View this artwork by appointment, at Tate Britain's Prints and Drawings Rooms
As Turner’s inscription ‘Jonas’ indicates this pencil sketch depicts Jonah, a marble statue of the Old Testament character located in the Chigi Chapel in the church of Santa Maria del Popolo, Rome. The artist also made a further sequence of studies in the St Peter’s sketchbook (see Tate D16240; Turner Bequest CLXXXVIII 47). His intense interest in the sculpture can be probably be explained by the fact that during the early nineteenth century it was popularly attributed to Raphael.1 Samuel Rogers, who visited Rome in 1814, wrote in his journal entry for 15 December, ‘Chapel of “Agostin Chigi amico suo caro” the work of which was superintended by Raphael; who died before it was finished. The cieling [sic] is in mosaic from his designs ... & the statue of Jonas must have been modelled by him, it is so full of sweetness. The head, says Canova, is that of the Antinous.’2 However, the work had in fact recently been established as that of Lorenzo Lotto, also known as Lorenzetto (1490–1541), after Raphael’s design.
John Gage has linked Turner’s knowledge of Jonah with his homage to Raphael, the large oil painting Rome, from the Vatican exhibited 1820 (Tate N00503).3 Gage has suggested that the reclining statue in the foreground of the picture, possibly of a river god, is intended to represent the Renaissance master’s skill in various aspects of the arts, including sculpture. More recently, however, Robert McVaugh has argued that the sculpture in the painting in fact may represent, Day, a work by Michelangelo from the Medici Chapel, Florence.4