Joseph Mallord William Turner

Sketch of a Sculptured Panel from the Arch of Titus, Rome


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

Graphite on paper
Support: 114 x 189 mm
Accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest 1856
Turner Bequest CLXXXVIII 18 a

Catalogue entry

Like many other ancient monuments in the Roman Forum, Turner made a detailed study of the Arch of Titus, a triumphal arch which stands on the Via Sacra, to the south-east of the Roman Forum. Turner has here recorded the sculptured relief from the northern side of the entrance to the Arch of Titus, a scene depicting the triumphal procession of the Emperor Titus after the sack of Jerusalem in AD 70. Clearly visible in the sketch are the massed ranks of the soldiers and the chariot and horses of the Emperor with the winged figure of Victory at his side.
Turner’s sketches of the Arch of Titus informed his later oil painting, Forum Romanum exhibited 1826 (Tate, N00504).1 However, as Cecilia Powell has discussed, the disorganised nature of his sketchbooks presented him with problems during the composition of the piece.2 It was not his habit to record where the individual scenes belonged in situ and consequently he transposed the wrong bas-relief onto the southern side of the arch. The painting should have shown the panel representing the spoils of the city, see folio 19 (D16192), but instead Turner depicted the scene recorded within this sketch by mistake. For other studies of the Arch of Titus see the Small Roman C. Studies sketchbook (Tate D16395; Turner Bequest CXC 1) and the Roman Colour Studies sketchbook (Tate D16370 and D16372; Turner Bequest CLXXXIX 43 and 44).

Nicola Moorby
September 2008

Martin Butlin and Evelyn Joll, The Paintings of J.M.W. Turner, revised ed., New Haven and London 1984, no.233.
Powell 1987, pp.56–7.

Read full Catalogue entry