Joseph Mallord William Turner

Lecture Diagram 1: Cross-Sections of the Human Body (after Albrecht Dürer)


In Tate Britain

Prints and Drawings Room

View by appointment
Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775–1851
Watercolour on paper
Support: 618 x 797 mm
Accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest 1856
Turner Bequest CXCV 164

Display caption

This was the first diagram Turner displayed in his first lecture. It attempted to show that geometric shapes can be found in the human body, a subject that Turner noted was of interest to Albrecht Durer - often called 'Albert' in early 19th-century Britain. The text that the diagram accompanied is displayed in a showcase (no.152).

Gallery label, September 1992

Catalogue entry

As Professor of Perspective at the Royal Academy, Turner began Lecture 1 with a discussion of how the rules of geometry ‘may be admitted to aid the bones of art, namely anatomy’.1 Based on an illustration from Four Books on the Proportion of the Human Body (1528) by Albrecht Dürer (1471–1528), Turner’s first diagram is ‘a plan of a figure viewed at the feet horizontally, each circle is that which a horizontal section would produce at different well known heights and proportions’.2 Together with Diagram 2 (Tate D17136; Turner Bequest CXCV 165), a single cross-section of the body also after Dürer, it shows the extent to which the artist ‘carried the necessity of using the rules he laid down in perspective, even in producing the human figure by plan and section geometrically considered’. There is a preliminary sketch for the diagram in Turner’s Perspective sketchbook (Tate D07451; Turner Bequest CVIII 55).
Turner, ‘Royal Academy Lectures’, circa 1807–38, Department of Western Manuscripts, British Library, London, ADD MS 46151 K folio 7.
Ibid. For a later version of this discussion see Turner, ‘Royal Academy Lectures’, circa 1807–38, Department of Western Manuscripts, British Library, London, ADD MS 46151 J folio 5 verso.
Technical notes:
Peter Bower states that the sheet is Pott Quad size paper made by Joseph Ruse, at Upper Tovil Mill, Maidstone, Kent. He writes that none of the Ruse papers used for the perspective drawings are particularly well made. They are generally large and heavy weight papers and were probably sold as ‘outsides’. The Pott Quad size was hardly found after 1800 and was most commonly made for printing, sometimes for writing and, as far as Bower can determine, never for drawing. He thinks that this particular batch of Ruse Pott Quad was probably used for writing, given the way the colour has worked on the surface. He also notes that ‘they show considerable variations in the whole sheet size, from 25–6 x 32–3 inches, though details of the watermark, and those elements of the mould surface that can be seen, indicate that they were made on the same pair of moulds as part of one batch of paper, though probably by different vatmen’.1
Notes in Tate catalogue files.
Blank, save for an inscription by an unknown hand in pencil ‘158’ bottom left.

Andrea Fredericksen
June 2004

Supported by The Samuel H. Kress Foundation

Revised by David Blayney Brown
January 2012

Read full Catalogue entry

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