South Transept, Melrose Abbey

John Ruskin1838

The Ruskin

The Ruskin
Lancaster, United Kingdom

The ruined abbey of Melrose, where Robert the Bruce’s heart had been buried, lies close to Abbotsford, home of Ruskin’s literary hero Sir Walter Scott. One of the parts best preserved is the red sandstone south transept, with its elaborate fifteenth-century window tracery. Its romantic ruins were a common subject for the picturesque artist, and this elaborate architectural study is a tour de force in the early style of which Ruskin was later dismissive.

‘Hitherto having never so much as drawn the form of a single leaf with attention, even in the living tree, far less in sculpture, all carving came nearly alike to me, so only that it was rich. I cared only for “curlie-wurlies and whigmaleeries,”’ he continued, using a colloquialism appropriately drawn from Scott’s Rob Roy, ‘and was as happy in the fifteenth century as in the tenth. Although already I had begun to draw traceries carefully, and the tabernacle work connected with them, for crockets, bosses, or decorated mouldings, I used only such rude and confused lines as I had learned to imitate from Prout, and left their places blank in my sketches, to be filled up “out of my head” at home. But richness, the aspect of much work on the building, was essential to my pleasure.’


  • Title: South Transept, Melrose Abbey
  • Creator: John Ruskin (1819-1900)
  • Date Created: 1838
  • Location Created: Melrose, Scotland
  • Physical Dimensions: 50.4 x 35.8 cm
  • Rights: © The Ruskin, Lancaster University
  • Medium: Pencil on buff paper

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