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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Lithograph of the Temptation of Christ from the Book of Kells Day & Son

  • Curator’s description:


    The print represents a single folio from an illuminated manuscript, depicting the Temptation of Christ, who is shown half-length in the centre, above the Temple which takes the form of a reliquary casket. The Devil is shown to the right, tempting Christ to leap from the Temple. Two angels are shown above Christ's head, and another two in the top corners of the border. The other figures, to the left of and below the Temple, remain unidentified.

    The manuscript is the Book of Kells, no. 58 in the Library of Trinity College Dublin, produced in Iona or Kells (or both) at some time in the late eighth or early ninth century. The plate reproduces folio 202 verso, which preceded the text of Luke IV.1, 'Iesus autem plenus Spiritu Sancto'. It is plate 11 in J.O. Westwood, "Fac-similes of the Miniatures & Ornaments of Anglo-Saxon and Irish Manuscripts", London (Bernard Quaritch): 1868. It was removed from Ruskin's copy of the work, now in the collection of the Ruskin Foundation at the Ruskin Library, Lancaster. This may be the copy mentioned in Fors Claivgera (lett. 63, § 23 = XXVIII.559), bought from 'Professor Westwood' for £50, 'For copies of the Book of Kells, bought of a poor artist. Very beautiful, and good for gifts to St. George.'

    The drawing was first recorded in the collection only in 1906, when Cook and Wedderburn listed it in frame 196 of the Reference Series, where it accompanied two more plates from the same work, depicting another leaf from the Book of Kells and an eighth- or ninth-century evangelary at Saint Gall, and a series of lithographs of letters from manuscripts in Monte Cassino.

    In his lecture on 'The Flamboyant Architecture of the vallery of the Somme', Ruskin described how interlace work such as that in the Book of Kells was not restricted to Scandinavian and Insular art: 'the same instinct is manifest in the living art of the whole world ... [it] belongs ... as much to Indian, to Arabian, to Egyptian, and to Byzantine work, as to that of Norway and Ireland; - nay, it existed just as strongly in the Greek mind in its best times ...' (§ 22 = XIX.258). Lecturing on "The Pleasures of Faith" on 25 October 1884, Ruskin described the Book as a quintessential object of Celtic art: 'Perfect in its peculiar manner, and exulting in the faultless practice of a narrow skill, it remained century after century incapable alike of inner growth, or foreign instruction; inimitable, yet incorrigible; marvellous, yet despicable, to its death. Despicable, I mean, only in the limitation of its capacity, not in its quality or nature.' (Pleasures of England, § 34 = XXXIII.440.)

  • Details

    Day & Son (1845 - 1867) (printer)
    W. R. Tymms (active c. 1868) (lithographer)
    after John Obadiah Westwood (1805 - 1893)
    Object type
    Material and technique
    colour lithograph on stiff wove paper
    325 x 241 mm (stone); 570 x 377 mm (sheet)
    Associated place
    Around the image, lithographed:
    top right: pl. 11
    bottom, centre: THE TEMPTATION OF JESUS CHRIST, (VIIt.h. Century.) | From the Book of Kells, Trinity College, Dublin. | Day & Son, (Limited) Lith. London

    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:


    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. 196

    Ruskin, John, ‘Fors Clavigera’, Edward T. Cook and Alexander Wedderburn, eds, The Works of John Ruskin: Library Edition, 39 (London: George Allen, 1903-1912), 27-29


    • Western Art Print Room

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