© University of Oxford - Ashmolean Museum
The drawing shows the right-hand half of the sea facade of the Ducal Palace in Venice, together with the Ponte della Paglia, and part of the Bridge of Sighs and prisons visible beyond the Palace. A group of gondolas and a larger boat can be seen below the Ponte della Paglia. The level of detail is very varied: Ruskin has focussed on the third ground-floor arch from the right, the two right-hand windows on the main floor, and the pinnacle on the right-hand corner of the roof-line; the rest of the drawing is sketched in to a greater or lesser degree, in places extremely quickly.
Ruskin himself was uncertain about the drawing's date. In February 1870, in the catalogue to his Verona exhibition, he dated it to 1852; but two years later, in the Standard and Reference Series catalogue, he gave it as 1845. All recent commentators prefer the later date, by when Ruskin had abandoned his 'Proutesque' style in favour of more rigorous measurement, as indicated by the ruled lines and inscription. It is first recorded in Oxford in the Standard and Reference Series catalogue of 1872, as no. 67 in the Reference Series, where it was part of a series of drawings of architecture in Abbeville, Verona and Venice.
Ruskin made much of the accuracy of drawing, noting in the Verona catalogue (no. 34 = XIX.456) that it was 'Sketched ... by measurement, with extreme care; and showing the sharp window traceries, which are rarely seen in photographs'; similarly in the Standard and Reference Series catalogue. In his catalogue of drawings by Prout and Hunt (under no. 58 = XIV.424), he claimed that 'No one had ever drawn the traceries of the Ducal Palace till I did it myself. Canaletti, in his way, is just as false as Prout; Turner no better. Not one of them painted anything but their general impressions; and not a soul in England knew that there was a system in Venetian architecture at all, until I made the measured (to half and quarter inches) elevation of it [this drawing], and gave the analysis of its tracery mouldings and their development, from those of the Franciscans at the Frari....' In the Standard and Reference Series catalogue, he noted that it was drawn from a boat, this particular view being impossible to photograph.
The Ducal Palace was, for Ruskin, the quintessential example of Venetian Gothic, and is referred to extensively in his writings. He considered it 'a mode of all perfection': 'It would be impossible, I believe, to invent a more magnificent arrangement of all that is in building most dignified and most fair.' (Stones of Venice, ch. iii, § 9 = VIII.111.)
Presented by John Ruskin to the Ruskin Drawing School (University of Oxford), 1875; transferred from the Ruskin Drawing School to the Ashmolean Museum, c.1949.
Ruskin, John, ‘Notes By Mr. Ruskin on Samuel Prout and William Hunt: Illustrated By a Loan Collection of Drawings Exhibited at the Fine Art Society's Galleries’, Edward T. Cook and Alexander Wedderburn, eds, The Works of John Ruskin: Library Edition, 39 (London: George Allen, 1903-1912), 14, no. 105 = XIV.424 & 435-6; & XIV.424
Ruskin, John, ‘The Ruskin Art Collection at Oxford: Catalogues, Notes and Instructions’, Edward T. Cook and Alexander Wedderburn, eds, The Works of John Ruskin: Library Edition, 39 (London: George Allen, 1903-1912), 21, cat. Reference no. 67
Taylor, Gerald, ‘John Ruskin: A Catalogue of Drawings by John Ruskin in the Ashmolean Museum, Oxford’, 7 fascicles, 1998, Oxford, Ashmolean Museum, no. 043
Ruskin, John, Catalogue of the Reference Series Including Temporarily the First Section of the Standard Series (London: Smith, Elder, ), cat. Reference no. 67
Ruskin, John, ‘The Works of John Ruskin’, Edward T. Cook and Alexander Wedderburn, eds, The Works of John Ruskin: Library Edition, 39 (London: George Allen, 1903-1912), vol. IV, pl. 9, f.p. 306
Ruskin, John, ‘Notes on the Louvre’, Edward T. Cook and Alexander Wedderburn, eds, The Works of John Ruskin: Library Edition, 39 (London: George Allen, 1903-1912), 12
Ruskin, John, ‘Drawings and Photographs, Illustrative of the Art of Verona, Shown at the Royal Institution, Feb. 4th 1870’, Edward T. Cook and Alexander Wedderburn, eds, The Works of John Ruskin: Library Edition, 39 (London: George Allen, 1903-1912), 19, no. 34 = XIX.456
Penny, Nicholas, Ruskin's Drawings, Ashmolean - Christie's Handbooks (London: Phaidon, 1988), no. 26