Beautiful Disaster

The topic for this years humanities core program did not sound interesting to me at first, however the Empire and its Ruins has emerged as an interesting topic with many debates and ideas about what it truly means to be an empire or a ruin. Ruins have always been interesting to me and they are all around the world and perhaps some are still undiscovered, the mysteries and possibilities are endless. For example, Tintern Abbey painted in water colors by J.M.W Turner in 1794, uses light, colors, and shapes to convey a positive image of a ruin which provokes the viewers to deeply reflect about the beauty the earth beholds and imagine what ruins we will leave behind.

Joseph Mallord William Turner ‘Tintern Abbey: The Crossing and Chancel, Looking towards the East Window’, 1794

According to castlewales website, Tintern Abbey was built during the 12th century as a Cistercian Abbey, it was enlarged  during the 13th century. The black plague decreased the population making it less likely to recruit new people to the monastery, additionally during the reign of  King Henry VIII nun and monks were not popular among the area due to the rise of the Anglican church and Protestantism. The building was largely neglected thought out the years until the about the late 1700s due to the rise of Romanticism. By this time the Abbey was missing its roof, windows, and had acquired spurts of  plants all around the building as seen in the image above.      

This painting ties into Romanticism, an art movement with emphasis on nature, solitude, finding god, and imagination during the early 1800s. 

By using watercolors Turner makes the tone soft and delicate, which contrast with other depictions of chaotic ruins that use fire and extreme light and dark effects. These tones of blue and greens are used to convey a peaceful message to the viewer. Turner wants the viewers to emphasize on the beauty of the ruin to create a nostalgic effect. He is showing us that ruins hold the power to make us think about something greater than ourselves.    

The lighting used in this image draws our attention to the walls of the Abbey, to create a contrast between civilization and nature. By directing our attention to the architecture of the Abbey through light, Turner creates a symbol of civil structures representing enlightenment and civilization which contrasts with the outer frame of darkness,  where natural elements are used to represents the uncivilized.

The idea of solitude and reflection is present in this image through the two men examining the ruins.  They appear to be in between the enlightened and unenlightened. It is symbolizing that human beings at the moment are a combination of  natural instincts and rational civilized empire. These two men are together, yet both are alone in the vastness of the Abbey. These men whom are most likely on the Grand Tour, appear minimal in comparison to ruins. This highlights that the ruins have prevailed over the course of time. This forces us to think about our ability to create something that will eventually outlast us, providing comfort that the our creation will stand in our memory.

The diamond shaped arches towards the right of the painting are drawn to our attention through the vanishing point, it is a dominant figure because it creates both ideas of progress towards the after life and the grounding of ruins. This is a key point on why ruins are aesthetic to us, they empower our imagination. The arch pointing up makes us think of the after life and heaven simply by pointing towards the sky and nature. The downward arch is a reminder that we are on Earth which changes dramatically though time with an on going cycle of life. This image allows us to reflect about both our immortal and mortal life while claiming that immortal life is more important than mortal through the symbolism of the upward arches.

Collectively the elements of this painting capture a magnificent ruin that evokes reflection. Not only do these ruins help us imagine the future for the things we leave behind, but reminds us that we are not the first humans to roam the Earth. Overall the effect is calming and peaceful.



“Joseph Mallord William Turner, ‘Tintern Abbey: The Crossing And Chancel, Looking Towards The East Window’ 1794”. Tate. N.p., 2016. Web. 26 Oct. 2016.


“Tintern Abbey”. N.p., 2016. Web. 25 Oct. 2016.


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