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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Study in Colour of one of the Niches surrounding the Tomb of Cansignorio della Scala at Verona, with Remains of the 'Casa di Romeo' John Ruskin

  • Curator’s description:


    The drawing depicts the tomb of Cansignorio della Scala, who died on 17 October 1375; it is signed by Bonino da Campione. The complex, hexagonal tomb stands, with the other Scaliger tombs, in a compound to the north of the church of Santa Maria Antica in Verona. It comprises a basement level, which supports a series of pinnacles containing warrior saints, and the sarcophagus of Cansignorio which carries his effigy, all sheltered by a canopy. In the canopy's gables are seated allegorical figures, framed by pinnacles containing angels; from the centre rises a tall pinnacle, topped by a drum with reliefs of the apostles and then a statue of Cansignorio on horseback. The drawing focusses on one of the lower pinnacles, which contains a standing saint, his sword by his side, and his outline obscured by the second pinnacle which has been sketched in behind him. A section of the top of the wrought-iron fence which surrounds the tombs has also been painted in. The middle section of the tomb is sketched in with graphite to the right; to the left, Ruskin has also studied the fourteenth-century palace visible across the street, the so-called Casa di Romeo, with its crenellated walls (which he called a Scaliger palace).

    Taylor associates the drawing with Ruskin's diary-entries, referring to work on the tomb, of 28, 29 and 30 May and 8 June 1869, noting that the very loose handling of the graphite supported the dating. Ruskin exhibited it in his Verona exhibition early the next year, where it was described as 'A Single Niche and Part of the Iron-work of the Tomb of Can Signorio .... As seen from the palace of the Scaligers; the remains of another house of the same family are seen in the little street beyond.' (no. 31 = XIX.455.) The drawing first appears in the Drawing School in the 1872 catalogue of the Standard and Reference Series, where, as no. 60, it was accompanied by studies from the tombs of Can Grande and Mastino della Scala.

    The tomb of Cansignorio della Scala, the latest of the three main Scaliger tombs, is less well represented in the collection compared to the tombs of Can Grande and Mastino II della Scala. Other depictions of it in the collection are: Reference Series no. 60, a graphite and watercolour study by Ruskin of one of the screen pinnacles Rudimentary Series no. 96, a photograph of the entire tomb, together with the tomb of Mastino II Rudimentary Series no. 97, two pencil sketches by Ruskin of the pinnacles Rudimentary Series no. 98, a study by Ruskin of a capital from one of the upper pinnacles.

    For Ruskin, the tomb illustrated a point about pinnacles: in "The Stones of Venice", he noted how pinnacles - including those on the tomb - often had no structural function, being intended 'to entertain the eye' (vol. I, ch. xv, § 7 = IX.206). Later in the same work, Ruskin described the tomb as 'the stateliest and most sumptuous of the three' main Scaliger tombs, although he considered its work to be 'coarser' than that of the tomb of Mastino II. Like Mastino's, Cansignorio's tomb proclaims his virtue by depicting allegorical figures of the Virtues, but whereas Mastino's had only Fortitude, Cansignorio's had six, indicating his pride (vol. III, ch. ii, § 56 = XI.90).

    A similar drawing of another of the pinnacle saints from the tomb (albeit more closely focussed on the saint and his canopy) is preserved in the Ruskin Foundation (no. 1668).

  • Details

    John Ruskin (1819 - 1900)
    Object type
    Material and technique
    graphite, watercolour and bodycolour on paper
    519 x 348 mm
    Associated place

    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:


    Taylor, Gerald, ‘John Ruskin: A Catalogue of Drawings by John Ruskin in the Ashmolean Museum, Oxford’, 7 fascicles, 1998, Oxford, Ashmolean Museum, no. 110

    Ruskin, John, Catalogue of the Reference Series Including Temporarily the First Section of the Standard Series (London: Smith, Elder, [1872]), cat. Reference no. 60

    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. 31 = XIX.455

    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. 60


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