True and False Griffins  

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True and False Griffins for John Ruskin's Modern Painters (Part IV. Of Many Things), first published in 1856.
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True and False Griffins for John Ruskin's Modern Painters (Part IV. Of Many Things), first published in 1856.

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Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.
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Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.

True and False Griffins[1] is a drawing by John Ruskin, engraved by R.P. Cuff, from Modern Painters (Part IV. Of Many Things)[2], first published in 1856. According to Ruskin, the left griffin is medieval and "true", the right one classical and "false".

In his own words:

"I have put, beside each other, a piece of true grotesque, from the Lombard-Gothic, and of false grotesque from classical (Roman) architecture. They are both griffins; the one on the left carries on his back one of the main pillars of the porch of the cathedral of Verona; the one on the right is on the frieze of the temple of Antoninus and Faustina at Rome, much celebrated by Renaissance and bad modern architects.[3]"

He distinguishes the true from the false grotesque, the latter being:

the false and vicious grotesque [...] results from idleness, instead of noble rest; from malice, instead of the solemn contemplation of necessary evil; and from general degradation of the human spirit, instead of its subjection, or confusion, by thoughts too high for it. It is easy for the reader to conceive how different the fruits of two such different states of mind must be; and yet how like in many respects, and apt to be mistaken, one for the other;—how the jest which springs from mere fatuity, and vacant want of penetration or purpose, is everlastingly, infinitely, separated from, and yet may sometimes be mistaken for, the bright, playful, fond, far-sighted jest of Plato, or the bitter, purposeful, sorrowing jest of Aristophanes; how, again, the horror which springs from guilty love of foulness and sin, may be often mistaken for the inevitable horror which a great mind must sometimes feel in the full and penetrative sense of their presence;—how, finally, the vague and foolish inconsistencies of undisciplined dream or reverie may be mistaken for the compelled inconsistencies of thoughts too great to be well sustained, or clearly uttered. It is easy, I say, to understand what a difference there must indeed be between these; and yet how difficult it may be always to define it, or lay down laws for the discovery of it, except by the just instinct of minds set habitually in all things to discern right from wrong.

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