Joseph Mallord William Turner

Lecture Diagram 2: Cross-Section of the Human Body (after Albrecht Dürer)


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Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775–1851
Watercolour on paper
Support: 415 x 660 mm
Accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest 1856
Turner Bequest CXCV 165

Catalogue entry

Presented by Turner at the beginning of Lecture 1 as Professor of Perspective at the Royal Academy, this is the second of two diagrams based on illustrations from Four Books on the Proportions of the Human Body (1528) by Albrecht Dürer (1471–1528) (see also Tate D17135; Turner Bequest CXCV 164). Turner uses this cross-section of the body not only to examine how basic geometric shapes can be found in the human form, but also to recount the rise of geometry in the history of art, particularly in connection with anatomy.1 While Dürer may have been credited with ‘adducing the art to some fixed method or rules of geometric proportions and lines,’ Turner cautions that ‘it cannot be inferr’d that all painters prior to him, even the great father of modern art, Giovanni Chimabue; and the inventor oil painting John van Eck to have been deficient of vision, as to be blind to the obliquity of lines, or negligent to the dilation of the circle’.2 Turner refers to Cimabue (Cenni di Pepo, active 1272–1302) and Jan van Eyck (active 1422, died 1441).
Turner, ‘Royal Academy Lectures’, circa 1807–38, Department of Western Manuscripts, British Library, London, ADD MS 46151 K folio 7.
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 this date 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.

Andrea Fredericksen
June 2004

Revised by David Blayney Brown
January 2012

Read full Catalogue entry

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