Joseph Mallord William Turner

Studies at Herculaneum, with Architectural Fragments


Not on display
Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775–1851
Graphite on paper
Support: 189 x 113 mm
Accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest 1856
Turner Bequest CLXXXV 85 a

Catalogue entry

As Cecilia Powell has previously discussed, the drawings on folios 80 verso–87 (D15886–D15898; Turner Bequest CLXXXV 78a–85) of this sketchbook relate to Turner’s exploration of the archaeological site at Herculaneum.1 Unlike the extensive ruins at Pompeii, the ancient town had not yet been subject to a sustained period of excavation and there was very little to see beyond the subterranean passages of the theatre. Consequently, Turner’s sketches are very sparse in detail and, by their rough nature, appear to have been executed in the dark.2 This page appears to contain a view of a staircase descending into an underground chamber, as well as several swift studies of architectural fragments including ornamental mouldings, pillars and part of an Ionic capital. The location is almost certainly the theatre, which in 1819 was almost the only structure of note accessible to view. A similar scene was described by Sarah Atkins in her book, Relics of Antiquity, exhibited in the Ruins of Pompeii and Herculaneum, first published 1825:
our passage through the little dark galleries was here and there almost totally obstructed by bricks, tiles and mortar, marble cornices, friezes, and other ornaments, which lay about in endless confusion, together with elegant stuccos, beams, and rafters, blocks and billets for fuel, and even what appear to have been the trees that stood in the town, and large quantities of the earth and lava that overwhelmed the place at the time of its destruction, all mingled and crushed together in such a manner as I cannot pretend to describe.3
For a fuller description of Herculaneum and the theatre see folio 86 (D15896; Turner Bequest CLXXXV 84).

Nicola Moorby
November 2010

Powell 1984, p.187, and Powell 1987, pp.82–3.
Sarah Atkins (later Lucy Wilson), Relics of Antiquity, exhibited in the Ruins of Pompeii and Herculaneum, with an account of the destruction and recovery of those celebrated cities, London 1825, p.56.

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