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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Print of the Decoration on a black-figure Greek Ceramic, showing the Resurrection of Semele L. Steffen

  • Details

    Artist/maker
    L. Steffen (active c. 1830) (lithographer)
    Object type
    print
    Material and technique
    colour lithograph on wove paper
    Dimensions
    406 x 509 mm (stone); 476 x 651 mm (sheet)
    Inscription
    Recto, printed, around the image:
    top right: IV. V.
    bottom right: Lith. u. Druck vn. L. Steffen in Berlin.

    Verso, in the left half:
    bottom right, in graphite (recent): 186 B R.
    bottom centre, the Ruskin School's stamp

    Verso, above and left of centre, in graphite: Sland [sic] Arch. 220 Resurrection of Semele
    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.REF.183
  • 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. Reference no. 183

    Ruskin, John, Catalogue of the Reference Series Including Temporarily the First Section of the Standard Series (London: Smith, Elder, [1872]), cat. Reference no. 201

    Ruskin, John, Catalogue of Examples Arranged for Elementary Study in the University Galleries (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1870), cat. Standard no. 201

Location

    • Western Art Print Room

Position in Ruskin’s Collection

Ruskin's Catalogues

  • Ruskin's Catalogue of Examples (1870)

    201. The resurrection of Semele.

    This beautiful design is characteristic of mythic symbolism in its purest development: only the student must remember that in taking these dark figures on their red ground as primarily typical of Greek art, we are to consider them only as holding the relation to Greek advanced painting that mediæval illumination does to the work of Giorgione or Bellini. To what extent chromatic power was finally obtained, we have not yet data for determining; but there is no question that throughout the best periods of Greek mural design, the colours were few and grave; and the merit of the composition almost as strictly dependent on the purity of the terminal lines as in the best vases. Neither is there any doubt that the precision of this terminal line is executively the safeguard of noble art in all ages: and in requesting the student to practise the difficult exercises in drawing with the brush, which are placed in the Educational series, my purpose is not to relax the accuracy of his use of the pen, but to bring precision and elasticity into his laying of colour. The actual relations of the two skills require too copious illustration to admit of definition in this introductory course of lectures. The manner of execution, for instance, resulting from the use of the style, or any other incisive or modelling instrument, on wax and clay, and which entirely governs the early system both of Greek and Italian mural painting, is to be considered together with the various functions of incised lines on any solid substance, from Egyptian bas-relief to finished line engraving: similarly, the use of the brush cannot be rightly explained except by reference to the variously adhesive pigments to be laid by it. But, briefly, the pen, or any other instrument of pure delineation, is always best used when with the lightness of the brush; and the brush always best used when, either at its point or edge, it is moving with the precision of the pen. All these line exercises are therefore prepared with the primary view of forming this poised and buoyant accuracy of handling, whatever the instrument held.

    The design itself is the best I can find to show the character of early Greek conception of divine power, in alliance with whatever was strong and true in the national temper. The Semele and Dionysus of this noble period represent the fruitful, as distinct from other, powers of the sky and earth; Semele being the sun-heated cloud which dissolves in beneficent rain, distinguished from the wandering and shadowy cloud represented by Hermes. Rising again in light from the earth in which she had been lost, she takes the name of Thyone: signifying that she rises as burnt incense expanding in the air. Compare the various meanings of θύω and θύρσος. Dionysus, under her influence, enters his chariot, and is moved as the life of earth. In these relations, the power of Semele and Dionysus is distinguished from that of Ceres and Triptolemus, as the fruitful sun and rain on the rocks, giving the miracle of juice in the vine, are distinguished from the nourishing strength of the dark soil ploughed for corn.

  • Ruskin's Standard & Reference series (1872)

    201. The resurrection of Semele.

    This beautiful design is characteristic of mythic symbolism in its purest development: only the student must remember that in taking these dark figures on their red ground as primarily typical of Greek art, we are to consider them only as holding the relation to Greek advanced painting that mediæval illumination does to the work of Giorgione or Bellini. To what extent chromatic power was finally obtained, we have not yet data for determining; but there is no question that throughout the best periods of Greek mural design, the colours were few and grave; and the merit of the composition almost as strictly dependent on the purity of the terminal lines as in the best vases. Neither is there any doubt that the precision of this terminal line is executively the safeguard of noble art in all ages: and in requesting the student to practise the difficult exercises in drawing with the brush, which are placed in the Educational series, my purpose is not to relax the accuracy of his use of the pen, but to bring precision and elasticity into his laying of colour. The actual relations of the two skills require too copious illustration to admit of definition in this introductory course of lectures. The manner of execution, for instance, resulting from the use of the style, or any other incisive or modelling instrument, on wax and clay, and which entirely governs the early system both of Greek and Italian mural painting, is to be considered together with the various functions of incised lines on any solid substance, from Egyptian bas-relief to finished line engraving: similarly, the use of the brush cannot be rightly explained except by reference to the variously adhesive pigments to be laid by it. But, briefly, the pen, or any other instrument of pure delineation, is always best used when with the lightness of the brush; and the brush always best used when, either at its point or edge, it is moving with the precision of the pen. All these line exercises are therefore prepared with the primary view of forming this poised and buoyant accuracy of handling, whatever the instrument held.

    The design itself is the best I can find to show the character of early Greek conception of divine power, in alliance with whatever was strong and true in the national temper. The Semele and Dionysus of this noble period represent the fruitful, as distinct from other, powers of the sky and earth; Semele being the sun-heated cloud which dissolves in beneficent rain, distinguished from the wandering and shadowy cloud represented by Hermes. Rising again in light from the earth in which she had been lost, she takes the name of Thyone: signifying that she rises as burnt incense expanding in the air. Compare the various meanings of θύω and θύρσος. Dionysus, under her influence, enters his chariot, and is moved as the life of earth. In these relations, the power of Semele and Dionysus is distinguished from that of Ceres and Triptolemus, as the fruitful sun and rain on the rocks, giving the miracle of juice in the vine, are distinguished from the nourishing strength of the dark soil ploughed for corn.

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