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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Illuminated page from the Beaupré Antiphonary, with the Magnificat Antiphon in the Office of Saint Clement and the Vespers Antiphon of the Office of Saint Catherine Anonymous Flemish

  • Curator’s description:


    Recto: A large three-line historiated initial 'V' depicts Saint Catherine of Alexandria debating with Maxentius, reflecting the story told by Jacopus of Voragine in "The Golden Legend", written shortly before the initial was painted. Catherine stands in the centre, one hand pointing to an altar, the other raised as she disputes with the Emperor Maxentius who sits on a throne on the left, holding his sceptre. Behind Maxentius and Catherine stands a tight group of men, presumably representing the 50 philosophers summoned by Maxentius to debate with the saint. On the right is a small stone altar, on which are placed a gold idol and a small lamb.

    A thin coloured border decorated with occasional protruding ivy leaves runs around the top, left and bottom edges of the text block. Various figures are placed around it. In the top right corner appears the top half of a tonsured man, swinging a censer and holding a book; two rabbits sit on the top centre; on the top left a figure with the head of a woman and paws instead of hands appears to bend her head to listen to an animal's head beside her. On the left, the border becomes slightly more elaborate as it partially incorporates some of the smaller initials; just above the main initial it broadens to include two vine-leaves on tendrils and a white animal's head. At the bottom left is another broad panel containing three clumps of vine leaves on tendrils. At the bottom, centre, is a figure with a human top half, a lizard's tail and a green lion's legs and paws; it seems to hold a small round mirror into which it gazes in one hand, and a long thin stick in the other. To the right, a man holds onto a monkey on a cord with one hand, whilst with the other he raises a stick to hit it. The bottom border is terminated on the right with a single vine-leaf and an extension up the right edge ending in a clump of ivy leaves.

    The rubric is written in various colours - red, blue, brown (formerly purple?), gold (for Catherine's name) and green - and contains nine illuminated initials, 'S', 'X', 'E', 'G', 'V', 'B', 'A' and 'S'. Seven of these are gilded, set against coloured backgrounds decorated with white arabesques; one is a pale brown (presumably faded), and the 'K' of 'Katherine' contains two vine leaves on white tendrils. (This is the only rubric to be treated so elaborately in the manuscript.) The main text is written in black ink in a textura precissa ???? hand, with the musical notation in black on red staves; 'Katherine' is again gilded. Divisions in the text are marked with a red 'a'.

    The recto contains the end of the Magnificat antiphon in the Office of Saint Clement (23 November). This is followed by the rubric and historiated initial which begin the Vespers antiphon of the Office of Saint Catherine (25 November), followed by the first four lines of text and notation of the antiphon itself.

    Verso: The text and notation continue. As before, the text is black, the staves red, and divisions are marked with a red 'a'. The initial letter of each of the three divisions on this page is illuminated: two 'H's are gilded and contain white arabesques against coloured backgrounds; the central 'C' is coloured and contains scrolls of white tendrils terminating in red and gold leaves.

    The page is from the Beaupré Antiphonary, written by a scribe who signed himself 'Iohannes', probably in Cambron, and illuminated in Hainaut in the 1280s and early 1290s. Originally comprising two sets of three volumes, one made for the abbess and one for the prioress of Sainte-Marie de Beaupré, the Antiphonary as it now exists comprises three volumes drawn from both sets together with a volume of later additions, preserved in the Walters Art Gallery, Baltimore, as MSS W.759-W.762. Volumes 1 and 2 of the abbess's set have been combined with volume 3 of the prioress's. This particular leaf comes from between folios 182 and 183 of Walters MS W.760, volume 2 of the abbess's set, created c.1290 for Béatrix of Grammont (1269-1293/4).

    Cook and Wedderburn state that Ruskin was responsible for the very heavy pagination now carried by the manuscript (XXI.16 n. 3). As with his other manuscripts, Ruskin removed leaves from the Beaupré Antiphonary, as well as rebinding the three volumes into smaller parts. Another detached leaf was with Maggs Bros in 1961, and individual initials are preserved in the Victoria & Albert Museum, the Lilly Library at Indiana University, and the Bibliothèque Royale, Brussels. The bound volumes in this set passed to Arthur Severn on Ruskin's death; they were then in the collections of Henry Yates Thompson, Sir A. Chester Beatty, and William Randolph Hearst before they were presented to the Walters by the Hearst Foundation. Volumes 1 and 2 of the Prioress's set and volume 3 of the abbess's were destroyed in a fire at Sotheby and Dickinson's on 29 June 1865.

    Ruskin seems to have regarded this as a fairly coarse, but typical, example of the 'central schools' of illumination. He used copies of a wreath of ivy from the manuscript as nos 11.c. and 11.d in the Educational Series as it appeared in the "Catalogue of Examples" (see now Working Series, Cabinet II, no. 16).

  • Details

    Anonymous Flemish (Anonymous (Flemish))
    Iohannes (active c. 1290) (scribe)
    Object type
    manuscript, drawing
    Material and technique
    bodycolour, gold leaf, shell gold and red and black ink on parchment
    480 x 336 mm
    Recto, paginated top right in black ink: 375.

    Verso, paginated top left in black ink: 376.

    Executed for Béatrix of Grammont, c.1290; presented by her to the Abbey of Beaupré; John Ruskin by 1854; presented by John Ruskin to the Ruskin Drawing School (University of Oxford), 1875; transferred

    No. of items
    Accession no.
  • Subject terms allocated by curators:


  • References in which this object is cited include:


    Dearden, James S., ‘John Ruskin, the Collector: With a Catalogue of the Illuminated and Other Manuscripts Formerly in His Collection’, The Library, 5th ser., 21, (1966), no. 21

    Ruskin, John, Catalogue of Examples Arranged for Elementary Study in the University Galleries (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1870), cat. Standard no. 7

    Randal, Lilian M. C., Medieval and Western Manuscripts in the Walters Art Gallery, iii, Belgium, 1250-1530, Part 1 (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press in association with the Walters Art Gallery, 1997), no. 219B (with previous references)

    Ruskin, John, Catalogue of the Reference Series Including Temporarily the First Section of the Standard Series (London: Smith, Elder, [1872]), cat. Standard no. 7

    Ruskin, John, ‘The Works of John Ruskin’, Edward T. Cook and Alexander Wedderburn, eds, The Works of John Ruskin: Library Edition, 39 (London: George Allen, 1903-1912), cat. vol. XII, p. 494, n. 3

    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. Standard no. 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


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