The Virtues

Plaster Casts from the Doge's Palace, Venice, 1880s.

This cast was taken from a fourteenth-century capital of the Ducal Palace, which was dedicated to the Virtues.

The following figures are visible on the capital: Faith, with cross in hand; Fortitude, holding apart the jaws of a lion; Temperance, seen with a pitcher and cup of water; Humility, with a lamb; Charity, offering food to a child; Justice, with a sword; Prudence, holding compasses; Hope, with hands pressed together.

Ruskin on The Virtues

Ruskin described the setting of this capital in The Seven Lamps of Architecture (1849):

'The capitals next in order represent the virtues and vices in succession, as preservative or destructive of national peace and power, concluding with Faith, with the inscription "Fides optima in Deo est." A figure is seen on the opposite side of the capital, worshipping the sun. After these, one or two capitals are fancifully decorated with birds, and then come a series representing, first the various fruits, then the national costumes, and then animals of various countries subject to Venetian rule.' (Works, 8, p. 231)

Ruskin referred to the Virtues capital in Letter 77 (May 1877) of Fors Clavigera:

'By this day's post I send you photographs of two fourteenth-century capitals of the Ducal Palace here. The first is that representing the Virtues; the second, that representing the Sages whose power has been greatest over men.' (Works, 29, p.


Ruskin on Sculpture

The reason for the Museum's emphasis on sculpture is given in Ruskin's 'General Statement Explaining the Nature and Purposes of St George's Guild' (1882):

'Sculpture is the foundation and school of painting; but painting, if first studied, prevents, or at least disturbs, the understanding of the qualities of Sculpture. Also, it is possible to convey a perfect idea of the highest quality of Sculpture by casts, and even, in the plurality of cases, to know more of it by a well-lighted cast than can be known in its real situation. But it is impossible to copy a noble painting with literal fidelity; and the carefullest studies from it by the best artists attempt no more than to reproduce some of its qualities reverently, and to indicate what farther charms are to be sought in the original.' (Works, 30, p. 56).

Ruskin then states that 'The Sheffield Art Gallery will [...] be unencumbered by any life-size statues whatsoever, and in the niches and lighted recesses of its walls will show only such examples of the art of Sculpture as may best teach the ordinary workman the use of his chisel, and his wits, under such calls as are likely to occur for either in the course of his daily occupations.' (Works, 30, p. 56)

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