Joseph Mallord William Turner

The Temple of Minerva Medica (‘Hindoo Devotions’ or ‘The Hindoo Worshipper’)

c.1808

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

Artist
Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775–1851
Medium
Watercolour on paper
Dimensions
Support: 202 x 273 mm
Collection
Tate
Acquisition
Accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest 1856
Reference
D08128
Turner Bequest CXVII A

Catalogue entry

Engraved:
Etching and mezzotint by Turner and Robert Dunkarton, untitled, published Turner, 1 January 1811
The domed ruin in the background of this design, published without a title in the Liber Studiorum, still stands on what is now the via Giolliti, east of the centre of Rome; it has since been identified as a nymphaeum,1 but had come to be known by Turner’s time as the Temple of Minerva Medica. Turner did not visit Italy until 1819 (when he made numerous drawings of the building – see below), and probably based his drawing on topographical prints, perhaps by Giovanni Battista Piranesi (1720–1778), three of whose etchings show the building’s ruined, open side.2 However, despite the building’s being well known and the large sections of classical entablature in the foreground, the presence of a kneeling man, dressed only in a white turban and dhoti and praying at a wayside shrine (more clearly defined in the subsequent print), led to the various early identifications of the composition as a Hindu religious scene.
William Chubb has related the theme of this composition and the similar Liber design Scene in the Campagna (for drawing see Tate D08141; Turner Bequest CXVII N) to contemporary Indian topographical views by British artists;3 Turner also took notes on the Hindu gods from Alexander Dow’s History of Hindostan (London 1768; new edition, London 1803), and from Sir William Jones’s essays On the Chronology of the Hindoos and On the Gods of Greece, Italy and India (1789 and 1790; collected edition, London 1799) in his Finance sketchbook, in use by 1807 (Tate D08346, D08348; Turner Bequest CXXII 40, 41).4 Jones saw parallels in the myths of ancient civilisations, and related these back to the Biblical account of the scattering of the earth’s previously homogeneous peoples and the confusion of their languages as God’s punishment for the building of the Tower of Babel.5
Chubb suggests that Turner was thus making an oblique reference to Jones’s writings by including both classical and Hindu elements.6 Rawlinson felt Turner was contrasting ‘the simplicity of the wayside worship and the half-clad worshipper, with the departed glories of a more elaborate faith and a higher civilization’.7 As with other designs engraved for the Liber’s ‘EP’ category (probably for ‘Elevated Pastoral’ – see general Liber introduction), Turner is also dependent on a sense of timelessness derived from the landscapes of Claude Lorrain. Without directly criticising Claude’s influence in this instance, Ruskin dismissed the Italianate trees here and in Scene in the Campagna, in comparison to Turner’s depictions of his native British woods: ‘fine in their arrangement, but they are very pitiful pines’.8 Stopford Brooke described the scene as ‘an ideal reminiscence of Rome’, dismissed ‘the nonsense title of “Hindoo Devotions”’, and – without access to Turner’s notes listing it as such (see below) – correctly identified the temple, which ‘might almost have been directly sketched from that of Minerva Medica.’9
1
‘Nymphaeum (2)’, in Samuel Ball Platner and Thomas Ashby, A Topographical Dictionary of Ancient Rome, London 1929, p.365, transcribed in The Perseus Digital Library, accessed 7 April 2006, http://www.perseus.tufts.edu.
2
Piranesi Luigi Ficacci, Giovanni Battista Piranesi: The Complete Etchings, Cologne 2000, p.94 pl.162, p.185 pl.165, p.727 pl.945.
3
William Chubb, ‘Minerva Medica and The Tall Tree’, Turner Studies, vol.1, no.2, 1991, pp.[26]–35.
4
Ibid., pp.28, 34–5 (Turner’s notes and source texts transcribed).
5
Ibid., pp.28–9; see Genesis 11:1–9
6
See also Forrester 1996, p.72.
7
Rawlinson 1878, p.52.
8
Cook and Wedderburn III 1903, p.237.
9
Brooke 1885, p.78.
10
Thornbury 1862 [1861], vol.II, respectively pp.388 no.10 (drawing) and 365 (print).
11
Burnet and Cunningham 1859, p.121 no.22.
12
Forrester 1996, p.72, note 3.
13
Finberg 1924, pp.89–92 no.23.
14
Forrester 1996, pp.160–1 (transcribed).
15
Finberg 1924, p.xliii; Forrester 1996, pp.13–14.
16
Forrester 1996, p.161 (transcribed).
17
Rawlinson 1878, pp.50–8; 1906, pp.59–68; Finberg 1924, pp.85–104.
1
Joyce Townsend, circa 1995, Tate conservation files, with slides of details; see also Townsend 1996, I, p.379.

Matthew Imms
August 2008

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