliers! still always where they couldn't possibly row! It would be very comfortable for gondoliers if they might stand in the middle of the boat close by the canop; but to their sorrow, sometimes to their misfortune, they must stand far back, poised on the point of the giddy stern. I say "sometimes to their misfortune"; for, as if specially to illustrate Mr. Leslie's* declaration, in defence of Canaletti against some fault-finding of mine, that the water," as it approached the houses, was sheltered from the breeze," my strongest gondolier was blown off his perch into the canal at my own door one day, just opposite this very church, and had nearly been brained against the doorstep.1
I much regret Mr. Roberta's abandonment of his old picturesque subjects for these severe ones. He had a great gift of expressing the ins and outs of Spanish balconies and roofs, and the hollow work of complex tracery; and all his skill of this kind is now passing away into formal architectural drawing in brown and grey. His old painting of the spires of Burgos Cathedral3―of its turreted chapterhouse―the tombs of Ferdinand and Isabella―the towers and courts of the Alhambra, etc., involved points of interest and displays of skill which none of his subjects at present either contain or admit; while their generally smaller size prevented the painter's wearying at his work, and enabled us to have five or six subjects each year instead of two.
* Handbook for Young Painters, p. 269.2
(1)[Ruskin refers again to this incident in a letter to Professor Charles Eliot Norton: see Vol. IX. p. xxviii.]
(2)[Compare p. 168, above. Leslie's reference was to Modern Painters, vol. i. pt. ii sec. v. ch. i. § 18 see Vol. III. p. 513, where, in a note added to this edition, the passage in the Handbook is cited.]
(3)[See in the national collection the picture of "The Cathedral at Burgos" (No. 400 in the Tate Gallery), painted in 1835.]