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This sketch belongs to a large group of preliminary studies which relate to Turner’s vignette illustrations for John Macrone’s 1839 edition of Thomas Moore’s The Epicurean, a Tale: and Alciphron, a Poem. The study shares the same size, palette, and style as nine other works in this group, suggesting that Turner produced them all at around the same time (see Tate D27630; Turner Bequest CCLXXX 113).
Jan Piggott has identified the subject as an experimental study for The Chaplet, circa 1838 (untraced),1 one of four vignettes that Turner produced for Moore’s fantastical prose tale The Epicurean.2 The finished watercolour was engraved for publication by Edward Goodall.3 This study bears a considerable resemblance to the final version which shows Alethe, a pagan priestess turned fervent Christian, standing trial for heresy. Turner illustrates her just as she is about to receive her punishment, a deadly, poisoned coral chaplet that has been prepared for her by the evil Orcus, the High Priest of Memphis. Many of the same elements, including the high ceilinged hall, the presence of female and animal spirits, and the serpent in the foreground, are present in both preparatory and final versions.
Andrew Wilton, The Life and Work of J.M.W. Turner, Fribourg 1979, p.456, no.1301.
Piggott 1993, p.96; Thomas Moore, The Epicurean, a Tale: and Alciphron, a Poem, London 1839, reproduced between pp.206–7.
Inscribed by an unknown hand in pencil ‘AB 82 P | M’ bottom left, descending left-hand edge
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