Joseph Mallord William Turner

Studies of Sculptural Fragments from the Vatican Museums, Including a Sarcophagus


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

Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775–1851
Graphite on paper
Support: 101 x 161 mm
Accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest 1856
Turner Bequest CLXXX 22

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 two objects, one or both of which were probably found in the Museo Chiaramonti. The studies are numbered from left to right:
Cecilia Powell has identified the largest sketch on the page as depicting a sarcophagus from the Galleria Lapidaria (Lapidary Gallery) of the Museo Chiaramonti.1 The sarcophagus is decorated with reliefs depicting Cupid and Psyche in the centre, and on either side, a Satyr and a Maenad which Turner has described as a ‘God’. It also has a wave-like strigil pattern which Turner has only briefly indicated but which he has noted is repeated ‘12’ times. Today the object can be found in the centre of the Cortile Ottagono (also known as the Cortile Ottagonale, formerly the Cortile del Belvedere) of the Museo Pio-Clementino.2
The second sketch, parallel with the right-hand edge depicts an unidentified sculptural fragment of a funerary monument, inscribed with the Latin text ‘D M | LIVIO HEVRE IO | LIB PATRONONOEM’. The first part translates as ‘D[is] M[anibus]’, ‘To the spirits of the departed’, and is a common phrase found on Roman funerary monuments.
Jerrold Ziff described the Vatican Fragments sketchbook as ‘nearly a dictionary or pattern book of motifs’ which Turner consulted for the featured pieces of sculpture in the finished oil painting, What You Will! exhibited 1822 (Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute, Williamstown, Massachusetts).3 Butlin and Joll have suggested that the statue group of cupids in the centre of the picture may be derived from the Cupid and Psyche reliefs at the top of this page, although Powell has argued that a more likely source is a frieze of erotes (winged gods of love) from the Capitoline Museums, see folio 53 verso (D15207; Turner Bequest CLXXX 52a).4

Nicola Moorby
November 2009

Powell 1984, p.414. See Walther Amelung, Die Sculpturen des Vaticanischen Museums, Berlin 1903–8, vol.I, ‘2. Galleria Lapidaria Seite 161–308’, no.15, pp.175–6, reproduced pl.24.
Giandomenico Spinola, Il Museo Pio-Clementino, vol.I, Vatican City 1996, no.COR 5, p.117.
Jerrold Ziff, ‘Copies of Claude’s Paintings in the Sketch Books of J.M.W. Turner’, Gazette des Beaux-Arts, vol.LXV, January 1965, p.64 note 30; Butlin and Joll 1984, no.229, reproduced pl.232, and in colour in Powell 1987, colour pl.11, p.[64].
Powell 1984, p.482 note 67.

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