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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Drawing of an initial 'I' from the Arnstein Bible anonymous British

  • Curator’s description:


    As the inscription indicates, the drawing has been copied from folio 100 v. of a manuscript in the British Library, Harley 2798, the first volume of a two-volume vulgate Bible made for the Abbey of Arnstein (near Coblenz) in 1172 (see Andrew G. Watson, "Catalogue of Dated and Datable Manuscripts c.700-1600 in The Department of Manuscripts, The British Library", 2 vols, London (British Library): 1979, p. 128). The 14-line initial marks the beginning of the Book of Ruth, 'In diebus unius iudicis quando iudices praeerant ...'. The copyist has taken great care to reproduce the initial almost line-for-line.

    The creator of the drawing remains anonymous, although Ruskin, in the Catalogue of Examples (under no. 18) states that it is by one of his pupils (although not by J.J. Laing, who was reponsible for Educational Series nos 207 and 208).

    The drawing first appears in the collection in 1870, when Ruskin listed it as no. 17 in the Educational Series. In 1871, it had moved to no. 1 C in case IX of the series, "Illustrations of the Connection between Decorative and Realistic Design", where it remained in 1874, albeit renumbered as no. 204. It is not mentioned in Ruskin's 1878 reorganisation of the series.

    In the "Catalogue of Examples", Ruskin wrote that such initials provided ideal practice: 'the pen lines are always superb, and the colour delicate and simple'. As the initial is not one of the more extravagant illuminations in the manuscript, such as those marking the beginnings of Exodus (folio 24 r.) or Leviticus (folio 40 r.), it may have been its relative restraint that attracted Ruskin.

  • Details

    anonymous British (Anonymous (British))
    after Anonymous (German) (Anonymous, German)
    Object type
    Material and technique
    watercolour and bodycolour over graphite on card
    226 x 175 mm
    Recto, top right, in graphite: Harl 2798. | 101

    left, above centre, in graphite (recent): Ed. 204 | former 17 b 'norman letter i put colour right'
    bottom left, 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 the Educational Series (London: Smith, Elder, 1871), cat. Educational no. IX.1.C

    Ruskin, John, Catalogue of the Educational Series (London: Spottiswoode, 1874), cat. Educational no. 204

    Ruskin, John, Catalogue of Examples Arranged for Elementary Study in the University Galleries (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1870), cat. Educational no. 17

    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. 204


    • Western Art Print Room

Position in Ruskin’s Collection

Ruskin's Catalogues

  • Ruskin's Educational series, 1st ed. (1871)

    1 C Letter of 12th Century. Study from M.S.
  • Ruskin's Educational series, 2nd ed. (1874)

    204. Letter of 12th Century. Study from M.S.
  • Ruskin's Catalogue of Examples (1870)

    Letter of twelfth century Norman MS., showing the terminations of conventional foliage which develope afterwards into the finest forms of capital.

    You cannot find better practice, after gaining some firmness of hand, than in endeavouring to copy rich letters of this period; the pen lines are always superb, and the colour delicate and simple: and all study of Gothic sculpture must begin by obtaining accurate knowledge of the forms of ornamentation developed in the twelfth century. I will arrange, in connection with these letters, a series of enlarged examples, for advanced practice; but they would be too difficult for present service.

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