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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Study for General Chiaroscuro of the Sarcophagus and Canopy of the Tomb of Mastino II della Scala at Verona John Ruskin

  • Curator’s description:


    The drawing shows the tomb of Mastino II della Scala, lord of Verona, who died on 3 June 1351 - although his tomb seems to have been erected around 1345. Placed amongst the other Scaliger tombs outside the church of Santa Maria Antica in Verona, the tomb takes the form of a high pedestal topped by a sarcophagus carying a recumbent figure of Mastino, with four angels at its corners. The pedestal is covered by an arched canopy which rests upon four columns, with each of its four gables decorated with sculpture and flanked by small pinnacles. Above is a tall pinnacle, topped by a figure of Mastino in full armour, on horseback. The tomb's lower levels are surrounded by a high wrought-iron fence. The drawing focusses on the sarcophagus and its canopy, seen from the passageway leading to the north door of Santa Maria Antica (i.e. the west); the strangely-shaped object in the right foreground is the remains of one of the sculptures topping the stone supports of the wrought-iron fence which protects the tomb. A relief of the Crucifixion is clearly visible on the end of the sarcophagus.

    Cook and Wedderburn identify this drawing with no. 9 in the "Abbeville" exhibition, described by Ruskin as 'Pencil Sketch (unfinished) of Tomb of Mastino, Verona', and no. 26 in the Verona exhibition, which Ruskin states was 'Sketched in 1852'. It first appears in the Drawing School in the 1872 catalogue of the Standard and Reference Series, where, as no. 58, it was accompanied by other studies from the tomb of Mastino, and those of Can Grande and Can Signorio della Scala. Ruskin's title in the catalogue suggests that it was intended to give an impression of the masses and chiaroscuro of the monument.

    Ruskin made much of the tomb, and it is depicted in several items in the collection: Reference Series no. 59 is a more detailed graphite study by Ruskin of the sarcophagus and canopy. Reference Series no. 129 is a graphite study by Burgess of the head of Mastino's effigy. Rudimentary Series no. 94 is a photograph of the entire tomb. Rudimentary Series no. 95 is a graphite study by Ruskin of the north gable. Rudimentary Series no. 96 is a photograph of the tomb, together with that of Cansignorio della Scala. A drawing by Burgess of a moulding on the sarcophagus was placed on the wall of the Drawing School (it is now no. R.140 in the collection of the Guild of Saint George). Casts from the tomb were also placed on the School's walls (now listed as no. WAL.17.a). A graphite drawing by Bunney of the sculpture in one of the gables was placed in frame no. 92 in the Rudimentary Series, replacing the item originally placed there by Ruskin.

    In "The Stones of Venice", Ruskin described the tomb as 'altogether exquisite as a work of art', its 'composition ... as perfect as its decoration refined' - marred, however, by the inclusion of the figure of Fortitude (one of the virtues attributed to Mastino) along with the religious figures on the sarcophagus, demonstrating 'traces of erring ambition', related to the beginnings of the della Scala family's decline in Mastino's reign (vol. III, ch. ii, § 55 = XI.89). Writing of this particular drawing in the "Abbeville" catalogue, he described it how it showed 'peace of manner of contemplating death, and co-relative perfectness in Gothic style' (no. 9 = XIX.270).

  • Details

    John Ruskin (1819 - 1900)
    Object type
    Material and technique
    graphite on paper
    507 x 333 mm
    Associated place

    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:


    Taylor, Gerald, ‘John Ruskin: A Catalogue of Drawings by John Ruskin in the Ashmolean Museum, Oxford’, 7 fascicles, 1998, Oxford, Ashmolean Museum, no. 040

    Ruskin, John, Catalogue of the Reference Series Including Temporarily the First Section of the Standard Series (London: Smith, Elder, [1872]), cat. Reference no. 58

    Ruskin, John, ‘Drawings and Photographs, Illustrative of the Art of Verona, Shown at the Royal Institution, Feb. 4th 1870’, Edward T. Cook and Alexander Wedderburn, eds, The Works of John Ruskin: Library Edition, 39 (London: George Allen, 1903-1912), 19, no. 26 = XIX.454

    Ruskin, John, ‘References to the Series of Paintings and Sketches, From Mr. Ruskin's Collection, Shown in Illustration of the Relations of Flamboyant Architecture to Contemporary and Subsequent Art’, Edward T. Cook and Alexander Wedderburn, eds, The Works of John Ruskin: Library Edition, 39 (London: George Allen, 1903-1912), 19, no. 9 = XIX.270

    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. 58


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