“It was an eve of summer, mild, / . . . / That as in lethargy it lay” (MS VIII, Poems [1891]; Works [1903])—W. G. Collingwoodʼs identification of this poem, untitled in draft, with Lago Maggiore, can be supported by some descriptive details in the poem (albeit tenuous ones) as well as by circumstantial details in Mary Richardsonʼs travel diary. If arguably correct about the poemʼs subject, however, Collingwood misplaced it in the sequence of poems in his edition, situating it between “Milan Cathedral” and “Genoa”. A route from Milan to Genoa via Lago Maggiore was certainly an option, with Bellinzona on the north shore of Lago Maggiore having long served as a juncture between northern Italy and Switzerland—“anciently” via the St. Gothard Pass, and in the post‐Napoleonic era of modern carriage roads via the San Bernardino Pass (Hand‐book for Travellers in Switzerland, 93; William Brockedon, Illustrations of the Passes of the Alps [“The Mont Saint Gothard”, 2; “The Passes of the Bernardin and the Splugen”, 12]). The Ruskins approached Lago Maggiore from the south, however, keeping within Piedmont and arriving at Arona on the south shore, after visiting Genoa, Turin, and Novara. In Arona, Mary Richardson records, the Ruskins lodged in a hotel “close to the water”, spending their first afternoon “out on the balcony . . . enjoying the beautiful view up and down the lake”—perhaps the origin of the peacefulness conveyed in Ruskinʼs poem. According to Mary, the Ruskins considered this view “far superior” to the more dramatic mountain scenery surrounding Lago di Como, the gentle hills around Lago Maggiore and more distant snowy Alps suggesting to them the homely “view from Malvern” (Diary of Mary Richardson, 1833, 63, 62).


“But there arose colossally” (MS VIII, Poems [1891]; Works [1903])— Ruskinʼs use of the modifier colossal in this poem may be another indication that the untitled piece does in fact refer to Lago Maggiore, as W. G. Collingwood assumed. Like many visitors to Arona, where the Ruskins staid while touring the lake, they visited the bronze “colossal statue of S. Carlo Borromeo”, whose dimensions are exactingly listed by Ruskinʼs cousin, Mary Richardson, in her travel diary (Diary of Mary Richardson, 1833, 63). John Murray III describes the monument in his 1838 travel guide to Switzerland: “On the summit of a hill, about half an hourʼs walk from the town, stands the Colossal Statue of St. Charles Borromeo, 66 ft. high, and placed on a pedestal 40 ft. high. The head, hands, and feet, alone, are cast in bronze, the rest of the figure is formed of sheets of beaten copper, arranged round a pillar of rough masonry which forms the support of it. The saint is represented extending his hand towards the lake, and over his birth‐place, Arona, bestowing on them his benediction. There is grace in the attitude, in spite of the gigantic proportions of the figure, and benevolence beams from the countenance;—altogether the effect of it is good and very impressive. It was erected, 1697, by subscriptions, principally contributed by the Borromean family. It is possible to enter the statue and to mount up into the head, but the ascent is difficult and fatiguing, and not to be attempted by the nervous. It is effected by means of two ladders, tied together (provided by a man who lives hard by), resting on the pedestal, and reaching up to the skirt of the saintʼs robe. Between the folds of the upper and lower drapery the adventurous climber squeezes himself through—a task of some difficulty, if he be of corpulent dimensions; and he then clambers up the stone pillar which supports the head, by placing his feet upon the iron bars or cramps by which the copper drapery is attached to it. To effect this, he must assume a straddling attitude, and proceed in the dark till he reaches the head, which he will find capable of holding 3 persons at once. Here he may rest himself by sitting down in the recess of the nose, which forms no bad substitute for an arm‐chair. In the neighbouring church several relics of St. Carlo are preserved” (Hand‐book for Travellers in Switzerland, 164–65).
Carlo Borromeo (1538–84) was archbishop of Milan and a leader of the Counter‐Reformation. His statue, known as the San Carlone, was commissioned by his cousin, Federico Borromeo (1564–1631), as part of a sacromonte, which, according to Linda Wolk‐Simon, was to be “comprised of some thirty chapels on a mountainside commemorating events from Carloʼs exemplary life of pastoral care and spiritual devotion”, culminating “in a colossal bronze statue of the saint looking out at Lago Maggiore”. The scheme was planned by 1598, but not begun until 1614, well after Carloʼs canonization, and never completed. The colossus was finally cast and erected in 1698 by the sculptors Bernardo Falcone (active 1659–94) and Siro Zanelli (d. 1724), based on a design by Giovanni Battista Crespi, known as Cerano (ca. 1575–1632), a multi‐talented artist who was appointed by Federico as professor of painting for his Accademia del Disegno, attached to his library, the Ambrosiana, at Milan. Wolk‐Simon says of the drawing on which the colossus was based: “Most striking in the drawing is the realism of the figure, whose individualized, distinctive features are at once recognizable. This work (and the sculpture for which it served as a model) was . . . intended to be an authentic image, one that by virtue of its very authenticity, or verismo, acquired a moral and spiritual authority imparted by its subject” (Wolk‐Simon, “Naturalism in Lombard Drawing from Leonardo to Cerano”, 58–59, 201).


“The spirits of gigantic things, / Lords of the earth and air and sky” (MS VIII; Poems [1891]; Works [1903])—If the poem does refer to Lago Maggiore, the “gigantic things” are the Alps on the horizon beyond the lake. As Mary Richardson commented about Lago Maggiore as compared with Lago di Como, the mountains around the former were not as near and dramatic as those around the latter, but Maggioreʼs vista seemed to her more beautiful, since “high mountains coming abruptly down upon a lake, as at Como, give a dismal air to the whole lake, which seems to be confined in a hole”, whereas the hills near Maggiore “slope down gently to the edge of the water, finely wooded and cultivated, and all the houses on the border of this lake have a more cheerful aspect than the villas on Como” (Diary of Mary Richardson, 1833, 62–63).