The Elements of Drawing, John Ruskin’s teaching collection at Oxford

The Elements of Drawing, John Ruskin’s teaching collection at Oxford

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The Capitol from the Forum John Ruskin

  • Curator’s description:


    The drawing shows the Capitoline Hill in Rome. It seems to be taken from a point in the centre of the Forum, looking roughly east. The single standing column to the left appears to be the Column of Phocas; behind it is part of the colonnade of the Temple of Saturn, and behind it the mass of the back of the Palazzo Senatorio atop the Capitoline, with three columns and a section of entablature from the Temple of Vespasian casting a shadow across it. The Arch of Septimius Severus fills the right-hand side of the drawing, and the church of San Giuseppe dei Falegnami rises up behind it to the right.

    The drawing clearly dates from the early 1840s, when Ruskin was using graphite and yellow washes in a manner derived from David Roberts; Taylor and Penny associate it with his Rome trips of Christmas 1840 and April 1841, specifically a reference to sketching in the forum in Ruskin's diary for 3 April 1841. This may be the 'careful general view' in which Ruskin 'did the best I could for the Forum' which he mentions in "Praeterita" (vol. II, § 38 = XXXV.276). It is broadly similar to the view of the Forum included by Prout in his "Sketches in France, Switzerland and Italy", which was taken from further to the left, so that the Column of Phocas is near the centre of the composition.

    The drawing was first catalogued in the Oxford collection in 1906, when Cook and Wedderburn included it as no. 88 in the Reference Series - one of a set of frames (nos 84-100) which Ruskin had never listed in his own catalogues of the collection.

    In his letter to Thomas Dale of 31 December 1840, he called the forum 'a good group of smashed columns, just what, if it were got up, as it very easily might be, at Virginia Water, we should call a piece of humbug - the kind of thing that one is sick to death of in "compositions"' (§ 3 = I.381). Describing the trip over forty years later, in "Praeterita", he described how 'I had no distinct idea what the Forum was or ever had been, or how the three pillars, or the seven, were connected with it, or the Arch of Severus, standing without any road underneath, or the ragged block of buildings above, with their tower of the commonest possible eighteenth-century type. There was, however, one extreme good in all this, that I saw things, with whatever faculty was in me, exactly for what they were' (vol. II, § 33 = XXXV.272). Quoting from his diary in "Praeterita", he noted an entry for 30 November 1840: 'Drove up to the Capitol - a filthy, melancholy-looking, rubbishy place; and down to the Forum, which is certainly a very good subject' (vol. II, § 45 = XXXV.283).

  • Details

    John Ruskin (1819 - 1900)
    Object type
    Material and technique
    graphite, watercolour, bodycolour and pen and ink on pale blue paper
    344 x 494 mm
    Associated place
    within the drawing, on the Arch of Septimius Severus: CAESAR [...] | PARTHICO [...] PONT . . MAX | M. AVRELIO [...] OB REM P[...]IAM RESTITVTAM . IMP | [...]
    bottom, towards right, in graphite: Forum. Rome

    Presumably presented by John Ruskin to the Ruskin Drawing School (University of Oxford); first recorded in the Ruskin Drawing School in 1906; transferred from the Ruskin Drawing School to the Ashmolean Museum c.1949

    No. of items
    Accession no.
  • Subject terms allocated by curators:


  • References in which this object is cited include:


    Taylor, Gerald, ‘John Ruskin: A Catalogue of Drawings by John Ruskin in the Ashmolean Museum, Oxford’, 7 fascicles, 1998, Oxford, Ashmolean Museum, no. 008

    Penny, Nicholas, Ruskin's Drawings, Ashmolean - Christie's Handbooks (London: Phaidon, 1988), no. 1

    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. 88


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