Tag Archives: Oxford

Ruskin on Landscape

John Ruskin

John Ruskin (8 February 1819 – 20 January 1900) believed that the purpose of landscape painting was to represent the human condition via our surroundings, or as he put it, “The interest of a landscape consists wholly in its relation either to figures present—or to figures past—or to human powers conceived.”


The following are excerpts from lectures on the subject given by Ruskin to his students at Oxford in 1871, taken from the book Lectures on Landscape, Delivered at Oxford in Lent Term, 1871:

 Landscape painting is the thoughtful and passionate representation of the physical conditions appointed for human existence. It imitates the aspects, and records the phenomena, of the visible things which are dangerous or beneficial to men; and displays the human methods of dealing with these, and of enjoying them or suffering from them, which are either exemplary or deserving of sympathetic contemplation.

I have limited, you have just heard, landscape painting to the representation of phenomena relating to human life. You will scarcely be disposed to admit the propriety of such a limitation; and you will still less be likely to conceive its necessary strictness and severity, unless I convince you of it by somewhat detailed examples.

Here are two landscapes by Turner in his greatest time—Vesuvius in repose, Vesuvius in eruption.

One is a beautiful harmony of cool color; and the other of hot, and they are both exquisitely designed in ornamental lines. But they are not painted for those qualities. They are painted because the state of the scene in one case is full of delight to men; and in the other of pain and danger. And it is not Turner’s object at all to exhibit or illustrate natural phenomena, however interesting in themselves.


Joseph Mallord William Turner (1775‑1851), Bay of Naples (Vesuvius Angry), shown in the book as Vesuvius in Eruption, watercolor on paper, 176 x 284 mm, c.1817, Williamson Art Gallery & Museum

Joseph Mallord William Turner (1775‑1851), Bay of Naples (Vesuvius Angry), shown in the book as Vesuvius in Eruption, watercolor on paper, 176 x 284 mm, c.1817, Williamson Art Gallery & Museum, *Vesuvius in Repose is in a private collection, and no image is currently available.

He does not want to paint blue mist in order to teach you the nature of evaporation; nor this lava stream, to explain to you the operation of gravity on ponderous and viscous materials. He paints the blue mist, because it brings life and joy to men, and the lava stream because it is death to them.

Only natural phenomena in their direct relation to humanity—these are to be your subjects in landscape. Rocks and water and air may no more be painted for their own sakes, than the armor carved without the warrior.

The physical conditions there are so numerous, and the spiritual ones so occult, that you are sure to be overpowered by the materialism, unless your sentiment is strong. No man is naturally likely to think first of anatomy in painting a pretty woman; but he is very apt to do so in painting a mountain. No man of ordinary sense will take pleasure in features that have no meaning, but he may easily take it in heath, woods or waterfalls, that have no expression. So that it needs much greater strength of heart and intellect to paint landscape than figure: many commonplace persons, bred in good schools, have painted the figure pleasantly or even well; but none but the strongest—John Bellini, Titian, Velasquez, Tintoret, Mantegna, Sandro Botticelli, Carpaccio and Turner—have ever painted a fragment of good landscape.

Brantwood, the home of John Ruskin from 1872 to 1900.

Brantwood, the home of John Ruskin from 1872 to 1900.


John Ruskin, Lectures on Landscape (WorldCat link)



The Art of Iugling or Legerdemaine

Written by Samuel Rid, also known simply as S. R., Sa. Rid, and sometimes attributed to Samuel Rowlands or possibly even Samuel Rand, which happens to be the name of the book’s publisher, The Art of Iugling or Legerdemaine was first published in 1612 and describes the practices of street magicians, grifters, and sleight of hand artists that one might encounter in Renaissance Europe. The following excerpts, written in Early Modern English, introduce the art of legerdemaine and detail the special technique of manipulating balls:

…these fellowes seeing that no profit comes by wandring, but hazard of their liues, doe daily decrease and breake off their wonted society, and betake themselues many of them, some to be Pedlers, some Tinkers, some Iuglers, and some to one kinde of life or other, insomuch that Iugling is now become common, I meane the professors who make an occupation and profession of the same: which I must needs say, that some deserue commendation for the nimblenes and agillity of their hands, and might be thought to performe as excellent things by their Legerdemaine, as any of your wisards, witches, or magitians whatsoeuer. For these kinde of people doe performe that in action, which the other do make shew of: and no doubt many when they heare of any rare exploit performed which cannot enter into their capacity, and is beyond their reach, straight they attribute it to be done by the Deuill, and that they worke by some familiar spirit, when indeede it is nothing els but meere illusion, cosoning, and legerdemaine.

The Conjurer - Bosch

The Conjurer, Hieronymus Bosch (circa 1450–1516) and workshop or Workshop of Hieronymus Bosch (circa 1450–1516) or After Hieronymus Bosch (circa 1450–1516), oil on panel, created between 1496 and 1520, Height: 53 cm (20.9 in). Width: 65 cm (25.6 in), Musée Municipal, Saint-Germain-en-Laye, France

Feates of Legerdemaine vsed with the
Balls, with one or more.

Concerning the Ball, the playes and deuises thereof are infinite: insomuch, as if you can vse them wel, you may shew an hundred feats, but whether you seeme to throw the Ball into the ayre, or into your mouth, or into your left hand, or as you list, it must be kept still in your right hand: if you practise first with the leaden bullet, you shall the sooner, and better do it with balls of Corke: the first place at your first learning, where you are to bestow a great ball, is in the palme of your hand, with your ring finger, but a small ball is to be placed with your thumbe betwixt your ring finger and middle finger: then are you to practise to do it betwixt your other fingers, then betwixt the forefinger & the thumbe, with the forefinger & middle finger ioyntly, and therein is the greatest and the strangest conueying shewed. Lastly the same small ball is to be practised in the palme of your hand, and so by vse, you shall not only seeme to put any ball from you, and yet retaine it in your hand, but you shall keepe fower or fiue, as clenly and certaine as one, this being first learned and sleight attayned vnto, you shall worke wonderfull feates: as for ensample.

Note for this feate yow must haue fower boxes made in the manner of extinguishers that are made to put out candles, but as big againe: but for want of them, you may take smal candlesticks, or saltseller couers, or som such like.

Lay three or fower balls before you, and as many boxes or small candlesticks &c, then first seeme to put one ball into your left hand, and therewithall seeme to holde the same fast. Then take one of the boxes &c. or any other thing (hauing a hollow foote, and being great) and seeme to put the ball which is thought to be in your left hand vnderneath the same, and so vnder the other candlesticks Boxes &c. seeme to bestow the other balls, and all this while the beholders will suppose each ball to be vnder each box, or candlestick &c. this done vse some charme or forme of words (before set downe) as hey Fortuna furie nunquam credo, passe passe: then take vp the candlestick with one hand and blow, saying thats gone you see: and so likewise looke vnder each candlestick with like grace and words (for you must remember to carry a good grace and face on the matter) and the beholders will wonder where they are become: But if you in lifting vp the candlesticks with your right hand leaue all those three or fower balls vnder one of them (as by vse you may easily doe) hauing turned them all downe into your hand and holding them fast with your little, and ring finger, and take the box or candlestick &c. with your other fingers and cast the balls vp into the hollownes thereof (for so they will not rowle so soone away) the standers by will be much astonished, but it will seeme wonderfull strange, if also in shewing how there remaineth nothing vnder an other of the said candlesticks taken vp with your left hand you leaue behinde you a great ball, or any other thing, the miracle will be the greater. For first, they will thinke you haue pulled away all the balls by miracle, then that you haue brought them againe by like meanes and they nether thinke, or looke that any other thing remaineth behinde vnder any of them, and therfore after many other feates don returne to your candlesticks, remembring where you left the great ball, and in no wise touch the same, but hauing another great ball about you, seeme to bestow the same in manner and forme aforesaid vnder a candlestick which standeth farthest from that where the ball lyeth, and when you shall with words and charmes seeme to conuey the same ball from vnder the same box or candlestick &c. (and afterward bring it vnder the box &c. which you touched not) it will (I say) seeme wonderfull strange.

There are thought to be only a few remaining first editions of this book in the world, one of which is kept in Oxford’s Bodleian Library.

WorldCat link…