Joseph Mallord William Turner

Study for ‘Temples of Paestum’, Rogers’s ‘Italy’


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

Graphite and watercolour on paper
Support: 131 x 258 mm
Accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest 1856
Turner Bequest CCLXXX 92

Catalogue entry

This is a preparatory watercolour study for the head-piece of the section entitled ‘Paestum’ in Rogers’s Italy. A second and very different version of this subject was engraved and published in Italy (see Tate, D27665; Turner Bequest, CCLXXX 148). The three fifth-century Doric Greek temples at Paestum had been rediscovered in the mid eighteenth century and the site soon became a well-known destination for English travellers on the Grand Tour.1 It was the southernmost point of Turner’s own tour of Italy in 1819–20. During his travels Turner produced numerous sketches of the temples at Paestum (see Tate, D15945–6, D15967–73, D15980, D15995–7; Turner Bequest, CLXXXVI 19a–19b, 28a–31a, 35, 42a–43a). The composition for the image is clearly derived from several sketches that Turner made while at Paestum (see Tate, D15946, D15968; Turner Bequest, CLXXXVI 19 b, 29). These drawings would later serve as models for the background in Story of Apollo and Daphne, exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1837 (Tate, N00520).2
The watercolour vignette study shows that Turner first considered depicting all three of the temples in clear weather and from a significant distance. It seems to derive from a different set of verses than those which Turner chose to illustrate in his final version of Paestum. In an earlier section of the poem, Rogers describes how:
The air is sweet with violets, running wild
Mid broken friezes and fallen capitals;
    as alone I stand
In this, the nobler pile, the elements
Of earth and air its only floor and covering,
How solemn is the stillness!
(Italy, p.209)
Although the forms of the temples and the surrounding mountains are only slightly indicated, Turner’s scene powerfully evokes the peaceful and tranquil mood that Rogers describes above. The light washes that define the areas of water, sand, and sky seem to be inspired by Rogers’s description of the ancient temples with ‘earth and air its only floor and covering’. Although Cecilia Powell has described the study and final version of Paestum as being ‘close in substance and feeling’, it is important to note the very different moods and compositions of these two works.3 The existence of these two divergent designs clearly indicates that Turner paid close attention to Rogers’s text when deciding which verses to highlight in his illustrations.
J.R. Hale (ed), The Italian Journal of Samuel Rogers, London 1956, p.8.
Martin Butlin and Evelyn Joll, The Paintings of J.M.W. Turner, revised ed., New Haven and London 1984, no.369; Piggott 1993, pp.38, 82.
Powell 1987, pp.6 and 13 note 60.
Finberg 1909, vol.II, p.894.
Finberg 1909, vol.I, p.xi.

Meredith Gamer
August 2006

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