Joseph Mallord William Turner

Notes on the ‘Aurora’ by Guido Reni, in the Palazzo Pallavicini-Rospigliosi, Rome

1819

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

Artist
Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775–1851
Medium
Dimensions
Support: 115 x 94 mm
Collection
Tate
Acquisition
Accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest 1856
Reference
D16766
Turner Bequest CXCIII 3

Catalogue entry

As Finberg first identified, the handwritten inscription on this page refers to the Aurora of Guido Reni (1575–1642), a fresco dating from 1613–14 which decorates the ceiling of the Casino dell’Aurora in the Palazzo Pallavicini-Rospigliosi, Rome.1 Turner’s notes read as follows:
The Aurora of Guido – the sky rather | yellow like W Smoke Light on a Dark | red ground on which [?G] rather stiks his | Relievo excepting the orange drapery the | light Lilac serves to detach the figure | but at the same time takes away all | aerial quality from the sky which | perhaps is too solid the Dark figure | with golden Hair and light Blue Drapery | is beautiful as to form, color and | design the Drapery is the lightest colour | in the picture. the greenish robe | of the next figure second the next a lilac | robe and light drapery the Apollo red Lake | and comes off whole .: half tone from the | sky the half figures one green the other | red serves to clear the [sketch of figure] [?figures] the | Sea is dark Blue and rather aerial by [?reason]2
The text continues on folio 4 verso (D16767; Turner Bequest CXCIII 3a). As Cecilia Powell has noted this constitutes his longest comment on a single painting in Rome.3
The Aurora is one of Guido Reni’s most famous works and during the nineteenth century was much admired for its colouring and use of landscape. Charlotte Eaton, for example, in her popular travel guide book Rome in the Nineteenth Century, first published in 1820, wrote:
On the roof of the summer-house of the Palazzo Rospigliosi, is painted the celebrated fresco of Guido’s Aurora. Its colouring is clear, harmonious, airy, brilliant – unfaded by time; and the enthusiastic admirer of Guido’s genius may be permitted to hope, that this, his noblest work, will be immortal as his fame.4
Turner himself would have already been familiar with Reni’s composition from engravings and referred to it in one of his Perspective Lectures given to the Royal Academy from 1818.5 However, the experience of seeing the fresco’s celebrated colouring first-hand moved him to make extensive notes on the tonal and perspectival effects. As is characteristic of his attitude to the Old Masters, his comments are both admiring and critical. He has condemned the aerial qualities of the landscape, but found much to appreciate in the drawing and colour harmonies of the draperies.6 Powell has suggested that Reni’s depiction of the boy, Phosphorus, accompanying the figure of the dawn goddess Aurora, may have been an iconographical source of inspiration for the phosphorescent nymphs in his later oil painting, Ulysses Deriding Polyphemus exhibited 1829 (National Gallery, London).7

Nicola Moorby
February 2011

1
Reproduced in Gage 1969, fig.66 and Powell 1987, fig.69, p.[67].
2
Partially transcribed by Finberg 1909, p.574, and Powell 1987, p.[67], with minor changes and additions here.
3
Powell 1987, p.59.
4
Charlotte Anne Eaton, Rome in the Nineteenth Century, vol.III, Edinburgh 1820, p.84.
5
‘Lecture V’, 1818, manuscript in the British Museum, reproduced in Gage 1969, p.204.
6
Gage 1969, p.143 and Powell 1987, p.[67].
7
Powell 1987, p.59, and Powell 2001, p.257; Martin Butlin and Evelyn Joll, The Paintings of J.M.W. Turner, revised ed., New Haven and London 1984, no.330.

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