View this artwork by appointment, at Tate Britain's Prints and Drawings Rooms
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). Cecilia Powell has identified the subject of this sketch as a sarcophagus,1 found in the Galleria Lapidaria (Lapidary Gallery) of the Museo Chiaramonti.2 The object is decorated with a frieze of figures across the top, ornamental Corinthian columns at the side topped by sculptural heads, and a strigil pattern across the front. Turner has only sketched a couple of the strigils and left the rest of the drawing blank. In the centre of the sarcophagus, is a panel with a sleeping Cupid and a Latin inscription starting ‘D[is] M[anibus]’, which translates as ‘To the spirits of the departed’, a common text on Roman funerary monuments.