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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Nemesis' wing Albrecht Dürer

  • Ruskin text

    Wing of Dürer’s greater Fortune,
  • Curator’s description:


    This example has been cut from an impression of Dürer's "Nemesis" (also known as the "Great Fortune", and depicted as a winged woman standing on a globe), with care taken to isolate the wings - hence the missing top right corner, which excludes the back of Fortune's head - although there is a fold of drapery in the bottom left. The cutting has been untidily done, whilst the paper has yellowed and there are a series of dark brown stains on the left. The card mount has been abraded in all four corners as the red sealing wax which held it into its mount was removed; there is a glue stain just below the print's top right corner.

    Whilst the absence of most of the print makes the state impossible to determine with certainty, the scratches at the tips of the feathers and the heavy inking suggest that it is state 2.b.

    This example was included in Case X of the Educational Series, devoted to "Illustrations of Etching, Engraving, and Outline Drawing". It shared a frame with WA.RS.ED.237.b, an enlarged copy by Ruskin after the wing of the angel in Rembrandt's "Angel appearing to the Shepherds", itself in the preceding frame. The Dürer was intended as a comparison to the Rembrandt, which Ruskin described in his Educational catalogues as 'an example of every kind of badness'; he hoped that his students would 'have no difficulty, in this one instance at least, in knowing good work from bad'. Whilst acknowledging that the Dürer went 'as far as art has yet reached in delineation of plumage', he still told his students that observing the movements of live birds would show them 'almost a new meaning of the meaning of form and colour in creation' (Lectures on Art, § 113 = XX.104).

    Elsewhere, Ruskin described how the 'luxury' of the 'wanton and floating Fortune' was a result of a typically northern 'strange fear and melancholy' which 'took ... a feverish and frantic tendency towards the contemplation of death' and 'brought a bitter mockery and low grotesque into ... art'; this was embodied by Dürer ("Abbeville" Catalogue, § 24 = XIX.260).

  • Details

    Albrecht Dürer (1471 - 1528) (engraver)
    Object type
    Material and technique
    engraving on laid paper
    114 x 116 mm (irregular, sheet); 162 x 213 mm (mount)
    On the mount, bottom right, graphite, recent: E 237(above)

    On the back of the mount, centre, on the left edge, 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:


    Schoch, Rainer, Mende, Matthias, and Scherbaum, Anna, Albrecht Dürer: das druckgraphische Werk, 3 (Munich/London/New York: Prestel, 2001-2004), no. 33

    Meder, Josef, Dürer-Katalog, ein handbuch über Albrecht Dürers stiche, radierungen, Holzschnitte, deren zustände, ausgaben und wasserzeichen (Wien: Gilhofer & Ranschburg, 1932), no. 72

    Bartsch, Adam von, Le Peintre Graveur, 21 vols (Vienna: J. von Degen, 1803-1821), cat. vol. VII, pp. 91-2, no. 77

    Ruskin, John, Catalogue of the Educational Series (London: Smith, Elder, 1871), cat. Educational no. X.3.K

    Ruskin, John, Catalogue of the Educational Series (London: Spottiswoode, 1874), cat. Educational no. 237

    Hollstein, F. W. H., German Engravings Etchings and Woodcuts, ca. 1400 - 1700 (Amsterdam: Menno Hertzberger, 1954-), cat. vol. VII, p. 66, no. 72

    Bartsch, Adam von, The Illustrated Bartsch, founding editor Walter L. Strauss, general editor John T. Spike (New York: Abaris Books, 1978-), no. 1001.77

    Ruskin, John, ‘References to the Series of Paintings and Sketches, From Mr. Ruskin's Collection, Shown in Illustration of the Relations of Flamboyant Architecture to Contemporary and Subsequent Art’, Edward T. Cook and Alexander Wedderburn, eds, The Works of John Ruskin: Library Edition, 39 (London: George Allen, 1903-1912), 19

    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. 237

    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


    • Western Art Print Room

Position in Ruskin’s Collection

Ruskin's Catalogues

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