John Ruskin's Elements of Drawing
November 14, 2011 1:20 PM   Subscribe

The Elements of Drawing: John Ruskin's Teaching Collection at Oxford digitizes the drawings, engravings, and paintings that John Ruskin collected (and created) for use in teaching drawing. The objects can be viewed separately or in their teaching order and context, with Ruskin's own catalog annotations. The site also suggests how modern art students can put the collection to use, with instructional video and a variety of drawing exercises. Ruskin also assembled another fine art collection for working-class viewers in Sheffield; you can see that collection at the Museum of Sheffield, which also helps sponsor a digital reconstruction of the original museum building, the St. George's Museum.
posted by thomas j wise (5 comments total) 47 users marked this as a favorite
This is amazing.

(Aside: I wanted to go to the Ashmolean when I was in Oxford last week, but, inevitably, I went on a Monday and they're closed on Mondays. We went to Pitt Rivers instead and learned how to make a shrunken head.)
posted by subbes at 4:26 PM on November 14, 2011

I can't believe the level of detail in the scans of the artwork. You can zoom in past the point where pencil markings are unintelligible, yet still not pixelated. This only breaks my heart a little more because, rather than loading a multi-megapixel image, they chunk it up into pieces that will fill the viewscreen, so I can't save a copy of these unbelievable high resolution images.
posted by fatbird at 6:56 PM on November 14, 2011 [1 favorite]

I bought the Elements of Drawing at a library book sale for a nickel. It seemed a little short on illustrations. Now I get that.
posted by Zed at 11:40 PM on November 14, 2011

> This only breaks my heart a little more because, rather than loading a multi-megapixel
> image, they chunk it up into pieces that will fill the viewscreen, so I can't save a copy of
> these unbelievable high resolution images.

The images can be downloaded, but they're not actually very big. The zoom function is getting rid of the pixellation and stairstepping by applying Gaussian blur or some other kind of fuzzification. This is most evident on scans of the old engravings, in which the edge transition from black line to unprinted paper should be as crisp as anything printed on paper can ever be. (Not. Fuzzy.)

To see and download the best they're actually willing to turn loose of: turn off scripting in your browser -- locate a likely-looking thumbnail -- right-click, open in new tab to get the description page -- right-click on the image, open in new tab. There you are. Right-click, Save As.

Alternatively: Google advanced image search, site limited to Google's spider finds the same raw images the previous method does. Like you I drooled, and I spent some hours yesterday downloading. So far, none bigger than ~800x1200.

It's still a very interesting site for art-historical reasons and a good find, thanks tjwise. And the images are large enough to learn from, but not unless you already have a fair amount of experience with drawing and watercolor. One of the folks for whom Ruskin made the collection in the first place would be s.o.l.
posted by jfuller at 4:59 AM on November 15, 2011

I think I am wrong. On second (and 17th and 234th) look it does appear that the zoom function is providing better detail than what you can download. So they really must have ultra-hires scans squirreled away somewhere to which access is blocked except through the tiny viewport. Back to just drooling.

It's beyond me how museums like this (and the Tate and the Met and a thousand others) can be so great and so small at the same time. Are these guys not shamed by the example of Ruskin's own gift? Evidently not.

Some museums are setting a better digital-age example. The Los Angeles County Museum of Art has a very sizeable collection of ultra-hires scans and photos available for no-nonsense download. They're top-quality digital images, too, well-lit and not dingy. (It's still a nasty scripted interface -- why are art and photo sites so addicted to these? -- and if you happen to be running NoScript you have to allow both and but with enough patient clicky-clicky you eventually come to the "download image" links. Warning, enormous downloads! Personal rec, the many Whistler drawings in the Prints and Drawings sections.
posted by jfuller at 7:11 AM on November 15, 2011

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