'The Dream of St Ursula' after Carpaccio

D Gould after John Ruskin (1819-1900). Hand-painted photograph, c. 1880.

Ruskin copied this work from a cycle of nine paintings by the Venetian artist Vittore Carpaccio (c. 1460-1526) telling the story of St Ursula. Carpaccio produced these paintings for the Confraternity of St Ursula in Venice. They remain in Venice, though they are now displayed in the Accademia Gallery.

This work is a photograph of Ruskin's watercolour copy of 'The Dream of St Ursula', the fifth painting in the cycle. Gould added his own touch by hand-painting the photograph. The original copy is in the Ashmolean Museum, Oxford.

Ruskin was deeply moved by 'The Dream of St Ursula'. The Accademia Gallery took the huge painting off display for him, so that he could copy it in private. He wrote to his cousin, 'There she lies, so real, that when the room's quite quiet, I get afraid of waking her!' (Works, 24, p. xxxvii).


There are several versions of St Ursula's life. Carpaccio based his paintings on the Legenda Aurea or Lives of the Saints, published in Venice in 1475.

St Ursula was a Christian princess, who lived in the third or fourth century AD. She agreed to marry a pagan prince on the condition that he first accompanied her and 11,000 virgins on a pilgrimage across Europe to Rome. At Rome, Pope Cyriacus joined Ursula's pilgrimage. On her return home, she had a vision of an angel who foretold her martyrdom.

Collection of the Guild of St George, Museums Sheffield

The prophecy was realised when Ursula and her attendants reached Cologne. Here the Huns, who had invaded from Asia and eastern Europe, attacked and murdered Ursula and all her attendants.

Ruskin on the St Ursula Cycle

Ruskin first took note of the St Ursula paintings because he admired Carpaccio's work, in particular his use of colour and attention to detail. Although Carpaccio painted historical scenes, the figures, architecture, and backgrounds, were Venetian. The artist painted what he could see rather than what he imagined.

Ruskin saw St Ursula as a symbol of female purity and beauty. In his later years, especially in times of mental illness, Ruskin came to link the paintings and the life of St Ursula with Rose La Touche, the young woman for whom he nurtured an obsessive love.

Rose died young, possibly of an anorexic condition, on 25 May 1875. Ruskin found both comfort and grief in the images of Ursula and looked to them for spiritual messages from Rose.

Inside the Museum
Extension, View 1
Extension, View 2
Extension, View 3
other Exhibits
History of the Museum
John Ruskin
About the Project
Museums Sheffield
Useful Links

Please leave feedback
on Facebook