Joseph Mallord William Turner

Studies of Sculptural Fragments from the Vatican Museums, Including a Headless Herm and Details from a Sarcophagus Depicting the Dance of Bacchus


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

Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775–1851
Graphite on paper
Support: 161 x 101 mm
Accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest 1856
Turner Bequest CLXXX 39

Catalogue entry

During his 1819 stay in Rome, one of Turner’s most extensive sketching campaigns was the large number of pencil studies made from the sculpture collections of the Vatican Museums (for a general discussion, see the introduction to the sketchbook). This page contains sketches of objects found in the Museo Pio-Clementino. The studies are numbered from top left to bottom right:
Cecilia Powell has identified the subject of the sketch in the top left-hand corner as a headless herm with a Greek inscription.1 The object can be found in the Sala delle Muse [Gallery of the Muses]. Turner has transcribed the Greek text as ‘¿¿¿¿¿¿¿¿¿S | ¿¿¿¿¿S | ¿¿¿¿¿¿¿¿¿S | ¿¿¿’ and ‘¿¿¿DD¿¿S’ and | ¿¿¿ ¿ ¿¿¿¿¿’. The herm therefore appears to represent Cleovoulos (Greek, ¿¿¿¿¿¿¿¿¿S) of Lindos (¿¿¿¿¿¿S, the one from Lindos), one of the seven ‘wise men’ of Greece who lived during the sixth century BC, famous for his saying ‘¿¿¿ ¿¿¿¿¿¿ ¿¿¿S¿¿¿’ (all in moderation or ‘in good measure’).2
Powell has identified the sketch in the bottom left-hand corner as one of the female figures from a frieze depicting the Dance of Bacchus on a large sarcophagus,3 which today is exhibited in the East Portico of the Cortile Ottagono (also known as the Cortile Ottagonale, formerly the Cortile del Belvedere) in the Museo Pio-Clementino.4 The figure can be found at the far left of the front of the object.5 Other details from the monument can be seen below and on folio 39 verso (D15179; Turner Bequest CLXXX 38a).
Cecilia Powell has identified the sketch parallel with the right-hand edge, as further figures from the Dance of Bacchus frieze (see above),6 this time from the front and right-hand end of the sarcophagus.7
Across the right-hand edge of the page are details of the moulding from the same sarcophagus (see above), which Turner has labelled ‘The Top’ and ‘The [?Polcon] | Dance of Bacchus’.8
Cecilia Powell has suggested that sketches of female sculpture such as the dancing women on this page may have provided inspiration for the foreground figures in Turner’s later oil painting,9 Phyrne Going to the Public Baths as Venus – Demosthenese Taunted by Aeschines exhibited 1838 (Tate, N00522).10

Nicola Moorby
November 2009

Powell 1984, p.416.
Transcribed and translated by Sofia Karamani.
See Walther Amelung, Die Sculpturen des Vaticanischen Museums, Berlin 1903–8, vol.II, ‘Belvedere I’, no.28, pp.76–81, reproduced pl.6 and Giandomenico Spinola, Il Museo Pio-Clementino, vol.I, Vatican City 1996, no.PE 5, p.37, reproduced fig.5.
See Deutsches Archäologisches Institut, Bildkatalog der Skulpturen des Vatikanischen Museum: Museo Pio Clementino Cortile Ottagono, Berlin and New York 1998, vol.II, reproduced pl.293.
Powell 1984, p.416.
Deutsches Archäologisches Institut 1998, reproduced pls.293 and 295.
Ibid., pl.293.
Powell 1987, pp.59 and 203 note 42.
Martin Butlin and Evelyn Joll, The Paintings of J.M.W. Turner, revised ed., New Haven and London 1984, no.373, reproduced pl.378.

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