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

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

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The Whore of Babylon Albrecht Dürer

  • Curator’s description:

    Description

    The worn state of the block, the text of the colophon on the verso, which begins 'Impressa denuo Nurnberge', and the additional copyright notice below it, indicate that this impression was made for the second Latin edition, issued by Dürer in 1511.

    The Whore of Babylon sits upon the beast with seven heads and ten horns, holding up the cup full of abominations (Revelations XVII.1-6). To the left stand a group of expensively-dressed men and women, the 'merchants of the earth' who lamented the destruction of Babylon (XVIII.11-16), together with a Dominican friar. Behind the whore, the city of Babylon burns. Above, in the sky, are two angels, one of whom holds a millstone (XVIII.21); on the left, an army appears amongst the clouds, led by the figure called 'Faithful and True' on his white horse (XIX.11-16). The print was no. 13 in Dürer's famous "Apocalpyse" series.

    Ruskin first catalogued this print in 1870, when it appeared as no. 40 in the Educational Series in the "Catalogue of Examples", representing 'the worship of false pleasure', and accompanied by no. 39 (now WA.RS.RUD.069), "Saint John sees the Seven Lamps", which represented 'the worship of false wealth and intellect'. By the following year, the two prints had changed position, this one being no. 31 F and the "Seven Lamps" being 31 G in the first catalogue of the Educational Series. They were placed, alongside other Dürers and Holbeins, in Case III, "Illustrations of Northern Gothic, with its resultant Art". In 1872, the "Seven Lamps" had been moved to no. 69 in the Rudimentary Series, whilst by 1874 this print had been moved to Case V, "Elementary Illustrations of Landscape" (Educational catalogue, 2nd ed., no. 125).

    Ruskin wrote about both prints at some length in the "Catalogue of Examples", telling his students to study every line of them, because of the great variety of subjects and wood-cutting technique within them, and the ways they embodied Dürer's power to depict human character and emotion, and also his 'wild fancy'. He claimed that the group of merchants indicated 'the contentment of men of the world in a religion which at that time permitted them to retain their pride and evil pleasures', whilst the friar expressed 'the superstition which could not be disturbed by any evidence of increasing sin in the body of the Church'.

    The 'fantasy and fever' of Dürer's "Apocalypse" 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' ("Abbeville" Catalogue, § 24 = XIX.260). The grotesqueness of the dragons depicted with the series was 'of the ghastly kind which best illustrates the nature of death and sin' (The Stones of Venice, vol. III, ch. 3, § 53 = XI.172).

  • Details

    Artist/maker
    Albrecht Dürer (1471 - 1528) (block cutter)
    Object type
    print
    Material and technique
    recto: woodcut; verso: letterpress; both with ruled guidelines in brown ink, on laid paper
    Dimensions
    394 x 280 mm (block); 406 x 296 mm (sheet)
    Associated people
    Albrecht Dürer (1471 - 1528) (publisher)
    Associated place
    Inscription
    In the print, in woodcut, bottom centre, Dürer's characteristic monogram

    Verso:
    in letterpress, the Latin text of Revelations XXI.18-XXII.20; Dürer's colophon, beginning 'Impressa denuo Nurnberge'; and a copyright notice, beginning 'Heus tu insidiator[um]'
    bottom, to the left, in graphite, recent: B. 71
    just to the right, in graphite, recent: E.125
    just to the right (left of centre), in graphite, recent: formerly 31.F
    Provenance

    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
    1
    Accession no.
    WA.RS.ED.125
  • Subject terms allocated by curators:

    Subjects

  • References in which this object is cited include:

    References

    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. 125

    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, Catalogue of Examples Arranged for Elementary Study in the University Galleries (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1870), cat. Educational no. 40

    Bartsch, Adam von, The Illustrated Bartsch, founding editor Walter L. Strauss, general editor John T. Spike (New York: Abaris Books, 1978-), no. 1001.273

    Hollstein, F. W. H., German Engravings Etchings and Woodcuts, ca. 1400 - 1700 (Amsterdam: Menno Hertzberger, 1954-), cat. vol. VII, p. 142, no. 176

    Meder, Josef, Dürer-Katalog, ein handbuch über Albrecht Dürers stiche, radierungen, Holzschnitte, deren zustände, ausgaben und wasserzeichen (Wien: Gilhofer & Ranschburg, 1932), no. 177

    Bartsch, Adam von, Le Peintre Graveur, 21 vols (Vienna: J. von Degen, 1803-1821), cat. vol. VII, p. 129, no. 73

    Schoch, Rainer, Mende, Matthias, and Scherbaum, Anna, Albrecht Dürer: das druckgraphische Werk, 3 (Munich/London/New York: Prestel, 2001-2004), no. 125

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

    Ruskin, John, Catalogue of the Educational Series (London: Spottiswoode, 1874), cat. Educational no. 125

Location

    • Western Art Print Room

Position in Ruskin’s Collection

Ruskin's Catalogues

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

    31 F The worship of Pleasure. From series illustrating Apocalypse. Wood engraving. (Dürer).
  • Ruskin's Educational series, 2nd ed. (1874)

    125. The worship of Pleasure. From series illustrating Apocalypse. Wood engraving. (Dürer).
  • Ruskin's Catalogue of Examples (1870)

    40. Woodcut from the same series.Chaps. XVII. XVIII.

    Whenever you have no time for long work, copy any piece, however small, of these woodcuts with pen and ink, with the greatest care. I will add sequels to each in a little while; but I do not choose to disturb your attention by multiplying subjects. I want you to know every line in these two first: then you shall have more. I meant to have given some pieces of them magnified, but have not had time; no work is so difficult.

    I give you these two, rather than any others of the series, first, because there is the greatest variety of subject and woodcutting in them; secondly, because Dürer’s power over human character and expression is shown definitely in them, together with his wild fancy; lastly, because they are full of suggestions of thought. I cannot give you any guidance as to the direct significance of the chapters illustrated by them; nor will I enter here on any close enquiry as to Dürer’s interpretation of their meaning. But if you read them in their secondary and general purpose, and consider 39 as the worship of false wealth and intellect, and 40 as the worship of false pleasure, you will probably get nearer their sense than by more specific conjectures. It can hardly be doubtful that Dürer himself, (in his sympathy with whatever part of the passion of the Reformation was directed against the vices of the Roman Church, but not against its faith,) meant the principal group in No 40 to indicate the contentment of men of the world in a religion which at that time permitted them to retain their pride and their evil pleasures; and the wonderful figure of the adoring monk on the left, to express the superstition which could not be disturbed by any evidence of increasing sin in the body of the Church. But you had better read the whole as one of the great designs which are produced almost involuntarily by the workman’s mind; and which are capable of teaching different truths to successive generations. For us, at present, it is entirely profitable, if read simply as the worship of false pleasure.

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