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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Print of the Decoration on a Greek Amphora, showing Hermes releasing Io from Argos Fourquemin

  • Curator’s description:


    The lithograph shows Io, in the form of a heifer, in the centre. On the left, Hermes leads her by a cord tied to her horn; on the right reclines the monster Argos, who holds a long cord also attached to Io's horn. The print reproduces the decoration of a black-figure amphora, then in the Pinakothek in Munich. It was plate XCIX in the third volume of Lenormant and de Witte's "Elite des monuments céramographiques", published in 1858. It was presumably taken from Ruskin's copy of the work now preserved in the Ruskin Library (inventory no. 1996B2621), which is missing many of its plates.

    The print was first catalogued by Ruskin in 1870, as no. 208 in the Standard Series, framed with two more prints from Lenormant and de Witte, of a black-figure illustration of Apollo, Artemis, Hermes and Leto, and of a red-figure Hermes; they formed part of a series 'arranged chiefly with the view of showing the change in Greek conception of deity'. It retained its number in the 1871 catalogue of the Standard and Reference Series but, by the time Cook and Wedderburn were compiling their edition of the catalogues (published in 1906), the frame had been moved to no. 190. Cook and Wedderburn note (XXI.45 n. 1) that it carried its original number (208) on the edge of its frame, but the new number (190) on the face. Presumably, it was easier to engrave and attach a new ivory label on the edge of the frame than it was to remove or gild over the painted number on the face.

    According to Ruskin, the change in the ancient Greek conception of deity took place between the sixth and fourth centuries BC, and was marked by a development from conceiving of the gods as embodiments of physical forces to individual, characterised intelligences; from active to passive figures; and from grotesque to deliberately-selected beautiful depictions. At the same time, ceramic decoration changed from painting black figures on the red ground to painting a black background, letting the red ground show through in the figures themselves - though this soon led to careless execution. He believed the best vases were red-figure vases produced just after the transition (Catalogue of Examples, pp. 25-27; Standard and Reference catalogue, pp. 28-30).

    Discussing the frame in his lecture on "Light" on 16 March 1870, Ruskin described how Argos represented the night, 'his grotesque features monstrous; his hair overshadowing his shoulders'; he also included a woodcut of the print (Lectures on Art, § 156 = XX.149-150; figure 4 = XX.150).

  • Details

    Fourquemin (active c. 1835 - c. 1861) (printer)
    Alexis Louis Pierre Housselin (active c. 1858 - c. 1881) (lithographer)
    Object type
    Material and technique
    watercolour and bodycolour over lithograph on wove paper
    135 x 310 mm (stone); 208 x 348 mm (sheet)
    Recto, all printed, around the image:
    top left: T.III.
    top right: PL. XCIX.
    bottom left: Lith de Fourquemin
    bottom right: Ais Housselin sc.

    top left, in ink, written down the sheet: 99
    top, right of centre, the Ruskin School's stamp

    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 Examples Arranged for Elementary Study in the University Galleries (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1870), cat. Standard no. 208

    Lenormant, Charles, and Jean de Witte, Elite des monuments céramographiques: Matériaux pour l'histoire des religions et des moeurs de l'antiquité, 4 vols in 8 (Paris: Leleux, 1844-1861), vol. III, pl. XCIX

    Ruskin, John, Catalogue of the Reference Series Including Temporarily the First Section of the Standard Series (London: Smith, Elder, [1872]), cat. Reference no. 208

    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. 190

    Ruskin, John, ‘Lectures on Art: Delivered Before the University of Oxford in Hilary Term, 1870’, Edward T. Cook and Alexander Wedderburn, eds, The Works of John Ruskin: Library Edition, 39 (London: George Allen, 1903-1912), 20, figure 4 = XX.150


    • Western Art Print Room

Position in Ruskin’s Collection

Ruskin's Catalogues

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