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

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

Ruskin's Educational series, 1st ed. (1871)

Ruskin's first catalogue of 300 works for the instruction of undergraduates and his notes on the use of particular examples.

Educational 1 cover

Ruskin's Catalogues: 1 object

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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.

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Justice. Death, Cupid, and Fortune Albrecht Dürer

  • Ruskin text

    31 D Justice.Death, Cupid, and Fortune. Line engraving. (Dürer).
  • Curator’s description:


    The print is entitled "Justice. Death, Cupid and Fortune. Line Engraving" in Ruskin's catalogues; from this, it seems most likely to be the engraving called "The Temptation of the Idler", also known as "The Dream of the Doctor". It shows a man asleep, sitting on a bench and leaning against cushions next to a large tiled stove. A devil uses bellows to blow thoughts into the sleeping man's ear (Death, nowadays simply called the Devil); a putto (Cupid) tries to walk on stilts in the bottom left corner; and a naked woman, standing in the foreground, holds out a pointing hand (Fortune, nowadays identified as Venus).

    Ruskin first catalogued the print in 1871, in the first edition of the Educational catalogue, where it was no. 31 D, part of Case III, "Illustrations of Northern Gothic, with its resultant Art", alongside several other Dürers. By 1874 (Educational catalogue, 2nd ed.), he had moved it to Case V, "Elementary Illustrations of Landscape" (as no. 123) - perhaps to keep it with the other Dürers which surrounded it, as there is no landscape in the print. Cook and Wedderburn (XXI.86 n. 3) noted that the frame was empty in 1906, and the example reproduced here is a surrogate from the Douce Bequest in the Ashmolean Museum. This particular impression is of state 'a' (the state of Ruskin's print is impossible to identify).

  • Details

    Albrecht Dürer (1471 - 1528) (engraver)
    Object type
    Material and technique
    engraving on laid paper
    surrogate: 185 x 117 mm (plate)
    In the print, engraved, bottom, centre, Dürer's characteristic monogram

    Presented by John Ruskin to the Ruskin Drawing School (University of Oxford), 1875; listed in 1906 as having been removed from the Drawing School.

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


  • References in which this object is cited include:


    Meder, Josef, Dürer-Katalog, ein handbuch über Albrecht Dürers stiche, radierungen, Holzschnitte, deren zustände, ausgaben und wasserzeichen (Wien: Gilhofer & Ranschburg, 1932), no. 70

    Bartsch, Adam von, The Illustrated Bartsch, founding editor Walter L. Strauss, general editor John T. Spike (New York: Abaris Books, 1978-), no. 1001.76

    Bartsch, Adam von, Le Peintre Graveur, 21 vols (Vienna: J. von Degen, 1803-1821), cat. vol. VII, p. 91, no. 76

    Ruskin, John, Catalogue of the Educational Series (London: Smith, Elder, 1871), cat. Educational no. 31.D

    Hollstein, F. W. H., German Engravings Etchings and Woodcuts, ca. 1400 - 1700 (Amsterdam: Menno Hertzberger, 1954-), cat. vol. VII, p. 64, no. 70

    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. Educational no. 123

    Schoch, Rainer, Mende, Matthias, and Scherbaum, Anna, Albrecht Dürer: das druckgraphische Werk, 3 (Munich/London/New York: Prestel, 2001-2004), no. 18

    Ruskin, John, Catalogue of the Educational Series (London: Spottiswoode, 1874), cat. Educational no. 123


    • not found

Position in Ruskin’s Collection

Ruskin's Catalogues

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