Joseph Mallord William Turner

Inscription by Turner: Notes from Alexander Dow’s ‘Customs, Manners, Language, Religion and Philosophy of the Hindoos’

c.1807–14

View this artwork by appointment, at Tate Britain's Prints and Drawings Rooms

Medium
Graphite on paper
Dimensions
Support: 69 x 112 mm
Collection
Tate
Acquisition
Accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest 1856
Reference
D08346
Turner Bequest CXXII 40

Catalogue entry

The whole page is taken up with the following notes in ink:
Brahm Bramhe the [?dawn] God. Brahma | proceeded like a spirit of the color of flame with 4 heads | and hands [?Emb] 4 seasons struck at the immensity | of the Image or [?living] form what he originates [?He] | travels for a thousands years to comr comprehend its | vastness but in vain. Existence saw him [?spurn –] | its [...]ed reign, and [...] after – | him in vain – amazed and [?disapointed] he praised with | [?the] 4 Mouth that which he could not conceive when | the image or Almighty with a voice like 10 1000 | thunder said Brahma thou has done well O | Brahma for thou canst not comprehend me1
William Chubb has identified this as taken from ‘A Dissertation Concerning the Customs, Manners, Language, Religion and Philosophy of the Hindoos’ by the Orientalist Alexander Dow (1735/6–1779), in the first volume of his 1768 History of Hindostan.2 He quotes Dow’s text as follows:
Brihm existed from all eternity, in a form of infinite dimensions. When it pleased him to create the world, he said, Rise up, O Brimha. Immediately a spirit of the colour of flame issued from his navel, having four heads and four hands, Brihm gazing round, and seeing nothing but the immense image, out of which he had proceeded, he travelled a thousand years to endeavour to comprehend its dimensions. But after all his toil, he found himself as much at a loss as before.
Lost in amazement, Brimha gave over his journey. He fell prostrate and praised what he saw, with his four mouths. The almighty, then, with a voice like ten thousand thunders, was pleased to say: Thou hast done well, O Brimha, for thou canst not comprehend me! Go and create the world. How can I create it? Ask of me, and power shall be given unto thee. O God, said Brimha, thou art almighty in power!3
There are further passages concerning non-Christian religions on folios 41 recto and 42 recto (D08348, D08350). Chubb has suggested that Turner might have had access to at least one of the texts through patrons with antiquarian interests such as Sir Richard Colt Hoare or Richard Payne Knight;4 he has related those here and on D08348 to Turner’s interest in India, and in particular his Introduction of apparently Hindu Indian figures in the otherwise classical European landscapes of two subjects in the Liber Studiorum series of landscape engravings.5

Matthew Imms
September 2013

1
As transcribed in Chubb 1981, p.34, with minor variations.
2
Chubb 1981, p.28.
3
Chubb 1981, pp.34–5; transcribed in turn from the reprinted text in P.J. Marshall, The British Discovery of Hinduism in the Eighteenth Century, Cambridge 1970, p.125.
4
Chubb 1981, p.35.
5
See ibid., pp.[26]–35; see also an account of Chubb’s talk at York University 1980 (upon which his 1981 article was based), mentioning the Finance sketchbook notes, in Joll 1981, p.42.
6
Chubb 1981, p.34.
7
See John Gage, J.M.W. Turner: ‘A Wonderful Range of Mind’, New Haven and London 1987, pp.207–9.
8
See Nicholson 1990, pp.152, 213 note 16; see also Bailey 1997, p.161.

Read full Catalogue entry