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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Drawing of a Falcon in the Ormesby Psalter John Ruskin

  • Ruskin text

    117 Falcon. Enlarged from 14th century illumination in Bodleian Library. M
  • Curator’s description:


    The drawing shows a peregrine falcon devouring the leg of a heron. It is taken from the Ormesby Psalter, which has a complex history, having been written in the late thirteenth century in East Anglia, and illuminated at intervals, most notably c.1310, and again c.1320 and over the next decade. It was eventually acquired, still unfinished, by one Robert of Ormesby, by whom it was presented to the Benedictine Cathedral Priory of Norwich. This drawing is taken from a detail of the upper border of folio 38 recto, containing the beginning of Psalm 26, 'Dominus illuminatio mea et salus mea'; it was probably executed c.1320.

    The drawing first entered the collection in 1871, when Ruskin listed it as no. 117 in the Educational Series, placed in Case VII, dedicated to "Elementary Zoology. Lions. - Birds. - Serpents". It remained in the same position, but renumbered to 167, in the 1874 catalogue, and Ruskin did not move it in his 1878 reorganisation of the series. Taylor suggests that the drawing dates from the Hilary (i.e. Spring) Term of 1871, or shortly before.

    In his 1878 catalogue, Ruskin said the drawing was intended to give his students 'practice in conventional drawing', and that he had 'found it dreadfully difficult and have quite failed'. He also mentioned the drawing in his lecture on "The Relation to Art of the Sciences of Organic Form", delivered on 2 March 1872: advising his students that people's and animals' skulls could not give a true idea of the form of the body within which they were contained, he told them 'if you want to see the use of [an eagle's] beak or bill, as distinguished from a dog's teeth, take a drawing from the falconry of the Middle Ages, and you will see how a piece of flesh becomes a rag to him, a thing to tear up .... There you have it precisely, in a falcon I got out of Mr. Coxe's favourite fourteenth-century missal' (The Eagle's Nest, § 157 = XXII.230).

    Ruskin also included copies of figures of a dog and hare, from another folio in the manuscript, as no. 41 in the Rudimentary Series.

  • Details

    John Ruskin (1819 - 1900)
    Object type
    Material and technique
    watercolour and bodycolour over graphite on pale brown paper
    176 x 258 mm
    Verso, centre, on the left, 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:


    Taylor, Gerald, ‘John Ruskin: A Catalogue of Drawings by John Ruskin in the Ashmolean Museum, Oxford’, 7 fascicles, 1998, Oxford, Ashmolean Museum, no. 217

    Ruskin, John, Catalogue of the Educational Series (London: Smith, Elder, 1871), cat. Educational no. 117

    Ruskin, John, Catalogue of the Educational Series (London: Spottiswoode, 1874), cat. Educational no. 167

    Ruskin, John, ‘Educational Series 1878’, 1878, Oxford, Oxford University Archives, cat. Educational no. 167

    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. 167

    Ruskin, John, ‘The Eagle's Nest: Ten Lectures on the Relation of Natural Science to Art, Given Before the University of Oxfored, in Lent Term, 1872’, Edward T. Cook and Alexander Wedderburn, eds, The Works of John Ruskin: Library Edition, 39 (London: George Allen, 1903-1912), 22


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Ruskin's Catalogues

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