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, 2nd ed. (1874)

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

Educational 2 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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Print of the Decoration on a Greek Hydria, showing Hermes, Athena, Heracles and Zeus fighting against Giants L. Letronne

  • Ruskin text

    23 I Hermes, Athena, and Heracles, fighting against giants. (Le Normand).
  • Curator’s description:


    The lithograph shows four Greek gods and heroes fighting two giants. They are, from the left of the image, Hermes, Athena, Heracles and Zeus. It reproduces the decoration of a black-figure hydria then in the collection of a monsieur Thierry at Suippe (Marne). The print was plate II in the first volume of Lenormant and de Witte's "Elite des monuments céramographiques", published in 1844. It was presumably taken from Ruskin's copy of the work now preserved in the Ruskin Library (inventory no. 1996B2621), which is missing many of its plates.

    The print was first catalogued by Ruskin in 1871, when it appeared as no. 23 I in the Educational Series, placed in Case II, "Elementary Illustrations of Greek Design". It remained in the same position, although renumbered as no. 47, in the 1874 catalogue of the series, but does not appear in Ruskin's 1878 reorganisation of the series.

    In his instructions for the Educational Series, Ruskin described how the depiction embodied the 'contest between designs representing the Good and Evil powers': Heracles was manly human power, Athena the air, wisdom and strength, and Hermes the cloud and the force which ordered and moved the heavens. (He wrote about the symbolism of Athena at length in "The Queen of the Air".)

  • Details

    L. Letronne (active c. 1844) (printer)
    A. Rey (active c. 1844 - c. 1858) (lithographer)
    Object type
    Material and technique
    watercolour and bodycolour over lithograph on wove paper
    118 x 269 mm (plate); 226 x 338 mm (sheet)
    The printed lettering has been carefully scratched off the print; it should read:
    top right: PL. II.
    just below the lower left corner of the image: A. Rey sc.
    just below the lower right corner of the image: Lith de L Letronne

    Recto, top, left of centre, in ink: E Athena B. 1.

    Verso, top centre, 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:


    Ruskin, John, Catalogue of the Educational Series (London: Smith, Elder, 1871), cat. Educational no. 23.I

    Ruskin, John, Catalogue of the Educational Series (London: Spottiswoode, 1874), cat. Educational no. 47

    Lenormant, Charles, and Jean de Witte, Elite des monuments céramographiques: Matériaux pour l'histoire des religions et des moeurs de l'antiquité, 4 vols in 8 (Paris: Leleux, 1844-1861), vol. I, pl. II

    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. 47


    • Western Art Print Room

Position in Ruskin’s Collection

Ruskin's Catalogues

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