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 Story of Cupid and Psyche: Cupid reviving Psyche Edward Coley Burne-Jones

  • Curator’s description:


    The drawing shows Psyche being lifted up by Cupid, reviving her after her collapse, caused by breathing the fumes from Persephone's casket, which sits, open, beside her. The story is drawn from Apuleius's "Metamorphoses" (VI.21 for this incident), although the drawing illustrates William Morris's verse version, "The Story of Cupid and Psyche" (ll. 2366-2390).

    The drawing was made by Burne-Jones c.1864 (or a little later) as a design for a woodcut to illustrate Morris's poem; it was to be one of over 50 such woodcuts intended to illustrate Morris's poem when it was published in "The earthly Paradise", a compendium of 24 poems (two for each month of the year, one classical and one medieval). However, the book was never published, although 46 blocks for "Cupid and Psyche" were cut, 36 or 37 of them by Morris himself. Burne-Jones later reworked several of the compositions for the decoration of the dining-room of 1 Palace Green, Kensington, in 1872.

    The blocks are now owned by the Society of Antiquaries of London, and were published to accompany a limited edition of "The Legend of Cupid and Psyche" produced by Clover Hill Editions in 1974: this scene was printed on p. 87. Several of the original drawings - many of which are part of the Teaching Collection - were used as sources for new blocks, cut to illustrate Robert Bridges' poem "Eros & Psyche", published by the Gregynog Press in 1935.

    Ruskin included 47 of Burne-Jones's drawings for the woodblocks in the Teaching Collection, listing them for time as nos 64-72 and 223 in the Educational Series in the 1874 catalogue. Only no. 223, depicting Psyche's entry among the gods, is precisely identifiable; the others were lumped together as a single entry, 'Outlines from Apuleius' story of Psyche. (Edward Burne-Jones)'. In the absence of any more specific information as to their arrangement, they have been given specific numbers between 64 and 72 for the present catalogue based upon their sequence in the narrative of Morris's poem. Nos 64-72 were included in Case III, "Illustrations of Northern Gothic, with its Resultant Art", and no. 223 was in Case IX, "Illustrations of the Connection between Decorative and Realistic Design"; it alone had been included in the 1871 Educational Series catalogue, in the same position, but as no. 2 I. None of the drawings features in Ruskin's 1878 reorganisation of the series.

    In his instructions on using the Educational Series, Ruskin wrote of the latter that it was a perfect example of 'refinement of design obtained by perfectly simple and firm equality of outline; and of the decorative placing and arranging of every accessory' (Educational Series catalogue, 2nd edition, p. 50). He made a similar point in his final lecture on landscape, "Colour", delivered on 23 February 1871, calling the drawing a 'perfect landscape of the living Gothic school', and noting how the outline was intended only to receive colour (Lectures on Landscape, § 92 = XXII.64-65). Speaking of all the "Cupid and Psyche" drawings in the collection in his lecture on Burne-Jones and G.F. Watts on 12 May 1883, he praised Burne-Jones's outline for its purity, calling the drawings 'entirely masterful', and telling his students that 'it is only by trying to copy these or other such outlines, that you will fully feel the grandeur of action in the moving hand, swift as the hawk's flight, and never allowing a vulgar tremor, or a momentary impulse, to impair its precision, or disturb its serenity'. (The Art of England, § 53 = XXXIII.301). By 1878, Ruskin was describing the drawings as 'quite the most precious gift, not excepting even the Loire series of Turners' which he had given the University (Three Colours of Pre-Raphaelitism, § 26 n. = XXXIV.173 n).

  • Details

    Edward Coley Burne-Jones (1833 - 1898)
    Object type
    Material and technique
    graphite, with an ink border, on tracing paper
    102 x 154 mm

    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.

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


  • References in which this object is cited include:


    Ruskin, John, Catalogue of the Educational Series (London: Spottiswoode, 1874), cat. Educational no. 64-72

    Uerscheln, Gabriele, and Michaela Kalusok, Edward Burne-Jones und William Morris: Amor und Psyche: eine Holzstichfolge für das Buchprojeckt 'The Earthly Paradise', 'Dem Buch, das Niemals war' (1866-1872) (Neuss: Clemens-Sels-Museum, 1988), no. 41

    Ruskin, John, ‘The Art of England: Lectures Given in Oxford by John Ruskin ... During His Second Tenure of the Slade Professorship’, Edward T. Cook and Alexander Wedderburn, eds, The Works of John Ruskin: Library Edition, 39 (London: George Allen, 1903-1912), 23

    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. Educational no. 64-72

    Ruskin, John, ‘The Three Colours of Pre-Raphaelitism (1878)’, Edward T. Cook and Alexander Wedderburn, eds, The Works of John Ruskin: Library Edition, 39 (London: George Allen, 1903-1912), 34


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