The Elements of Drawing, John Ruskin’s teaching collection at Oxford

The Elements of Drawing, John Ruskin’s teaching collection at Oxford

Ruskin's Standard & Reference series (1872)

Exemplary works of art. In the catalogue of the Reference series, items marked 'M' are drawings "by my own Hand" (by Ruskin), P are photographs, E engravings and A by Ruskin's Assistant, Arthur Burgess.

Standard & Reference Cover

Ruskin's Catalogues: 1 object

Show search help

Search Help

Ruskin assembled a diverse collection of artworks for his drawing school in Oxford, including watercolours by J.M.W. Turner and drawings by Ruskin himself.  He taught students to draw as a way of educating them in how to look at art and the world around them.  

Ruskin divided his Teaching Collection into four main series: Standard, Reference, Educational and Rudimentary. Each item was placed in a numbered frame, arranged in a set of cabinets, so that they all had a specific position in the Collection (although Ruskin often moved items about as his ideas changed). 

When incorporated into the Ashmolean’s collection in the last century, the works were removed from the frames and the sequence was lost.  Here, Ruskin's original catalogues, notes and instructions - in his chosen order and in his own words - are united with images of the works and links to modern curatorial descriptions.

Reference URL


Send e-mail

Contact us about this object

Send e-mail

Send to a friend

Study of the Tomb of Can Grande della Scala at Verona John Ruskin

  • Ruskin text

    57 Pencil study of Tomb of Can Grande della Scala at Verona. Compare R. 24, and here 63 M
  • Curator’s description:


    The drawing depicts the tomb of Can Grande della Scala, lord of Verona, who died on 22 June 1329. The tomb is placed above two columns which flank the north door of the church of Santa Maria Antica, and the drawing focusses on the tomb itself, framed by a line of houses on the right (west) and the iron fence that surrounds the various Scaliger tombs on the left (east). The tomb takes the form of a sarcophagus carying a recumbent figure of Can Grande, set beneath an arched canopy which rests upon two columns. Above is a tall pinnacle, topped by a figure of Can Grande in full armour, on horseback.

    Ruskin exhibited the work in his "Verona" exhibition of February 1870, as no. 22, where it was described as a 'Sketch made carefully on the spot last year. The sarcophagus unfinished; the details of it would not go into so small a space.' It therefore dates from his trip to Verona in 1869, when he was in Verona at intervals throughout the period from May to August. Both Cook and Wedderburn and Taylor associate it with Ruskin's letter of 15 June, where he states that 'I framed last night, to keep it safe, a really lovely pencil drawing of the tomb of Can Grande', although this could equally refer to any of his other worked-up drawings of the tomb (Ruskin's letter is published in the Library Edition, This drawing first appears in the Oxford collection in Ruskin's 1872 catalogue of the Standard and Reference Series where, as no. 57, it was accompanied by other studies from the tomb of Can Grande, and those of Mastino II and Can Signorio della Scala. In its comparatively broad handling, it seems to have been intended to give an impression of the masses and chiaroscuro of the monument.

    Cook and Wedderburn describe plate XXIII in the Library Edition of the Verona Catalogue as being a combination of this drawing and Educational Series no. 77 (XXXVIII.302).

    Ruskin made much of the tomb, and there are several other representations of it in the collection: Reference Series no. 63 contained a series of small studies by Ruskin of details of the tomb's upper levels. Educational Series no. 76 is a drawing by Ruskin, focussing on the sarcophagus and its canopy. Educational Series no. 77 is a similar drawing, focussing more closely on the sarcophagus and effigy. Educational Series no. 78 was a drawing by Ruskin of part of the sarcophagus's cornice. Educational Series no. 79 contained a drawing by Ruskin of the head of one of the shield-bearing dogs which supports the sarcophagus. Rudimentary Series no. 24 was a photograph of the tomb. Rudimentary Series no. 25 is a drawing by Prout of the entire tomb.

    In "The Stones of Venice", Ruskin describes the tomb as embodying 'the consummate form of the Gothic tomb', which also managed to balance Can Grande's pride with his honour, in part because it appears more as a decoration of the church's portal than as a monument in its own right (vol. III, ch. ii, §§ 53-4 = XI.87-8). In his lecture on Verona and its Rivers, he described Can Grande as 'a good knight and true, living, I think, the busiest and the birghtest life that you can find in the annals of chivalry' (§ 22 = XIX.441-442).

  • Details

    John Ruskin (1819 - 1900)
    Object type
    Material and technique
    graphite on paper
    507 x 323 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:


    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. 57

    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. 22 = XIX.454

    Taylor, Gerald, ‘John Ruskin: A Catalogue of Drawings by John Ruskin in the Ashmolean Museum, Oxford’, 7 fascicles, 1998, Oxford, Ashmolean Museum, no. 115

    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), XIX pl. XXIII, f.p. 441

    Ruskin, John, Catalogue of the Reference Series Including Temporarily the First Section of the Standard Series (London: Smith, Elder, [1872]), cat. Reference no. 57


    • Western Art Print Room

Position in Ruskin’s Collection

Ruskin's Catalogues

© 2013 University of Oxford - Ashmolean Museum