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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Engraving of two Birds, from Paintings in the Tomb of Khnumhotep III at Beni Hasan Giuseppe Angelelli

  • Curator’s description:


    The engraving shows two birds, the upper one shown in outline only, the lower one coloured. They are copied from paintings in the tomb of Khnumhotep III at Beni Hasan (Porter & Moss, "Topographical Bibliography", 2nd ed, Oxford (Clarendon Press & Griffith Institute): 1960-1999, vol. IV, p. 147). Rosellini suggests that the upper bird is a spoonbill, the lower a kingfisher.

    Although described by Hewison, in his edition of the Rudimentary Series catalogues, as a copy in graphite, ink and watercolour by Ruskin, this is clearly a coloured engraving. It is taken from the second volume of plates from Ippolito Rosellini's "Monumenti dell' Egitto e della Nubia", published in 1834. It was first catalogued by Ruskin in the "Catalogue of Examples" of 1870, as no. 13 in the Educational Series, "Egyptian drawings of birds". In 1872, however, it was moved to no. 176 in the Rudimentary Series where, as "First Exercise in Plumage-outline and Colour", it was placed at the beginning of the first section of the eighth cabinet, "Birds chosen for exercises in Plumage-pattern". It is not mentioned in Ruskin's 1878 reorganisation of the series.

    In the "Catalogue of Examples", Ruskin described how his 'somewhat advanced students' were to copy the outlines before adding areas of flat colour as an exercise 'for precision'. His instructions in the printed Rudimentary Series catalogues suggest that it fulfilled a similar role for his town students (Rudimentary Series printed catalogues, pp. 44-45). He also described how there was no 'gaiety or license' in the pictures: like Greek design, they were humourless and severe - but always deliberate.

    In a note in "The Ethics of the Dust", explaining how the individual aspects of the Egyptian deities were still largely unknown, Ruskin was somewhat sceptical of Rosellini's qualities: 'for the full titles and utterances of the gods, Rosellini is as yet the only - and I believe, still a very questionable - authority' (Ethics of the Dust, note III = XVIII.363). In his entry below nos 176-180 in the Reference Series, Ruskin again questioned Rosellini's accuracy, noting that the colours were sometimes conjectural, 'slight traces of the original pigments, and those changed by time, being interpreted often too arbitrarily' (Standard and Reference Series catalogue, p. 22).

  • Details

    Giuseppe Angelelli (1803 - 1849)
    Alexandre Bibent (active 1828)
    Giovanni Paolo Lasinio (1789 - 1885) (engraver)
    Object type
    Material and technique
    bodycolour over etching and engraving on wove paper
    333 x 260 mm (approx., sheet); 364 x 318 mm (mount)
    Associated place
    On the print, recto:
    above the lower bird, engraved: 5
    top, in ink, partially obscured: C[...] 1. Top

    On the mount, recto, all in graphite (recent):
    top, left of centre: Edu 13 Egypt
    just below and to the right: ? aB or AM = McDonald [the 'aB' and 'AM' both beneath a horizontal bar]
    top right: 'Exercise'
    bottom right: R 176 (upper) | Rosellini

    On the mount, verso:
    top left, in graphite: R/176
    centre, in graphite: 13
    bottom right, in graphite: A3

    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, The Ruskin Art Collection at Oxford: Catalogue of the Rudimentary Series, in the Arrangement of 1873, ed. Robert Hewison (London: Lion and Unicorn Press, 1984), cat. Rudimentary no. 176.a, RUD.176.a

    Ruskin, John, Catalogue of Examples Arranged for Elementary Study in the University Galleries (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1870), cat. Educational no. 13

    Rosellini, Ippolito, I monumenti dell' Egitto e della Nubia: Disegnati dalla spedizione scientifico-letteraria toscana in Egitto: distributi in ordine di materie, 12 (Pisa: Presso N. Capurro, 1832-1844), pt II, Tavole, pl. XI, figs 2 & 5

    Ruskin, John, Instructions in Practice of Elementary Drawing, Arranged with Reference to the First Series of Examples in the Drawings Schools of the University of Oxford (n.p., [1872]), cat. Rudimentary no. 176

    Ruskin, John, Instructions in the Preliminary Exercises Arranged for the Lower Drawing-School (London: Smith, Elder, 1872), cat. Rudimentary no. 176

    Ruskin, John, Instructions in the Preliminary Exercise Arranged For the Lower Drawing-School (London: Spottiswoode, 1873), cat. Rudimentary no. 176

    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. Rudimentary no. 176


    • Western Art Print Room

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