Joseph Mallord William Turner

Neptune and Britannia

c.1790–1

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

Medium
Pen and ink on paper
Dimensions
Support: 112 x 142 mm
Collection
Tate
Acquisition
Accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest 1856
Reference
D00716
Turner Bequest XXIX K

Catalogue entry

The figure of Neptune derives from the famous episode ‘Quos Ego ...’ in the first book of Virgil’s Aeneid (I.135), where the sea-god subdues the winds with an uncompleted threat. Ortrud Westheider relates Turner’s drawing to Jean Daullée’s 1752 engraving and etching in reverse after Peter Paul Rubens’s (1577–1640) painting Quos Ego! – Neptune Calming the Waves of 1635 (Gemäldegalerie Ante Meister, Dresden).1
Turner has simplified Rubens’s busy composition, restricting the figures to those of Neptune (shown reversed relative to the painting, as in Daullée’s engraving), a wind god above, and a new figure, Britannia, with her helmet, shield and trident, succouring an indistinct fourth figure.
Turner’s inscription ‘No1’ suggests this as the first of a series of allegorical ideas; compare his study of a winged horse (Tate D40210; Turner Bequest III Eb). Turner may have been intending a series in the popular patriotic mode of the 1790s, following the model of P.J. de Loutherbourg (1740–1812), who made allegorical designs for patriotic trophies to be engraved.
1
Westheider 2011, pp.12–13 figs.1–3 respectively.
Verso:
Blank; a red paint blot; stamped in brown ink with Turner Bequest monogram.

Andrew Wilton
October 2012

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