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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Owl, copied from a Photograph of Mantegna's Fresco of "The Martyrdom of Saint James" in the Church of Eremitani, Padua Arthur Burgess

  • Curator’s description:


    The drawing depicts the owl which perches on a branch by the broken arch in the top right corner of Mantegna's fresco of "The Martyrdom of Saint James", painted in the Ovetari Chapel of the Chiesa degli Eremitani in Padua, c.1455-7. Cook and Wedderburn (XXI.179 n. 1) describe the drawing as being after a photograph of Mantegna's fresco and, given that Burgess worked in Oxford for Ruskin whist he was Slade Professor, it seems most likely that the photograph in question was no. 35 in the Standard Series, by the firm of Carlo Naya. The drawing, together with nos 220 and 221 in the Educational Series and 298 in the Rudimentary Series, therefore fulfils Ruskin's wish, 'I hope to illustrate various sections of [the photograph] separately' (Catalogue of Examples, and Standard and Reference Series catalogue, no. 35). The owl in the photograph is perhaps 12 mm from head to feet, which explains the comparatively broad handling of Burgess's drawing.

    First catalogued in 1872, as no. 46 in the Rudimentary Series, the owl accompanied studies of various animals drawn from life or from other works of art in the second section of the second cabinet. It remained in the same position in all subsequent catalogues, including Ruskin's 1878 revision of the Rudimentary Series. This contains Ruskin's only written comment on the drawing, where he notes that it was included to show how Mantegna used his brush, and as an exercise in chalk-drawing. He seems to have seen the Mantegna frescoes in the summer of 1870, writing to Charles Eliot Norton on 8 July that 'We had a lovely day at Padua, and I see Mantegna with ever-increasing admiration.' (XXXVII.10.)

    According to Cook and Wedderburn (XXI.179 n. 1), Ruskin had George Allen make an engraving after this drawing, but the plate was never finished.

  • Details

    Arthur Burgess (1843 - 1886)
    after Andrea Mantegna (1430/31 - 1506)
    after Carlo Naya, firm (active 1850s - 1918) (photographer)
    Object type
    Material and technique
    charcoal, black and white chalk on wove paper, with mounting lines indicated by light scoring
    498 x 346 mm
    bottom centre, graphite (recent): R. 46. | Burgess (after photo after Mantegna)
    just to the 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, 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. 46, RUD.046

    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. 46

    Ruskin, John, Instructions in the Preliminary Exercises Arranged for the Lower Drawing-School (London: Smith, Elder, 1872), cat. Rudimentary no. 46

    Ruskin, John, Instructions in the Preliminary Exercise Arranged For the Lower Drawing-School (London: Spottiswoode, 1873), cat. Rudimentary no. 46

    Ruskin, John, ‘Rudimentary Series 1878’, 1878, Oxford, Oxford University Archives, cat. Rudimentary no. 46

    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. 46


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