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 Titian's "Pesaro Madonna" Valentin Lefebvre

  • Curator’s description:


    The figures are arranged around an altar, covered with a cloth, which stands at the base of a monumental column on the right. A second column runs up the picture behind, to the left. The Virgin sits upon the altar, facing three-quarters to the left, holding the naked infant Christ on her left knee as he stands playing with her veil and kicking his feet, facing three-quarters to the right. Saint Peter, a balding man with a curly beard dressed in loose robes, stands leaning against the altar at the Virgin's feet, his right hand resting inside a large open book lying on the top of the altar as he turns his head to look at the figures behind him, to the left. His keys lie on the steps at his feet. Behind him stands Saint George (also identified as Saint Theodore or Saint Maurice), a younger man with short hair and a thick curly beard, wearing plate armour and holding the staff of a large banner above his head in his left hand. The banner carries the arms of Pope Alexander VI (Borgia); only the sinister side is distinct in the engraving. He turns his head to look back over his shoulder to the left, where a man wearing a large, round turban can just be seen on the left edge. In front of Saint George kneels Jacopo Pesaro, Bishop of Paphos, an old man with a tonsure, dressed in heavy robes, kneeling in profile to the right, his hands joined before him as he looks up at the Virgin. Opposite him, on the right, kneels Benedetto Pesaro, a haggard-looking old man with long hair in a similar pose but facing left; he wears a heavy brocade robe with very broad sleeves and a short, stiff collar. The heads and shoulders of four more people are visible behind him, to the right: three men in heavy robes, more-or-less in profile to the left, variously identified as Vittorio, Antonio and Fantino Pesaro, or as Antonio, Giovanni and Lunardo Pesaro, and a youth turning his head to face three-quarters to the left and engage the viewer's glance, who has been called Giovanni or Nicolò Pesaro; he wears an embroidered tunic with broad sleeves. Behind and above this group stands Saint Francis, in profile to the left, his head turned to look up to the Virgin, his arms held out beside him as he indicates the Pesaro family to the Virgin. He is tonsured, and wears a Franciscan habit; the marks of the stigmata are just visible on his palms. Saint Anthony of Padua, in a Franciscan habit, also tonsured and apparently carrying a small book, can be seen just behind him. Clouds are visible behind the columns, with the side of a classicising building filling the space between the right-hand column and the print's right border. Above, in the arched top, a small cloud hovers in front of the columns; on it two putti support a wooden cross.

    Lefebvre's engraving reproduces Titian's "Pesaro Madonna", painted between 1519 and 1527 for Jacopo Pesaro, and placed on the altar of the Immaculate Conception - to which the family had recently acquired the patronage rights - in the Franciscan church of Santa Maria Gloriosa dei Frari in Venice (hence the two Franciscan saints on the right).

    Although Ruskin considered Lefebvre's engravings after Titian to be 'rude', he believed that they demonstrated perfectly those aspects of Titian's art which could be conveyed in an engraving: his solidity and sincerity, the human yet majestic ideal of his figures, the facility with which he arranged his compositions and figures, and the richness of his complex compositions - of which the Pesaro Madonna was a particularly subtle example, because of its oblique arrangement. Ruskin particularly pointed out the role of Saint Peter's keys in indicating the axis of the composition (a point he repeated in "Modern Painters", vol. V, pt viii, ch. 2, § 12 = VII.224-225). In a passage added to "The Stones of Venice" in 1877 (Venetian Index, s.v. Frari, Church of the = XI.379-380), Ruskin called the Pesaro Madonna 'the best Titian in Venice', its powers of portraiture and disciplined composition surpassing the more meretricious "Assumption" in the same church.

  • Details

    Valentin Lefebvre (c. 1641 - c. 1680) (engraver)
    after Titian (c. 1485/90 - 1576)
    Object type
    Material and technique
    engraving on laid paper
    507 x 286 mm (sheet)
    bottom, towards right, in graphite: Ref 106
    below and to the right, in graphite: 2/
    below centre, in ink, an outline of an unidentifiable subject

    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. 24

    Ruskin, John, Catalogue of the Reference Series Including Temporarily the First Section of the Standard Series (London: Smith, Elder, [1872]), cat. Reference no. 106

    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. 106

    Ruskin, John, ‘Modern Painters’, Edward T. Cook and Alexander Wedderburn, eds, The Works of John Ruskin: Library Edition, 39 (London: George Allen, 1903-1912), 3-7

    Ruskin, John, ‘The Stones of Venice’, Edward T. Cook and Alexander Wedderburn, eds, The Works of John Ruskin: Library Edition, 39 (London: George Allen, 1903-1912), 9-11


    • Western Art Print Room

Position in Ruskin’s Collection

Ruskin's Catalogues

  • Ruskin's Catalogue of Examples (1870)

    24. The Pesaro Family. (Titian.) From the church of the Frari, Venice. Engraved by Le Febre.

    You may learn more of Titian’s true powers from these rude engravings than from any finer ones. These are masterly as far as they are carried, and show perfect intelligence of the qualities of Titian which are expressible by engraving. His sturdiness, his homely dignity, incapable of any morbid tremor, falsehood, or self-consciousness; his entirely human, yet majestic ideal; his utter, easy, unreproveable masterhood of his business, (everything being done so rightly that you can hardly feel that it is done strongly); and his rich breadth of masses obtained by multitudinous divisions perfectly composed. The balanced arrangement in the first example is palpable enough; in the second it is more subtle, being oblique; the figures are arranged in a pyramid, with curved sides, of which the apex is the head of the Madonna. The St. Peter balances the St. Francis, and the line of the axis of the group is given by one of his keys, lying aslope on the steps.

  • Ruskin's Standard & Reference series (1872)

    106 Madonna with Pesaro family (Titian). The picture is in the Church of the Frari, Venice E

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