The Seven Lamps of Architecture is an extended essay, first published in May 1849 and written by the English art critic and theorist John Ruskin. The ‘lamps’ of the title are Ruskin’s principles of architecture, which he later enlarged upon in the three-volume The Stones of Venice. To an extent, they codified some of the contemporary thinking behind the Gothic Revival. At the time of its publication A. W. N. Pugin and others had already advanced the ideas of the Revival and it was well under way in practice. Ruskin offered little new to the debate, but the book helped to capture and summarise the thoughts of the movement. The Seven Lamps also proved a great popular success, and received the approval of the ecclesiologists typified by the Cambridge Camden Society, who criticised in their publication The Ecclesiologist lapses committed by modern architects in ecclesiastical commissions.
The essay was published in book form in May 1849 and is structured with eight chapters; an introduction and one chapter for each of the seven ‘Lamps’,which represent the demands that good architecture must meet, expressed as directions in which the association of ideas may take the observer:
1. Sacrifice – dedication of man’s craft to God, as visible proofs of man’s love and obedience
2. Truth – handcrafted and honest display of materials and structure. Truth to materials and honest display of construction were bywords since the serious Gothic Revival had distanced itself from the whimsical “Gothick” of the 18th century; it had been often elaborated by Pugin and others.
3. Power – buildings should be thought of in terms of their massing and reach towards the sublimity of nature by the action of the human mind upon them and the organization of physical effort in constructing buildings.
4. Beauty – aspiration towards God expressed in ornamentation drawn from nature, his creation
5. Life – buildings should be made by human hands, so that the joy of masons and stonecarvers is associated with the expressive freedom given them
6. Memory – buildings should respect the culture from which they have developed
7. Obedience – no originality for its own sake, but conforming to the finest among existing English values, in particular expressed through the “English Early Decorated” Gothic as the safest choice of style.