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

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

Ruskin's Catalogue of Examples (1870)

Ruskin's first catalogue with notes containing his plans for the Standard, Reference and Educational series.

Examples cover

I. Standard Series (Painting) / 1st Section

  • Rawle, Samuel - Engraving of Turner's "Brignall Church, Yorkshire" 1. Brignal banks, on the Greta, near Rokeby.

    Yet sang she, Brignal banks are fair,And Greta woods are green,* * * * * *And you may gather garlands there Would grace a summer queen.

    It is chosen to begin the series, as an example of the best English painting and engraving of recent times. The design is among the loveliest of all Turner’s local landscapes, and the engraving shows the peculiar attainments of recent line work in England; namely, the rendering of local colour and subdued tones of light. The hills are all dark with foliage, and the expression of the fading light of evening upon them is given distinctively, as different from the full light of noon. In the best old engraving, the high lights on the trees would have been white, and the light would have been clear and simple, but not, unless by some conventional arrangement of rays, expressive of any particular hour of the day. I do not mean it to be understood, however, that the English engraving is better, or that its aim is altogether wiser than that of the early school; but only that it has this merit of its own, deserving our acknowledgment. Other reasons for the choice of this subject to begin the series are noted in the first lecture; two chief ones are that the little glen is a perfect type of the loveliest English scenery, touched by imaginative associations; and that the treatment of it by Turner is entirely characteristic both of his own temper throughout life, and of the pensiveness of the great school of chiaroscurists to which he belongs.

  • Turner, Joseph Mallord William - The Junction of the Greta and Tees at Rokeby 2. The Junction of the Greta and Tees at Rokeby.

    A faultless example of Turner’s work at the time when it is most exemplary. It will serve us for various illustrations as we advance in the study of landscape, but it may be well to note of it at once, that in the painting of the light falling on the surface of the Tees, and shining through the thicket above the Greta, it is an unrivalled example of chiaroscuro of the most subtle kind;—obtained by the slightest possible contrasts, and by consummate skill in the management of gradation. The rock and stone drawing is not less wonderful, and entirely good as a lesson in practice.

    The house seen through the trees is Mr. Merritt’s; (Scott’s friend). The grounds belonged to a dear friend, with whom I had lived in habits of intimacy many years, and the place itself united the romantic beauties of the wilds of Scotland with the rich and smiling aspect of the southern portion of the island. —( Introduction to Rokeby.)

  • Turner, Joseph Mallord William - Scene on the Loire 3. Scene on the Loire.

    Chosen in farther illustration of the pensiveness of the chiaroscurist school, and as a faultless example of Turner’s later and most accomplished work. It is painted wholly in solid colour, as No. 2 is painted wholly in transparent; and the two drawings together show the complete management of colours soluble in water, or thin liquid of any kind, and laid on grounds which are to be made to contribute to the effect. The lights in the first drawing, and the gray sky and water in the second, are of course both the grounds left, white and gray.

  • Dürer, Albrecht - Melencolia I (Melancholy) 4. Melencolia. (Engraving by Albert Dürer.)

    In connection with this plate, I wish you to read the chapter on Dürer and Salvator, in the fifth volume of Modern Painters, and to note farther, these few things.

    All first-rate work in modern days, must be done in some degree of sorrow of heart, for it is necessarily founded on whatever the workman has felt most deeply, both respecting his own life, and that of his fellow-creatures; nor has it been possible for any man keen-sighted and gentle-hearted, (and all the greatest artists are so),—to be satisfied in his own prosperity, even if he feels it sufficient for his needs, while so many around him are wretched, or in his creed, even though he feels it sufficient, for his own comfort, since the questioning spirit of the Reformation has broken through the childishly peaceful, and too often childishly selfish and cruel, confidence of the early religious ages. I have therefore given you the Melencolia as the best type of the spirit of labour in which the greater number of strong men at the present day have to work: nevertheless, I must warn you against overrating the depth of the feeling in which the grave or terrible designs of the masters of the sixteenth century were executed. Those masters were much too good craftsmen to be heavily afflicted about anything; their minds were mainly set on doing their work, and they were able to dwell on grievous or frightful subjects all the more forcibly, because they were not themselves liable to be overpowered by any emotions of grief or terror.

    Albert Dürer, especially, has had credit for deeper feeling than ever influenced him; he was essentially a Nürnberg craftsman, with much of the instinct for manufacture of toys on which the commercial prosperity of his native town has been partly founded: he is, in fact, almost himself the whole town of Nürnberg, become one personality, (only without avarice); sometimes, in the exquisitely skilful, yet dreamily passive, way in which he renders all that he saw, great things and small alike, he seems to me himself a kind of automaton, and the most wonderful toy that Nürnberg ever made.

  • Goupil - Photograph of Giovanni Bellini's "Virgin and Child with four Saints and a Donor" 5. The Virgin with St. George and St. Catherine. (John Bellini.)

    This is the most accurate type I can find of the best that has yet been done by man in art;—the best, that is to say, counting by the sum of qualities in perfect balance; and ranking errorless workmanship as the first of virtues, generally implying, in an educated person, all others. A partially educated man may do his mechanical work well, yet have many weaknesses: his precision may even be a sign of great folly or cruelty; but a man of richly accomplished mind, who does his mechanical work strictly, is likely to be in all other matters right.

    This picture has no fault, as far as I can judge. It is deeply, rationally, unaffectedly devotional, with the temper of religion which is eternal in high humanity. It has all the great and grave qualities of art, and all the delicate and childish ones. Few pictures are more sublime, and none more precise. It will serve us in innumerable ways for future reference; and I like to place it beside Dürer’s solemn engraving on account of the relations of these two men at Venice.

    Dürer’s words respecting this matter are usually quoted somewhat inaccurately. Here is the quaint old German in, I believe, its authentic form, as it was written to Wilibald Pirkheimer, in Nürnberg, from Venice, 9’ of the night, Saturday after Candlemas, 1506 (7th February):—

    Ich hab vill guter freund under den Walhen (Wälschen;—Italians), dy mich warnen, das Ich mit Iren Molern nit es und trinck. Auch sind mir Ir vill feind, und machen mein ding in kirchen ab, and wo sy es mügen bekumen, noch schelten sy es und sagen es sey nit antigisch art, dozu sey es nit gut; aber Sambellinus der hatt mich vor vill gentilomen fast ser gelobt, er wolt gern etwas von mir haben, and ist selber zu mir kumen, und hat mich gepetten, Ich soll Im etwas machen, er wols woll tzalen. Und sagen mir dy leut alle, wy es so ein frumer man sey, das Ich Im gleich günstig pin. Er ist ser alt and ist noch der pest im gemell, und das ding das mir vor eilff jorn so woll hat gefallen das gefelt mir jtz nit mer Von Murr, Journal zur Kunstgeshichte x. p. 8. Nürnberg, 1781. Found and translated for me by Mr. R. N. Wornum. .

    I have many good friends among the Italians, who warn me not to eat and drink with their painters. Many also of them are my enemies; they copy my things for the churches, picking them up whenever they can. Yet they abuse my style, saying that it is not antique art, and that therefore it is not good. But Giambellini has praised me much before many gentlemen; he wishes to have something of mine; he came to me and begged me to do something for him, and is quite willing to pay for it. And every one gives him such a good character that I feel an affection for him. He is very old, and is yet the best in painting; and the thing which pleased me so well eleven years ago has now no attractions for me (speaking of his own work, I presume).

  • 6. Three pages of a Psalter, containing in its Calendar the death-days of the Father, Mother, and Brother of St. Louis,—and, without doubt, written for him by the monks of the Sainte Chapelle, while he was on his last crusade; therefore, before 1270.

    It is impossible, therefore, that you can see a more perfect specimen of the art che alluminare e chiamata in Parisi; and you are thus introduced to the schools of all painting, by the very work of which Dante first thought, when he spoke of their successive pride, and successive humiliation.

    The three pages contain the beginnings of the 14th, 53rd, and 99th Psalms, with the latter verses of the 13th and 52nd. The large central letter is the D of Dixit insipiens in (corde suo) written. DIXIT INSIPIENS IN. The fool is represented as in haste, disordered and half naked, lost in a wood without knowing that he is so, eating as he goes, and with a club in his hand. The representation is constant in all early psalters.

  • 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 7. St. Catherine. Page of service-book written for the convent of Beaupré in 1290.

    Rude, but standard, as an example of method in the central schools of illumination.

  • Carlo Naya (Firm) - Photograph of Cima da Conegliano's "Saint John the Baptist with Saints Peter, Mark, Jerome and Paul" 8. St. John the Baptist. (Cima da Conegliano.)

    An example of perfect delineation by the school of colour.

  • Dürer, Albrecht - The Knight (Knight, Death and the Devil) 9. Knight and Death. (Dürer.)

    An example of perfect delineation by the school of chiaroscuro.

    This plate has usually been interpreted as the victory of human patience over death and sin. But I believe later critics are right in supposing it to be the often-mentioned Nemesis; and that the patience and victory are meant to be Death’s and the Fiend’s, not the rider’s.

    The design itself, which is the one referred to in the second Lecture (§ 47), is not rendered less didactic by its ambiguity. The relations of death to all human effort, and of sin to all human conscience, are themselves so ambiguous that nothing can be rightly said of either unless it admits of some counter-interpretation. Nevertheless, I believe Dürer’s real meaning is not only established by recent enquiry, but sufficiently indicated by his making the tuft on the spear, for catching the blood, so conspicuous. Had he intended the knighthood to be sacred, the spear would have had a banner, as always in his engravings of St. George.

  • Dürer, Albrecht - Adam and Eve 10. Adam and Eve. (Dürer.)

    His best plate in point of execution, and in that respect unrivalled. Next to it may be placed the coat of arms with the skull. Execution, remember, is to be estimated by the intrinsic value of every line. That is the best in which every separate line is doing the most work.

  • Desnoyers, Auguste Gaspard Louis - Engraving of Leonardo da Vinci's "Virgin of the Rocks" ("La Vierge aux Rochers") 11. The Vierge aux Rochers of the Louvre . (Lionardo.)

    The engraving gives a false idea of the picture in many important points; but it is in some respects more pleasing by refusing to follow Lionardo in his extreme darkness, and it accurately enough represents his sense of grace and the refinement of his delineation. It is a fair example of line-engraving as a separate mechanical art, distinguished from that practised by painters.

  • 12. Studies of Heads. (Lionardo.) Photograph.

    Good examples of his sketching, and very beautiful in management of crayon for shade. In points of character, whether of childhood or age, they are wholly deficient, for Lionardo only sees external form; and this old man’s head, in spite of its laborious delineation of apparently characteristic points, is essentially Dutch in treatment, and represents indeed wrinkles and desiccations, but not characters. Holbein, Reynolds, or Titian could give more character with ten lines than Lionardo could with a day’s labour: and throughout his treatise his conventional directions for the representation of age and youth, beauty and strength, are in the last degree singular and ludicrous.

  • unidentified - Photograph of Correggio's Study of "The Virgin, turned towards the right, and Putti" 13. Sketch for the Assumption at Parma. (Correggio.) Photograph from a red chalk drawing.

    There are no engravings from Correggio (nor as yet can I find any photographs from his pictures) which sufficiently represent his real qualities. Many of them are in this sketch, but we must work together for many a day yet before you will rightly feel them. It is splendid, but, like all Correggio’s work, affected; and, while his skill remains unrivalled, his affectations have been borrowed by nearly all subsequent painters who have made it their special endeavour to represent graceful form, as the mannerisms of the religious schools have been imitated by men who had no part in their passion, until it is too commonly thought impossible to express either sentiment or devotion without inclining the heads of the persons represented to one side or the other, in the manner of Correggio or Perugino.

  • 14. Sketches of the Madonna and St. John. ( Correggio .)

    I shall have frequent occasion to refer to the manner in which the chalk is used in these sketches. The lower one is more careful than most of the extant studies by the master.

  • Raimondi, Marcantonio, after Raphael - God commanding Noah to build the Ark 15. God commanding Noah to build the Ark. (Marc Antonio, after Raffaelle.)

    It is placed among the Standards, because, though not absolutely good work, it represents a great school in Italy, which is distinguished by the dignity of its aim and the simplicity of its treatment. This school allows few sources of pleasure in painting except those which are common to sculpture; and depends for expression chiefly on the action of the figures, the division of the lights and darks broadly from each other, and the careful disposition of the masses of drapery, hair, or leaves, without any effort to complete the representation of these so as to give pleasure by imitation, or by minor beauties. Very often, however, such details, kept within these conditions of abstraction, are introduced in great quantity and division, (as the graining of the wood in this engraving), in order to relieve the broad masses of the figures.

    The style is essentially academical, and, as opposed to Dutch imitation, noble; but, as opposed to Venetian truth, affected and lifeless. It has done great harm to subsequent schools by encouraging foolish persons in the idea that to be dull was to be sublime; and inducing great, but simple painters, like Reynolds, to give way to every careless fancy, under the discomforting belief that they could never be great without ceasing to be delightful.

  • unidentified - Photograph of Raphael's "Marriage of the Virgin" 16. The Marriage of the Virgin. (Raphael .) Photograph from the picture in the Brera at Milan.

    One of the most beautiful works of Raphael’s early time; but its merit is rather to be considered as the final result of the teaching and practice of former schools than as an achievement of the master himself. Excellence is indeed fixed and measurable, however produced; but, in comparing artists with each other, we must remember that their relative merit depends, not on what they are, but on the degree in which they surpass their predecessors and teach their successors.

  • 17. Justice and Injustice. (Giotto .) Photograph from the Arena Chapel, Padua.

    Placed here in order to indicate the relation of the Tuscan schools of thought to the Lombardic and Roman schools of technical design. Compare it with the next example.

  • unidentified - Photograph of Raphael's "Justice" on the Ceiling of the Stanza della Segnatura 18. Justice. (Raphael.) Photograph from the Vatican fresco.

    Examine the details of Giotto’s design , and you will find them full of true thought; his purpose being throughout primarily didactic. Raphael, on the contrary, is not thinking of Justice at all; but only how to put a charming figure in a graceful posture. The work is however of his finest time as far as merely artistic qualities are concerned, and is in the highest degree learned and skilful; but neither strong nor sincere.

  • Photograph of Raphael's "Poetry" on the Ceiling of the Stanza della Segnatura 19. Poetry. (Raphael.) Photograph from the Vatican fresco.

    The light and shade, at least so far as the photograph may be trusted, is grander in this design than in the Justice; and it must always be remembered that the breadth of its treatment by great masters is necessarily lost in line engravings, for which loss, nearly total, we must allow in the next example.

  • Engraving of Raphael's Fresco of Parnassus in the Stanza della Segnatura 20. Parnassus, or Poetry. (Raphael.) Line engraving, from the Vatican fresco.

    It sufficiently represents the character of Raphael’s conceptions in his strongest time; full of beauty, but always more or less affected; every figure being cast into an attitude either of academical grace, or of exaggeratedly dramatic gesture, calculated to explain to dull persons what they would never have found out from natural actions; and therefore greatly tending to popularity.

  • Photograph of Bonifacio Veronese's Saint Sebastian and Saint Bernard 21. St. Sebastian and a Monk. (Bonifazio.) Photograph from the picture in the Academy of Fine Arts, Venice.

    I oppose this directly to the Parnassus, that you may feel the peculiar character of the Venetian as contrasted with the Raphaelesque schools. Bonifazio is indeed only third-rate Venetian, but he is thoroughly and truly Venetian; and you will recognize in him at once the quiet and reserved strength, the full and fearless realization, the prosaic view of things by a seaman’s common sense, and the noble obedience to law, which are the specialities of Venetian work. The chiaroscuro of this picture is very grand, yet wholly simple; and brought about by the quiet resolution that flesh shall be flesh-colour, linen shall be white, trees green, and clouds grey. The subjection to law is so absolute and serene, that it is at first unfelt; but the picture is balanced as accurately as a ship must be. One figure dark against the sky on the left; the other light against the sky on the right; one with a vertical wall behind it, the other by a vertical trunk of tree; one divided by a horizontal line in the leaf of a book, the other by a horizontal line in folds of drapery; the light figure having its head dark on the sky; the dark figure, its head light on the sky; the face of the one as seen light within a ring of dark, the other as dark within a ring of light.

    This symmetry is absolute in all fine Venetian work; it is always quartered as accurately as a knight’s shield.

  • Photograph of a detail of Tintoretto's "The Three Graces and Mercury" 22. Mercury and the Graces . (Tintoret .)

    I shall have frequent occasion to refer to this picture; but cannot enter upon any criticism of it here,—it is consummate in unostentatious power, but has all the fatal signs of the love of liberty and of pleasure which ruined the Venetian state.

  • Lefebvre, Valentin - Engraving of Titian's "Virgin and Child with Saints Andrew and Tiziano" 23. The Virgin with two Saints. (Titian.) Engraved by Le Febre.
  • Lefebvre, Valentin - Engraving of Titian's "Pesaro Madonna" 24. The Pesaro Family. (Titian.) From the church of the Frari, Venice. Engraved by Le Febre.

    You may learn more of Titian’s true powers from these rude engravings than from any finer ones. These are masterly as far as they are carried, and show perfect intelligence of the qualities of Titian which are expressible by engraving. His sturdiness, his homely dignity, incapable of any morbid tremor, falsehood, or self-consciousness; his entirely human, yet majestic ideal; his utter, easy, unreproveable masterhood of his business, (everything being done so rightly that you can hardly feel that it is done strongly); and his rich breadth of masses obtained by multitudinous divisions perfectly composed. The balanced arrangement in the first example is palpable enough; in the second it is more subtle, being oblique; the figures are arranged in a pyramid, with curved sides, of which the apex is the head of the Madonna. The St. Peter balances the St. Francis, and the line of the axis of the group is given by one of his keys, lying aslope on the steps.

  • 25–30.

    I cannot yet obtain the examples I want in these places; two of Giorgione, two of Carpaccio, two of Paul Veronese. These will complete the illustration of the manners of painting in the Venetian school.

  • 31-34.

    These four places are also left empty at present, for Luini, of whom I can yet give no good examples.

  • Carlo Naya (Firm) - Photograph of Mantegna's Fresco of "The Martyrdom of Saint James" in the Church of Eremitani, Padua 35. Martyrdom of St. James. (Mantegna .) Photograph from fresco in church of Eremitani at Padua.

    You will probably at first see little to admire in this; but, as you learn to draw, and as your taste is formed in ornamental design, you will return to it with continually increasing astonishment. I hope to illustrate various portions of it separately.

  • 36.

    The uppermost of these two is far the finest work, though the superficial qualities of Raphael’s are more attractive.

    Mantegna’s may be taken as a perfect type of the schools of delineation in Italy; and cannot, in workmanship, be surpassed. Note especially the treatment of the hair, which is drawn with the precision of Dürer, yet the breadth of Titian: and, with respect to the execution of these details by the masters of the fifteenth century, as well as to the method of early practice in drawing with the brush, which I wish you to pursue yourselves, read the following extract from Mrs. Heaton’s Life of Dürer:—

    Camerarius relates a pretty little anecdote apropos of the visit of Giovanni Bellini to our artist, which he probably learnt from Dürer’s own lips. He says that Giovanni, on seeing Dürer’s works, was particularly struck with the fineness and beautiful painting of the hair in them, and asked Dürer, as a particular mark of friendship, to give him the brush wherewith he executed such marvellously fine work. Dürer offered him a number of brushes of all sorts, and told him to choose which be preferred, or, if he liked, he was welcome to take them all. Giovanni, thinking that Dürer had not understood him, again explained that he only wanted the particular brush with which he was accustomed to paint such long and fine parallel strokes; whereupon Dürer took up one of the ordinary brushes, such as he had offered to Bellini, and proceeded to paint a long and fine tress of woman’s hair, thereby convincing Bellini that it was the painter, and not the brush, that did the work. Bellini avowed afterwards that he would not have believed it possible, had he not seen it with his own eyes.

  • 37. Madonnas by John Bellini and Raphael.

    I wish you to compare the manner of conception in these two examples, as of execution in the preceding ones, the Lombardic masters having, I think, the advantage in both respects.

  • Blank frame 38.

    The place is left for Van-Eyck, whom I cannot yet justly represent.

  • 39, 40.

    And these two for Holbein.

Then, the examples from 31 to 40 will sufficienty illustrate the schools of delineation, in which the drawing is in great part wrought with the point of the brush, and is indeed as precise as if it had been designed with that of a pen. In Luini’s fresco the shades are frequently produced as an engraver would work them, by cross hatching; and the faces are more or less treated as Lionardo would a chalk drawing, only with colour for chalk.

But the last group of this series of fifty, 41 to 50, represents the work of the greatest masters of painting, by whom the brush is used broadly, and the outline, if any, struck with the edge of it, not the point. These are all masters of portraiture, and I have chosen portraits as the best examples of their art.

I shall enter into no criticism of them in this catalogue, as there will be occasion for continual reference to them in subsequent lectures. The examples of Vandyck will be changed. I cannot get any to please me yet; but the first, though ill engraved, is one of his best equestrian portraits, and is referred to for various particulars in Modern Painters, vol. v. p. 278 . Titian and Tintoret necessarily reappear in this group, their work having been introduced before only for comparison with that of other schools.

  • Ferreri, C. - Engraving of van Dyck's Portrait of Prince Francesco Tommaso di Savoia-Carignano on horseback 41. Prince of the House of Savoy. (Vandyck.)

  • 42.

    • unidentified - Photograph of a copy after Van Dyck's "Portrait of James, Duke of York" Princess of the House of Savoy. (Vandyck.)

      Lowest in the frame, beneath

    • Cunego, Domenico - Engraving of Titian's "Portrait of Clarissa Strozzi" a little lady of the Strozzi family, by Titian.
  • Fisher, Edward - Mezzotint of Reynolds's "Portrait of Lady Elizabeth Keppel adorning a Herm of Hymen" 43. An English Girl. (Reynolds.)
  • Fisher, Edward - Mezzotint of Reynolds's "Portrait of John Armstrong, M.D." 44. An English Gentleman. (Dr. Armstrong.) (Reynolds.)
  • unidentified - Photograph of Velázquez's "Portrait of Donna Margarita of Austria on Horseback" 45. Margaret of Austria (?). (Velasquez.)
  • Laurent, Juan - Photograph of Velázquez's "Portrait of Juan Francisco de Pimentel, Count of Benavente" 46. Portrait of a Knight(unknown). (Velasquez.)
  • unidentified - Photograph of Titian's "Portrait of Charles V at the Battle of Mühlberg" 47. Charles V on Horseback. (Titian.)
  • unidentified - Photograph of Titian's "Portrait of Charles V with a Hound" 48. Charles V with his Irish Dog. (Titian.)
  • Blank frame 49.

    (Tintoret—not yet chosen.)

  • 50.

    I have placed these two last; for the range and grasp of intellect exhibited by the works of which they indicate two extremities of the scale, (the one being an example of simplest veracity in character, the other of imagination as facile as it is magnificent,) is, I am convinced, the greatest ever reached by human intellect in the arts.

This fiftieth example will terminate the group for illustration of methods. The next group, 51 to 100, will be chosen chiefly from the Tuscan schools, to illustrate the forms of thought which found noblest expression in the art of painting in Christian periods.

Next, I hope to arrange a series of a hundred examples from the schools of sculpture and architecture, which, essentially beginning with the Egyptian, founded themselves on the visions and emotions connected with fixed faith in a future life; this group including the greater part of Northern and so-called Gothic sculpture, and nearly all architecture dependent on vastness, on mystery, or on fantasy of form.

Following these may be placed, in a third series of a hundred, the sculpture and architecture founded chiefly on the perception of the truths or laws which regulate the life of this present world; beginning with the earliest Greek, and proceeding through the derivative Roman forms to the Tuscan and Venetian architecture of the Revival.

I must collect these standards very slowly and carefully. A few only, and these not placed in their ultimate order, are added to the present series to show what I mean, and for such present service as may be in them.

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