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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Print of the Decoration on a Greek Amphora, showing Athena with attendant Nymphs Kaeppelin et Compagnie

  • Curator’s description:


    The lithograph shows Athena in the centre, holding her spear and helmet, with a fawn behind her. To either side of her stands a woman, each holding a flower and a sceptre; Ruskin identified them as nymphs. The print reproduces the decoration of a black-figure amphora then in the royal collection in Copenhagen. It was plate LXXXI in the first volume of Lenormant and de Witte's "Elite des monuments céramographiques", published in 1844. It was presumably taken from Ruskin's copy of the work now preserved in the Ruskin Library (inventory no. 1996B2621), which is missing many of its plates.

    The print was first catalogued by Ruskin in 1870, as no. 205 in the Standard Series, framed with another print from Lenormant and de Witte of a black-figure illustration of Athena and Poseidon; they formed part of a series 'arranged chiefly with the view of showing the change in Greek conception of deity'. It retained its number in the 1871 catalogue of the Standard and Reference Series but, by the time Cook and Wedderburn were compiling their edition of the catalogues (published in 1906), the frame had been moved to no. 187. Cook and Wedderburn note (XXI.45 n. 1) that it carried its original number (205) on the edge of its frame, but the new number (187) on the face. Presumably, it was easier to engrave and attach a new ivory label on the edge of the frame than it was to remove or gild over the painted number on the face.

    According to Ruskin, the change in the ancient Greek conception of deity took place between the sixth and fourth centuries BC, and was marked by a development from conceiving of the gods as embodiments of physical forces to individual, characterised intelligences; from active to passive figures; and from grotesque to deliberately-selected beautiful depictions. At the same time, ceramic decoration changed from painting black figures on the red ground to painting a black background, letting the red ground show through in the figures themselves - though this soon led to careless execution. He believed the best vases were red-figure vases produced just after the transition (Catalogue of Examples, pp. 25-27; Standard and Reference catalogue, pp. 28-30).

    Ruskin described the print as showing 'Athena, as the morning breeze on the hills, with attendant nymphs'.

    Discussing the frame in his lecture on "Light" on 16 March 1870, Ruskin described how Athena here represented the morning air, 'but upon the earth instead of in the sky, with the nymphs of the dew beside her; the flowers and leaves opening as they breathe upon them' (Lectures on Art, § 154 = XX.147-148; the image was reproduced as figure 1 = XX.146). Ruskin also discussed the depiction of the light on the fawns' breasts in the upper images in Reference Series nos 187, 188 and 189: he suggested that it might express 'the direction of the light, when that direction is important'. He believed that the fawn symolised 'wavering and glancing motion on the ground, as well as of the light and shadow through the leaves, chequering the ground as the fawn is dappled'. (Lectures on Art, §§ 155-156 = XX.148-149.)

  • Details

    Kaeppelin et Compagnie (active c. 1839 - c. 1860) (printer)
    A. Rey (active c. 1844 - c. 1858) (lithographer)
    Object type
    Material and technique
    watercolour and bodycolour over lithograph on wove paper
    240 x 293 mm (stone); 260 x 350 mm (sheet)
    Recto, all printed, around the image:
    top right: PL. LXXXI.
    bottom right: A[. ]R[ey, sc.] [almost entirely obliterated]

    Recto, top left, in ink: Athena . A.1. Fawns Breast . quartering & light

    Veros, right centre, 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, Catalogue of Examples Arranged for Elementary Study in the University Galleries (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1870), cat. Standard no. 205

    Lenormant, Charles, and Jean de Witte, Elite des monuments céramographiques: Matériaux pour l'histoire des religions et des moeurs de l'antiquité, 4 vols in 8 (Paris: Leleux, 1844-1861), vol. I, pl. LXXXI

    Ruskin, John, Catalogue of the Reference Series Including Temporarily the First Section of the Standard Series (London: Smith, Elder, [1872]), cat. Reference no. 205

    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. 187

    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, figure 1 = XX.146


    • Western Art Print Room

Position in Ruskin’s Collection

Ruskin's Catalogues

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