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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Saint Eustace Albrecht Dürer

  • Curator’s description:


    The subject-matter is now identified as Saint Eustace (not Saint Hubert, as Ruskin has it, although the two saints' legends are very similar and they are often confused). Reflecting the legend as told in the Golden Legend, the hunstman Eustace kneels beside his source, gazing in devotion at the crucifix which appears between the antlers of the stag which he was hunting. His greyhounds rest beside his horse; a castle stands on top of a rocky pinnacle behind.

    First catalogued in 1872, the Saint Eustace was arranged in the second section of the third cabinet in the Rudimentary Series, 'Greek and Mediæval Design', alongside 11 other Dürers (original engravings and woodcuts, and one facsimile), and two photographs after Holbein.

    A life-size pen-and-ink copy by George Allen of the plant in the bottom left foreground was included by Ruskin in the Reference Series as no. 148. A wood-engraving of this was reproduced as fig. 74 of "Modern Painters", vol. V, and Ruskin held it as an example of Dürer's 'perfectness of conception, every leaf being thoroughly set in perspective, and drawn with unerring decision' (Modern Painters, vol. V, pt vi, ch. 10, § 19 = VII.126-7). In his 1878 revision of the Rudimentary catalogue, he described Dürer's 'petty, crinkly, wrinkly, knobby and bumpy forms' as due to the rudeness of the German mentality (as compared to the Greek); but that the loss of dignity these caused was compensated for by a gain in interest. The "Saint Eustace", more than any other print, displayed Dürer's 'essential, and therefore pardonable, faults'.

    The print's lack of aerial perspective was the focus of Ruskin's discussion in "The Stones of Venice", when he used Dürer's undoubted talents to indicate how a little knowledge could blind a viewer to the virtues of great works of art (Stones of Venice, vol. III, ch. ii, pt 1, §§ 20-21= XI.58-9). It was also one of the few plates by Dürer (along with the "Melencolia"; "Saint Jerome"; and "Knight, Death and the Devil") where the depiction of clothed figures meant that Dürer's depiction of the figure was not 'polluted and paralyzed by the study of anatomy' (The Eagle's Nest, preface = XXII.122). But despite this praise, Ruskin considered that the Saint Eustace was 'uninteresting, apart from the manner of [its] representation' when compared with, say, "Knight, Death and the Devil" (Lectures on Art, § 47 = XX.55-6).

    According to Ruskin, the landscape, typical of Dürer's work, was that of his native Franconia (Modern Painters, vol. V, pt. ix, ch. 4, § 9 = VII.305-6).

  • Details

    Albrecht Dürer (1471 - 1528) (engraver)
    Object type
    Material and technique
    engraving on laid paper
    357 x 259 (sheet); 480 x 318 mm (mount)
    Associated place
    In the print, engraved, bottom centre: Dürer's 'AD' monogram

    On the mount, recto, top centre, in ink: 77.

    On the mount, verso:
    bottom left corner, in graphite (recent): Rud | 64
    bottom left, in graphite (recent): B 57
    bottom, left of centre, the Ruskin School's stamp
    bottom, towards right, in graphite (recent): 31

    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, ‘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, ‘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

    Bartsch, Adam von, The Illustrated Bartsch, founding editor Walter L. Strauss, general editor John T. Spike (New York: Abaris Books, 1978-), no. 1001.57

    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. 64

    Ruskin, John, ‘Rudimentary Series 1878’, 1878, Oxford, Oxford University Archives, cat. Rudimentary no. 64

    Meder, Josef, Dürer-Katalog, ein handbuch über Albrecht Dürers stiche, radierungen, Holzschnitte, deren zustände, ausgaben und wasserzeichen (Wien: Gilhofer & Ranschburg, 1932), no. 60

    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

    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. 64

    Schoch, Rainer, Mende, Matthias, and Scherbaum, Anna, Albrecht Dürer: das druckgraphische Werk, 3 (Munich/London/New York: Prestel, 2001-2004), no. 32

    Ruskin, John, Instructions in the Preliminary Exercise Arranged For the Lower Drawing-School (London: Spottiswoode, 1873), cat. Rudimentary no. 64

    Hollstein, F. W. H., German Engravings Etchings and Woodcuts, ca. 1400 - 1700 (Amsterdam: Menno Hertzberger, 1954-), cat. vol. VII, p. 53, no. 60

    Bartsch, Adam von, Le Peintre Graveur, 21 vols (Vienna: J. von Degen, 1803-1821), cat. vol. VII, pp. 73-4, no. 57

    Ruskin, John, ‘The Eagle's Nest: Ten Lectures on the Relation of Natural Science to Art, Given Before the University of Oxfored, in Lent Term, 1872’, Edward T. Cook and Alexander Wedderburn, eds, The Works of John Ruskin: Library Edition, 39 (London: George Allen, 1903-1912), 22

    Ruskin, John, Instructions in the Preliminary Exercises Arranged for the Lower Drawing-School (London: Smith, Elder, 1872), cat. Rudimentary no. 64

    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. 64, RUD.064


    • Western Art Print Room

Position in Ruskin’s Collection

Ruskin's Catalogues

  • Ruskin's Rudimentary series, 3rd ed. (1872)

    R|64} St. Hubert (line engraving). A. Dürer.
  • Ruskin's Rudimentary series 4th ed. (1872)

    R|64} St. Hubert (line engraving). A. Dürer.
  • Ruskin's Rudimentary series, 5th ed. (1873)

    R|64} St. Hubert (line engraving). A. Dürer.
  • Ruskin's revision to the Rudimentary series (1878)

    (St Hubert) remains 64.

    In looking through the collection any careful and thoughtful student or visitor will learn much from the juxtaposition of works of art presenting entirely opposite qualities. Thus, having had his attention directed in the last thirteen pieces to the simplicity of Greek outlines and the parallel simplicity of Greek execution and of modern processes rightly founded on it, he will, I hope, be at first considerably startled and then shocked by the petty, crinkly, wrinkly, knobby and bumpy forms of Albert Dürer, and by execution which devotes a day to a dog’s ear and a week to a weed. All these faults, so far as they are faults, belong to the German mind in the degree of its rudeness as compared with the Greek, and to the modern mind in the pettiness of thought and pursuit as opR. posed to the civic grandeur of the thoughts of the Greek; but, after working a little while under masters of this school, it will be found that they have gained in interest much of what they have lost in dignity, and that there are certain qualities, both in the dog’s ear and the weed, which the Greek did not appreciate, which the German did, and which entirely deserve the days’, seven days’, or even nine days’ wonder and work which he bestowed upon them. It is, nevertheless, supremely to be regretted that at the moment when the art of engraving was perfected there was no one but the German master to show of what it is capable - the works of Marc Antonio having been so degraded by the baseness of his character that they became one of the deadliest instruments for the corruption of taste throughout Europe, and are to be counted amongst the most immediate causes of the destruction of the Italian schools. Nor are the faults, even of Dürer, without a certain danger to students who have acute sympathy with him in leading them into feverish and excited perceptions of detail. On the other hand, for the carelessness and idleness R. of vulgar English work the study of him is a most medicinal antidote.A friend asks me why the nearer trees are apparently storm-stricken and shattered, whilst the distant ones are growing happily. I imagine, merely to please himself, but know not why he was so pleased. He very certainly ought not to have been, and the work throughout exhibits, more than any other, his essential, and therefore pardonable, faults. Of his inessential and unpardonable faults we shall see presently a better example.

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