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 / 4th Section

  • Hogarth, J, junior - Photograph of Turner's "Isis" 31. Isis. Photograph of Turner’s sepia sketch for the subject in the Liber Studiorum.
  • 31 B. Moonlight (off the Needles, Isle of Wight). Photograph from a sepia sketch of Turner’s, unpublished . See Lect. VI. § 165.
  • Turner, Joseph Mallord William - Liber studiorum - Windmill and Lock 31 C. Windmill and lock on an English canal. (Liber Studiorum.)
  • Turner, Joseph Mallord William - Liber studiorum - Water Mill 31 D. Watermill on the torrent of the Grand Chartreuse. (Liber Studiorum.)
  • Turner, Joseph Mallord William - Liber studiorum - Holy Island Cathedral 31 E. Holy Island Cathedral. (Liber Studiorum.)
  • Turner, Joseph Mallord William - Liber studiorum - Near Blair Athol 31 F. Near Blair Athol. (Liber Studiorum.)

    This last subject is on the stream which comes down from Glen Tilt, about half a mile above its junction with the Garry. The projecting rock is conspicuous, and easily found. You will think at first the place itself much more beautiful than Turner’s study; the rocks are lovely with lichen, the banks with flowers; the stream-eddies are foaming and deep. But Turner has attempted none of these minor beauties, and has put into this single scene the spirit of Scotland.

  • Turner, Joseph Mallord William - Liber studiorum - The Source of the Arveron 31 G. Valley of Chamouni. (Liber Studiorum.) The source of the Arveron seen low down through the cluster of distant pines.

This group of our series, from 31 to 40, is arranged to show you the use of the sepia wash and of the pen and pencil for studies of chiaroscuro and of definite form.

Nos. 31, 31 B, show you how to use sepia, or black, rapidly in the flat wash: the engraved plates, but especially 31 G, which was engraved by Turner himself, the qualities of finished drawing for light and shade.

You cannot, however, without great pains, imitate these mezzotint plates, in which the lights are scraped out, with your sepia wash, which leaves them. But if you copy the etchings accurately (35, 35 B, &c.), and then lay your sepia so that the shades of it shall be dolce e sfumose, you will soon gain sufficient power of rendering chiaroscuro from nature.

  • unidentified - Photograph of Dürer's "Greater Celandine" 32. Study of the wall-cabbage. (Photograph from Dürer’s drawing.)

    I do not know if the original is in colour or not; probably in colour. But, as translated for us into brown, it is equally exemplary. You cannot copy it too carefully or too often.

  • Allen, George - Engraving of Ruskin's Drawing of the Petal Vault of a Scarlet Geranium 32 B. Study of scarlet geranium. Mezzotint by my assistant, Mr. G. Allen, from a sketch of mine in pencil on grey paper, outlined with pen and touched with white.

    See Lect. VI. § 163.

  • Ruskin, John - A growing Shoot of Box 32 C. Study of young shoot of box. (R.) Pencil, washed with cobalt and light red; outline here and there determined with the pen; buds touched with white—very badly, but, if I had begun to work upon them, the whole must have been more completed.

    I have sketched this rapidly to show you, in 32 B and C, the two uses of grey paper, for form seen in light against dark, and in dark against light, with power of final white in each.

  • Ruskin, John - Enlarged Study of a Prawn's Rostrum 33. Rostrum of common prawn, magnified. (R.)

    To show use of pencil and white for studies of organic form. It is nearly always necessary to make these on a larger scale than nature’s, else it is impossible to express the refinements of structure; but they should not be drawn by help of a lens; they should be the easy expression on a large scale of the form, attentively observed by the naked eye, at the distance which the size of the object may render convenient.

  • 33 B. Calyx and stamens of bean blossom (petals removed). Calyx and stamens of Rose Acacia blossom (petals removed), both magnified; and blossom of Agrimony, natural size. (R.) Pen and ink, on common blue lined writing paper (leaves of my botanical note-book), touched with white.

    You will find this a most wholesome and useful manner of drawing. Take care always to keep leaning well on the firm outline: it is much easier to draw things as the bean blossom is drawn, than as the agrimony is.

  • unidentified - Photograph of Holbein's Drawing of Saint Michael as the Weigher of Souls 34. St. Michael, sketch with ink and neutral tint. (Holbein.)
  • unidentified - Photograph of Holbein's Sketch for the left Organ Door of the Münster at Basel 34 B. Decorative design (Holbein), pen and neutral tint.
  • unidentified - Photograph of Holbein's Sketch for the right Organ Door of the Münster at Basel 34 C. Companion sketch. (Holbein.)
  • unidentified - Photograph of a Drawing of a Dagger with Variations on the Decoration attributed to Hans Holbein the younger 34 D. Design for hilt and sheath of dagger (Dürer), brush drawing heightened with white.

The last is peculiarly beautiful in the painter-like touch with which the white is gradated; but is too difficult to be of present use. Copy whatever parts of the Holbeins you are most interested in, with utmost care in the outline; laying the tint afterwards at once, so as to disturb it as little as possible. You will soon discover some of the splendid qualities of Holbein’s work, however far you may fail of imitating any of them.

I have not given you the etching for the mill on the Chartreuse, for it is not by Turner; he probably allowed that plate, and the Raglan, to be etched by other hands, that his mind might be fresh in its impression of the subject when he took the plates to engrave. He both etched and engraved 35 F, having always great interest in the scene.

Copy these etchings with intense care and fidelity to every touch, with pen, and rather thick ink, on smooth paper.

  • Dürer, Albrecht - Coat of Arms with a Death's-Head 36. Shield with skull. (Dürer.)

    This is the best of all his engravings for any endeavour at imitation. Try the woman’s crown, and any manageable portions of the crest and foliage, with finest steel pen and very black ink. The satyr’s head is unequalled among his works for its massive and rich composition, every space of light being placed unerringly.

  • 37.

    • Dürer, Albrecht - The Virgin with a Sceptre and Crown of Stars Madonna, with crown of stars. (Dürer.)
    • Allen, George - Part of a Star Crown: enlarged Drawing of Dürer's "Virgin with a Sceptre and Crown of Stars" 37 B. Sketch of the action of the lines of the crown, to show how free Dürer’s hand is on the metal. Every line is swept with the precision of the curve of a sail in a breeze.


    • Strixner, Johann Nepomuk - Lithograph of Saint George on horseback, from Dürer's Prayer-Book of the Emperor Maximilian St. George. Facsimile of pen drawing with free hand, by Dürer.
    • Strixner, Johann Nepomuk - Lithograph of Saint George with the dead Dragon, from Dürer's Prayer-Book of the Emperor Maximilian 38 B. St. George with the dead dragon , from the same book. (Now at Munich.)
  • Object not found 39. Woodcut, one of the series of the Apocalypse. (Dürer.) Chap. XLII.
  • Dürer, Albrecht - The Whore of Babylon 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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