Joseph Mallord William Turner

Lecture Diagram 27: Perspective Method for a Cube (after Jean Pélerin)

c.1810

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

Medium
Graphite and watercolour on paper
Dimensions
Support: 672 x 999 mm
Collection
Tate
Acquisition
Accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest 1856
Reference
D17041
Turner Bequest CXCV 71

Display caption

This is Turner’s first diagram in his survey of historical methods for drawing a cube. The technique was proposed by Jean Pélerin, a French cleric and scholar, who wrote under the name ‘Viator’. His book De Artificiali Perspectiva 1505 was the first ‘how-to’ book on perspective published in Europe.

The basis of Pélerin’s construction was the ‘distance point’ method. This required a principal vanishing point and two distance points at either side to find the shape.

Gallery label, September 2004

Catalogue entry

One of the highlights of Lecture 2, given by Turner as Professor of Perspective at the Royal Academy, is his survey of historical techniques for drawing a cube in perspective. He begins with Diagram 27, demonstrating a method proposed by Jean Pélerin (?1435–40; died 1524), a French architect, sculptor and cleric who wrote under the name ‘Viator’. In De Artificiali Perspectiva (1505) – the first treatise on perspective printed in Europe – Pélerin made the distance point method the basis of his system. Turner stated that it was ‘the earliest treatise I have met with’.1 While researching his lecture, Turner copied one of Pélerin’s diagrams (1505, pl.1, centre diagram) into his Perspective sketchbook three times, but, according to Maurice Davies, on each occasion he omitted the part that shows the square itself (Tate D07396; Turner Bequest CVIII 27 recto, also D07429; Turner Bequest CVIII 44).2 In a preliminary version of the lecture, Turner provides a short description of Pélerin’s approach.3 In another early version, of Lecture 3, Turner supplies a new description of the method which corresponds to what is illustrated in Diagram 27 but deviates significantly from Pélerin.4 Because the manuscript used for lecturing does not include this new description and only refers to Pélerin in passing, Davies concludes that ‘it is unlikely that [Diagram 27] was included in the lecture that Turner delivered in 1811’.5
1
Turner, ‘Royal Academy Lectures’, circa 1807–38, Department of Western Manuscripts, British Library, London, ADD MS 46151 M folio 2 verso.
2
Davies 1994, p.88.
3
Turner, ‘Royal Academy Lectures’, circa 1807–38, Department of Western Manuscripts, British Library, London, ADD MS 46151 A folios 15 verso, 16.
4
Turner, ‘Royal Academy Lectures’, circa 1807–38, Department of Western Manuscripts, British Library, London, ADD MS 46151 F folio 2 verso.
5
Turner, ‘Royal Academy Lectures’, circa 1807–38, Department of Western Manuscripts, British Library, London, ADD MS 46151 M folio 2 verso; Davies 1994, p.90.
Verso:
See Tate D40002; an unfinished diagram also after Pélerin.
Technical notes:
Peter Bower states that the sheet is Double Elephant size Whatman paper made by William Balston, at Springfield Mill, Maidstone, Kent. The largest group within the perspective drawings, this batch of paper shows a ‘grid-like series of shadows that can be seen within the sheet in transmitted light. This appears to have been caused by a trial method of supporting the woven wire mould cover on the mould’. Because this is the only batch he has seen with such a feature, Bower believes that ‘it may have been tried on one pair of moulds and for some reason never tried again’. He also writes that it is ‘not the best Whatman paper by any means; the weight of this group is also very variable and the moulds have not been kept clean during use’.1

Andrea Fredericksen
June 2004

1
Notes in Tate catalogue files.

Revised by David Blayney Brown
January 2012

Read full Catalogue entry