J.M.W. Turner: Sketchbooks, Drawings and Watercolours

ISBN 978-1-84976-386-8

Joseph Mallord William Turner Lecture Diagram 5: Top of the Column of Marcus Aurelius Antoninus, Rome c.1810

Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775–1851
Lecture Diagram 5: Top of the Column of Marcus Aurelius Antoninus, Rome circa 1810
Turner Bequest CXCV 153
Pencil and watercolour over transfer ink on white wove paper, 980 x 642 mm
Inscribed by Turner in red watercolour ‘5’ top left
Accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest 1856
As Professor of Perspective at the Royal Academy, Turner devoted part of Lecture 1 to a lengthy discussion of sculpture, showing illustrations including two diagrams based on prints of Roman columns published by Giovanni Battista Piranesi (1720–1778) in the 1770s. Diagram 5 depicts the top portion of the Column of Marcus Aurelius Antoninus (176–93 AD) in Piazza Colonna, and demonstrates the importance of adjusting the proportions of objects placed high above the viewer. Here Turner enters into an old debate as to whether the Romans increased the proportions of their bas reliefs as they spiralled to the top of the column, and compares this diagram to one of Trajan’s Column (Tate D17123; Turner Bequest CXCV 152).1 He concludes, ‘If we depend upon Piranesi’s geometrical sections, we shall find that the space between the spiral line [of Trajan’s Column] increases in the first volutions and in the Antonine it increases a whole return at the top’.2 Finberg mistook the diagram, and one of the bottom portion of the column (Tate D17121; Turner Bequest CXCV 150), for views of Trajan’s Column.
For other derivations from Piranesi among the lecture diagrams see Tate D17090, D17091, D17099; Turner Bequest CXCV 120, 121, 128, based on his prison scenes, and D17124; Turner Bequest CXCV 102, probably derived from his views of Paestum.
Turner, ‘Royal Academy Lectures’, circa 1807–38, Department of Western Manuscripts, British Library, London, ADD MS 46151 C folio 8 verso–9, K folio 9 verso–10 verso and J folio 9.
Ibid., K folio 10 verso.
Blank, save for an inscription by Ruskin in red ink ‘153’ top right and by unknown hands in pencil ‘TURNER PORTF L3 (b)’ bottom right and ‘117’ top left.

Andrea Fredericksen
June 2004

Supported by The Samuel H. Kress Foundation

Revised by David Blayney Brown
January 2012

How to cite

Andrea Fredericksen, ‘Lecture Diagram 5: Top of the Column of Marcus Aurelius Antoninus, Rome c.1810 by Joseph Mallord William Turner’, catalogue entry, June 2004, revised by David Blayney Brown, January 2012, in David Blayney Brown (ed.), J.M.W. Turner: Sketchbooks, Drawings and Watercolours, Tate Research Publication, December 2012, https://www.tate.org.uk/art/research-publications/jmw-turner/joseph-mallord-william-turner-lecture-diagram-5-top-of-the-column-of-marcus-aurelius-r1136463, accessed 25 April 2018.