Ruskin interprets symbolism in Tintoretto’s The Annunciation (1582-7, Scuola di San Rocco, Venice) as an example of highly imaginative art. He emphasises how ‘startled by the rush’ of the angel’s ‘horizontal and rattling wings’…
‘the Virgin sits…houseless, under the shelter of a palace vestibule ruined and abandoned, with the noise of the axe and the hammer in ears, and the tumult of a city round about her desolation. The spectator turns away at first, revolted, from the central object of the picture forced painfully and coarsely forward, a mass of shattered brickwork, with the plaster mildewed away from it, and the mortar mouldering from its seams; and if he looks again, either at this or at the carpenter’s tools beneath it, will perhaps see…nothing more than such a study of scene as Tintoret [sic] could but too easily obtain among the ruins of his own Venice, chosen to give a coarse explanation of the calling and the condition of the husband of Mary’.
One’s first impression, Ruskin thus emphasizes, is of a powerfully realistic depiction of a desolate scene in which the separate details force themselves upon the consciousness of the beholder in all their coarseness and brutality – mildewed plaster, rough brickwork, crumbling mortar. We have encountered, it would seem, little more than the painter’s love of the picturesque. ‘But there is more meant than this’, Ruskin warns us, for if the spectator examines themselves the
‘composition of the picture, he will find the whole symmetry of it depending on a narrow line of light, the edge of a carpenter’s square, which connects these unused tools with an object at the top of the brickwork, a white stone, four square, the corner-stone of the old edifice, the base of its supporting column. This, I think, sufficiently explains the typical [typological] character of the whole. The ruined house is the Jewish dispensation; that obscurely arising in the dawning of the sky is the Christian; but the corner-stone of the old building remains, though the builder’s tools lie idle beside it, and the stone which the builders refused is become the Head-stone of the corner.’1
http://www.gutenberg.org/files/29906/29906-h/29906-h.htm 27/01/14 Accessed 22:50 (Ruskin quotes)
George P. Landow, William Holman Hunt and Typological Symbolism (London: Paul Mellon, 1979) p 2.