The Benediction of the Boar

Being a study of the frescoes of Giotto
depicting the Lemoine affair
for the use of
the young students of Corpus Christi
that are still mindful of them

by John Ruskin.1

   (The translation that we are following here is from the Traveller's Editions, with the permission of M. Marcel Proust. The full edition, in fact, begins with two chapters: "The Formulation of the Eglantine" and "The Abjuration of the Scoundrel" comprising the whole of the first volume, but which have been superceded by the Travellers' Edition, since they make no mention of the Lemoine affair. The Travellers' Edition begins at chapter III (the first of volume II of the full edition): TU IMPERIUM REGERE, that we give here, giving precedence however to the celebrated beginning of "The Formulation of the Eglantine", that description of Paris, viewed from an aeroplane, which with good reason is recognized as one of the most perfect pieces by the master. For all the rest we have followed the translation provided by M. Marcel Proust in the Travellers' Edition, a translation in which ingenious misrepresentations only add a charming obscurity to the impenetrability and mysteriousness of the text. M. Marcel Proust however appears not to have had any idea of these misrepresentations, because he repeatedly expresses his effusive gratitude, in his extremely frequent notes, to a theatre director, a telephone operator and two members of the Steeple Chase Society, for having so willingly clarified passages that he failed to understand.)
   In times that will never be seen again when the Englishman, curious to understand the world and knowing nothing yet of sleeping cars, evening editions and other inventions of our votive, emotive and locomotive epoch, travelling only by aeroplane and not knowing the other Ouest, as yet unpurchased by M. Barthou and Beelzebub, about whom you are told in an old book, much less read today than the Hachette Almanac or Maurice Duplay's last novel,2 but which you would be wrong to smile at: "You are going to follow the path of the vulture and the track of the scented breeze of the West", yet, in those far off times, say I, but whose indelible memory imprinted on the labyrinthine walls of Knossos remain for many as a benediction, the tourist, when he arrived over Paris in the fiery rays of the setting sun that he crossed through on Wilbur's bird,3 without being any more disturbed than if he had been in the incombustible and chaste Phoenix, could for a few moments contemplate a spectacle for which the actual possibility of a cold supper at the Terminal4 perhaps only half compensated for is disappearance.5
   While at his feet, the dome of Les Invalides presented that form, unique at the time, that later must on the azure of the Grand Canal in Venice have married itself to the external pallor of alabaster in the church of Santa Maria della Salute, but without any more resembling its French mother than a common snowball imitates the golden apple of the garden of Hesperides, the church hardly more ancient than the Sacré-Coeur in Montmartre presented to the setting sun as if in a basket the symmetrical sanctification of its bluish cupolas, some of which it enveloped in glimmering orange.
   The Île de la Cité, at that time full only of acacia that shook their blonde perfumed tresses in the evening breeze, adorned with pale pink flowers - like the nymphs on Calypso's island - did not yet present the double grey cubes in the shape of factory chimneys known as the towers of Notre-Dame, as if any such monument could be raised up to the glory of the Queen of Angels by their own sons of the Devil, and if a mountain of flint pretty near as black as a railway station has a right to be, could be sanctified by the presence and blessed by the adoration of She of whom it was said: "my house shall be of jasper and turquoise and my lamp shall be the morning star". So if he wanted, while Wilbur's bird made its majestic descent in a vertical line, to cast a glance at the most ancient monuments, left behind by this iron age, more coarse without doubt but also more powerful and more grandiose, he had the Eiffel tower to his right, thrust straight into the ground like the very javelin of Odin, that while he saw in the sky the pale pinks of twilight close upon its iron spear, was as if invaded already down to its base by the purple torrents carried along by the river.
   Then the aeroplane landed, an omnibus conductor asked the traveller if he wanted a connection for Austerlitz or Solférino, "because France still remembered its glories like Athens in the days of Marathon and Venice at the time of Dandolo" and Ruskin recommended him, after having taken some nourishment at one of the pretty little pastry shops that line the rue Royal "still then identical to one of Turner's streets, in the Rivers of France" to come with him to see Giotto's frescoes dedicated to the Lemoine affair.



   Perhaps you will ask: "But what was Giotto's notion in depicting the Lemoine affair? That is not, it seems to me, the subject I would have chosen." The subject that you would have chosen, my dear reader, believe me, matters little. And if in the presence of Giotto you must interpose between his frescoes and your admiration your own pitiable mentality of the cockney reader, believe me, it is useless your wasting your time looking upon no matter what fresco, be it by Giotto or any other great artist. The rightness of subjects chosen by great artists, if you really want to think about it, since the Erymanthian boar to Léon Bonnat's Chauchard,6 is in the very fact that it seems to you not the subject you would have chosen. But believe me, that is of little importance. Whereas why the subject was an agreeable one to Giotto is a question of incalculable importance and such that if you have well understood it there is hardly a single piece of architecture from Florence or Pisa or Venice worth its salt that you would not be capable of understanding as well as me. But first of all do you know who Giotto is?
   As I told you in Laws of Fésole if you take a baked potato and after carefully divesting it of its skin, as I suppose your parents or in their absence your cook would certainly have shown you how to do for those occasions when you wanted to eat one at an hour when she was not there, and if having divested the potato of its skin you mark it in ink on the back and precisely at the points of its relief so as not to be visible to someone who has it placed in front of them without twisting their head and spending a week with a stiff neck, you have the entire history of the development of mural painting in Italy, notably Giotto's frescoes in the Spanish chapel in Florence,* and the mosaics representing the flowers of Paradise in St Mark's in Venice. But to illustrate this more clearly, come with me before the first of the frescoes that depict the Lemoine affair, we can return to the life of Giotto afterwards. Lemoine carries out his experiment before the advocate Lepoittevin. The advocate, mark it, not the judge, as you would have thought. Giotto probably knew as well as you that he was a judge. And when he wanted to portray this judge, he always had him with a conical cap on his head as in the synagogue on the west porch of Amiens. If you do not know that, take my word, have done with chasing round the world in search of Giotto frescoes. Those done by no matter what coxcomb, cockney painter from Pentonville or Trafalgar Square would have the same effect on you. But, you say, this Lepoittevin was still a judge? That is not Giotto's opinion. Giotto, as I think you know, was a friend of Dante's, who was not a great friend of judges. Perhaps you would be curious to know Dante's and Giotto's opinions of judges? But before all that, you must notice in these frescoes something that will appear astonishing to you at first sight. In no part of it is the diamond represented. You probably smile and in your Darwinian mind of the cockney reader you say to yourself that if Giotto has not painted any diamonds, it was because he was unable to paint them, that he lacked the skill for it. Mark my words, Giotto was as skillful in the reproduction of no matter what as Mr Lerolle or Mr Sargent and if he did not paint diamonds it was because he did not wish to paint them. But why, you may ask, did Giotto not wish to paint diamonds? Wait a moment, you will know presently. And first of all look for a moment at the figure of Lemoine. You no doubt imagine that Giotto has given him the face of a cheat, an unpleasant expression. Nay, Giotto has not done so. No doubt Giotto thought ... 7

Manuscript from Cahier II.

1. This pastiche must have been written around spring 1909 because of allusions to recent events. i. The novels (plural) of Lucien Daudet, his second novel, La Fourmilière, appeared on 21 April 1909. ii. The last novel by Maurice Duplay (see below). iii. M. Barthou and "Wilbur's bird" (see below).

2. Refers to Maurice Duplay's novel Léo that the Mercure de France of 16 April 1909 announced among recent publications.

3. The "bird" of the American airman Wilbur Wright caused a sensation on its first flight in France on 8 August 1908. On 31 December, in the presence of M. Barthou, Minister of Public Works, he beat two records that he had established on 18 December, accomplishing a flight of 124 kilometres 700 metres in 2 hours 20 minutes and 23 seconds, which constituted two world records for distance and duration of flight by aeroplane. From Pau on 22 February 1909 M. Barthou flew for five minutes with Wilbur Wright in his machine. On 17 March Wright made three flights at the Pont-Long aerodrome in the presence of Edward VII. From the month of July however, attention was shifted to French aviators like Louis Blériot and Henry Farman.
   The repurchase of the Ouest: allusion to the repurchase by the state of the Ouest railway company. The articles were exchanged between the Minister of Public Works, Barthou, and the Ouest and Orléans companies on 31 October 1908. The following 17 December the Chamber of Deputies adopted the scheme into law instituting the provisional network of the Ouest.

4. Hotel situated close to the Gare Saint-Lazare.

5. An earlier state of the same paragraph (Cahier II):
   "In times that will never be seen again when the traveller knows nothing yet of sleeping cars, pillows, coverlets and other inventions of our Ibsenesque, scenic, neurasthenic epoch, and not knowing the other Ouest, as yet unpurchased by M. Barthou and Beelzebub, which an old book, much less read today than the Hachette Almanac or the novels of Lucien Daudet but in which if you pay close attention to it, you would perhaps be wrong to smile at, if you take from its lines: "You are going to follow the tracks of the vulture and of the scented breeze of the West" and only move from place to place by aeroplane, when, say I, in those already far off times but whose memory imprinted on the labyrinthine walls of Knossos remain for certain people as a benediction, the traveller in Wilbur's bird crossing through the midst of the fiery rays of the setting sun with no more danger than if it had been in the incombustible and chaste Phoenix setting down on the threshold of the City of Lilies, he has before his eyes a spectacle for which the actual possibility of an immediate stop at the Terminus perhaps only partially compensates."

6. Fourth labour of Heracles to capture the Erymanthian boar, frequently depicted in Greek art. Léon Bonnat (1833 - 1922), French painter. Alfred Chauchard was the founder of the Grands Magasins du Louvre department store.

7. The manuscript is interrupted at this point.


Return to Front Page