Regulus was a Roman general who was captured by the Carthaginians. They sent him back to Rome to negotiate the release of Carthaginian prisoners. When he returned to Carthage, having failed his mission, he was punished by having his eyelids removed. Turner’s blinding, light-filled canvas makes manifest Regulus’s plight.
Turner first exhibited this painting in Rome in 1828. His audience would have recognised its echoes of a famous seaport by the seventeenth-century painter, Claude Lorrain, in the Uffizzi gallery in Florence. Turner clearly wanted to show himself as heir to the tradition of landscape painting begun by Claude.