View this artwork by appointment, at Tate Britain's Prints and Drawings Rooms
The city of Mainz is celebrated primarily as the home of Johannes Gutenberg (1395–1468), the inventor of the mechanical moveable-type printing press. Gutenberg’s invention allowed for mass-communication, permanently altering the ways in which knowledge and ideas were distributed and circulated in society. The impact of the moveable type was revolutionary: this new form of printed word had the power to transcend borders, to increase literacy and learning, to expand traditional and accepted forms of knowledge, and to threaten political and religious authority. It is for these reasons, then, that this son of Mainz was represented by the Danish sculptor Bertel Thorvaldsen (c.1770–1844) in a commemorative statue and placed in a central square named after him: the Gutenbergplatz. It is from this square that Turner sketched Thorvaldsen’s statue and the majestic Cathedral of Mainz in the present drawing.1
The presence of Thorvaldsen’s statue in this sketch was a crucial piece of evidence for Cecilia Powell’s redating of the tour from 1834 to 1839. As its foundation stone was laid on 8 July 1837 and the statue itself unveiled in 1837, Thorvaldsen’s Gutenburg imposes a clear terminus ante quem from which to date the drawing and the sketchbook. Thorvaldsen’s statue was, as Powell writes, ‘exceptionally well documented’ because:
its unveiling constituted not only the realisation of a long-cherished dream on the part of Mainz itself but also the culmination of an endeavour shared by many different countries throughout Europe. Turner could hardly have been unaware of the circumstances leading up to its inauguration, since these were reported in a number of British newspapers and journals between 1835 and 1837, while his annotation on his sketch, “Fete de”, is a clear indication that he also heard on-the-spot reports of the great celebratory day itself.2
‘Bertel Thorvaldsen, Johann Gutenberg, 1833–1834’, Thorvaldsens Museum, http://thorvaldsensmuseum
.dk, accessed 26 July 2013. /en /collections /work /A114
Powell 1991, p.47.