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

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

Ruskin's Catalogue of Examples (1870)

Ruskin's first catalogue with notes containing his plans for the Standard, Reference and Educational series.

Examples cover

II. Educational Series / 3rd Section

  • Burgess, Arthur - Profile of Curve of the Capitals of the Parthenon, full size 21. Curve of the capitals of the Parthenon, of the real size. Drawn by Mr. Burgess from the actual capital in the British Museum.

    It is a curve everywhere, as you will find by applying your ruler to it. Measure, and draw it with pencil and brush. You shall have the curves of all characteristic heads of pillars and their foliage in the same way; but they are terribly difficult things to do, and would not interest you at present.


    • Spiral of the Ionic capital of the temple of Athena Polias. Enlarged from Stewart’s Athens, vol. ii. chap. ii. pl. 9 .
    • 22 B. Involute of the Circle. Inner whorl, in complete circuit.
    • 22 C. Spiral of common snail-shell, enlarged.

      Landshells are usually rude in contour, and this is a very imperfect line, but interesting from its variety. In this particular instance it is more varied than usual, for the shell had been broken and repaired.

    • 22 D. Spiral of Helix Gualteriana.

      Try to draw the outlines of more univalve shells in this manner: first placing them so that you look straight at the apex of their cone, in the direction of its axis; and next, so that you see them at right angles to their axis; in both cases with the mouth downwards, and its edge brought to a level with the circular part of the shell. You may then easily determine other characteristic positions; but the great point is to draw every shell in exactly the same position, so as to admit of accurate comparison.

      All these lines are to be drawn with the brush.

    • 22 E. Spiral of Neritopsis.

      This is the first perfect spiral we have had, the shell being one of the most pure and lovely symmetry. You shall have more complete ones, as soon as you are able for them. The broad curve is drawn through the varied waves of the lip, that you may see their concurrence. 22 C and D are by me; 22, 22 B, and 22 E, by Mr. Burgess, and better done.

  • Burgess, Arthur - Drawing of a Chariot Race from a Greek Vase 23. Chariot-race, from vase of finest time, of red clay, in the British Museum. No. 447* in Mr. Newton’s CatalogueCatalogue of the Greek and Etruscan Vases in the British Museum. (Nicol, Pall Mall, 1851.) It is highly desirable that you should possess this book, and if Mr. Newton will kindly see that every vase named in it retains its number, as described, painted in the vase in white on a black label, whatever future changes may be made in the arrangement of the collection, it will be of the utmost use for all purposes of study. .

    By Mr. Burgess, and carefully drawn, so that it may be a standard to you of good execution in the early vases. It is a little too difficult, however, for you to copy; the next is ruder and easier.

  • 23 B. Herakles and the Nemean Lion. From vase of finest time, of pale clay. British Museum. No. 648 in Mr. Newton’s Catalogue.

    I have drawn this for you myself, entirely with the brush, and it will be good for you so to copy it, though in the vases the light lines are scratched or incised, and therefore perfectly firm; so that they must be each outlined with the pen to get them quite right, as by Mr. Burgess in No. 23. It is not my fault that one of the limbs is thinner than the other, it is so on the vase.

    The purple colour, observe, in the hair of Herakles, and the lion’s mane, stands in both cases for the glow or lustre connected with anger and strength, as on the crest of Achilles. It is continually used on the manes of the chariot horses. All the purple spots, like a crown, on the head of Herakles, are meant for the luxuriant but crisp hair; they are not leaves.

  • 23 C. Floral ornaments from earliest Greek vases, showing the entire freedom and boldness of their manner.

    They are never literally symmetrical, but always in some way oblique or changeful, being drawn by the free hand.

  • 23 D. Apollo before the altar of Delphi. Le Normand, tom. ii. pl. 4.

    Outline the head and falling hair with pencil, wash the whole over with red, lay in the black with the brush, and put the ivy leaves on with opaque white. Note the large chin, characteristic of the finest time of Greek art.

  • Rey, A. - Print of the Decoration on a Greek Amphora, showing Apollo and Creusa 23 E. Apollo and Creusa. Le Normand, tom. ii. pl 13.

    Outline with pencil, wash with red, draw with the pen, and lay the black round with the brush.

  • Rey, A. - Print of the Decoration on a Greek Vase, showing Selene 23 F.Selene, rising full. Le Normand, tom. ii. pl. 116.
  • 23 G. Selene in white clouds at midnight. Le Normand, tom. ii. pl. 117.

I am in a little doubt whether 23 F may not rather be Helios. In either case, the introduction of the tree with the golden apples of the Hesperides in the background, is singular, for if it is moonrise, the east should have been indicated; if sunset, the horses should have been descending. I believe, however, it is Selene, and the Hesperides tree simply expresses her rule over the night, though she is seen in the day. In 23 G, the wings of the horses, with their spots, and guttæ, and the broken spirals of the chariot, variously express the cloud powers of dew, rain, and circling breeze. Compare the Hermes as the cloud (S. 208) .

The breaking of the border of the patera (by the sphere of the moon) is characteristic of fine design of all periods. There is always a curious instinct in a good designer to show that he can go beyond his assigned limit, if he chooses; and that circumstances are sure to happen somewhere which make it right that he should. Copy the head of the light Selene with the pen, the incised lines of the other make it too difficult.

  • 23 H. Triptolemus, Demeter, and Persephone. Le Normand, tom. iii. pl. 64.

    From a vase of the time of incipient decadence, the lines becoming rounded, loose, and vulgar. I only want you to copy the plough in Proserpine’s hand; but the design is interesting, because, comparing the wings of the car with those of No. 23 G, you will see that one of their meanings, at all events, is the cloud with dew and rain as necessary to the growth of the seed:—also, though in a late vase, the fox-like head of the serpent is of an archaic form:—it is seen on one of the British Museum vases, as clearly derived from the germination of the seed, with its root for the point of the dragon’s head, and the cotyledon, or two cotyledons, when Triptolemus is the spirit of all agriculture, for the crest or ears.

  • Petit, L. - Print of the Decoration on a Greek Amphora, showing Triptolemus and Hermes 23 I. Triptolemus of the early time. Le Normand, tom. iii. pl. 48.

    Hermes is here put for the cloud, instead of wings to the chariot; his caduceus reversed to show that he is descending.

    Draw the outlines of the whole with the pen, and the curves of the stalks of corn, and ears, in full black.

  • Petit, L. - Print of the Decoration on a Greek Pelike, showing Triptolemus and Demeter 23 K. Triptolemus and Demeter. Le Normand, tom. iii. pl. 47.

    From a vase of good time, but on the edge of decadence. He is here the spirit of agriculture generally, Demeter having the ears of corn in her own hand, and Triptolemus the floral sceptre. This Greek flower is the origin of all conventional forms of the Fleur-de-Lys, and it stands for all floral power in spring; therefore, in our series of mythic vegetation, since Triptolemus must by right have the ear of corn, we will keep the Fleur-de Lys with the violet, for Cora.

    The germination of the seed is again sufficiently indicated in the serpent-crest; and the floor of the chariot, with the rod of the Fleur-de-Lys, takes the form of a ploughshare.

    I give you this for its interest only; it is not good enough to copy; but you have now copies enough from Greek early design. We will work out the myths of the other gods, however, in due time.

  • Ruskin, John - The northern Arch of the west Entrance of Amiens Cathedral 24. North porch of the west front of the Cathedral of Amiens. (R.) Sketch taken before its restoration.

    I introduce you to Gothic sculpture by this memorial, now valuable, slight as it is, of what was, at the time the sketch was made, one of the most beautiful things in all the world. The colour of the front of Amiens, in 1856, was an exquisitely soft grey touched with golden lichen; and the sheltered sculpture was as fresh as when first executed, only the exposed parts broken or mouldering into forms which made them more beautiful than if perfect. All is now destroyed; and even the sharp, pure rose-moulding (of which hardly a petal was injured) cut to pieces, and, for the most part, replaced by a modern design.

    Draw this rose-moulding with pencil, and the top of the gable with colour.

  • 25.

    • Ruskin, John - Sculpture on the south-west (or "Fig-Tree") Angle of the Ducal Palace, Venice Sculpture from the south-west angle of the Ducal Palace, Venice. (R.)

      Sketch with pencil, and shade with flat wet touches of cobalt with light red.

    • Ruskin, John - Foliage of the Capital on south-east (or "Vine")  Angle of the Ducal Palace, Venice 25 B. Outline of the same sculpture. (R.)

      To show how fine work depends, first, on minute undulation and variety in its outlines; secondly, on the same qualities carried out in the surfaces.

      Measure, and draw with the brush.

  • 26. Houses of the seventeenth century at Abbeville. (R.)

    For practice of brush drawing in expression of merely picturesque subject. Sketch made in 1848.

  • Ruskin, John - The Saint Jean d'Acre Pillars and the south-west Corner of Saint Mark's Basilica, Venice 27. South entrance of St. Mark’s, Venice. (R.)

    For practice in rapid laying of flat colour, observing the several tints in shade and sunshine.

  • Prout, Samuel - York Minster, with old Town Walls 28. York Minster. Pencil sketch, by Samuel Prout.
  • 29. Helmsley, &c. Pencil sketches washed with neutral tint. (Samuel Prout.)
  • Prout, Samuel - The Rue Mercière and west Front of Strasbourg Cathedral 30. Street in Strasburg. Lithograph by the artist’s own hand. (Samuel Prout.)
  • Asselineau, Léon Auguste, after Nicolas Marie Joseph Chapuy - The Rue Mercière and west Front of Strasbourg Cathedral 30 B. The same street, seen, and drawn, with modern sentiment.
  • Prout, Samuel - The Hôtel de Ville, Brussels 30 C. Hotel de Ville, Brussels.
  • 30 D. Fountain at Ulm.
  • Prout, Samuel - Street in Ghent 30 E. Street in Ghent.
  • Prout, Samuel - The Old Town Bridge Tower at Prague 30 F. Gate at Prague.

Copy any of these drawings that you like, with BB pencil. They are entirely admirable in their special manner; and their tranquil shadows will give important exercise in light handling of lead pencil, while their lines are as decisive and skilful abstracts of form as it is possible to obtain.

The modern view of Strasburg is, as you will readily perceive, not given as admirable or exemplary, but as an exponent of opposite qualities. The contrast between Nos. 30 and 30 B is partly in the real scenes, partly in the art of their representation. Practical modernism has removed the fountain which gave Prout the means of forming the whole into a good composition, as an obstacle to traffic; (I saw it in 1835, but forget how long it has been destroyed): and has brightened and varnished the street and the old timbers of it, as best it may, to look like a Parisian boulevard. And poetical modernism exhibits the renovated city with renovated art. Yet, remember, Prout’s delight in the signs of age in building, and our own reverence for it, when our minds are healthy, are partly in mere revulsion from the baseness of our own epoch; and we must try to build, some day what shall be venerable, even when it is new.

© 2013 University of Oxford - Ashmolean Museum