Joseph Mallord William Turner

A Tempest - Voyage of Columbus, for Rogers’s ‘Poems’


In Tate Britain

Prints and Drawings Room

View by appointment
Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775–1851
Graphite and watercolour on paper
Support: 244 × 311 mm
Accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest 1856
Turner Bequest CCLXXX 202

Catalogue entry

This is one of seven illustrations that Turner produced for ‘The Voyage of Columbus’, a miniature epic poem which is the final work in the published volume of Rogers’s Poems (for a brief description of the poem, see Tate D27705; Turner Bequest CCLXXX 188). The seven vignettes in order of their appearance in Rogers’s text are: Tate D27705, D27706, D27714, D27707, D27708, D27719, D27709; Turner Bequest CCLXXX 188, 189, 197, 190, 191, 202, 192.
Like all of the ‘Columbus’ series, A Tempest was engraved by Edward Goodall.1 It appears as the tail-piece to Canto XII.2 The angel who guided Columbus’s ship across the ocean to America now tells him that he must return to Spain, although he will face a terrible tempest on his homeward journey:
Twice the Moon filled her silver urn with light.
Then from the Throne an Angel winged his flight;
“The wind recalls thee; its still voice obey.
Millions await thy coming; hence, away.
To thee blest tidings of great joy consigned,
Another Nature, and a new Mankind!...
Hence! tho’ assembling in the fields of air,
Now, in a night of clouds, thy Foes prepare
To rock the globe with elemental wars,
And dash the floods of ocean to the stars;
To bid the meek repine, the valiant weep,
And Thee restore thy Secret to the Deep!”
(Poems, pp.261–2)
Turner’s vignette shows the angel delivering his prophecy, whilst in the turbulent seas beneath Columbus’s ships are tossed by a violent storm. Surrounding the spirit in the sky are a number of armed spirits, an allusion to the angel’s prophecy that there will be war before there is peace in America.
Like another illustration, The Vision, which appears earlier in the ‘Columbus’ series (see Tate D27714; Turner Bequest CCLXXX 197), A Tempest is remarkable for combining imaginative design with dazzling light and colour effects. The imagery and content can be related to a number of other works by Turner. Anne Tennant has suggested that the series as a whole points toward Turner’s religious pictures of the 1840s,3 and Jan Piggott has observed that the angel seen here bears a strong resemblance to the figure of the spirit in the oil painting Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego in the Burning Fiery Furnace exhibited 1832 (Tate N00517).4 John Gage, meanwhile, has highlighted the link between this vignette and The Angel Standing in the Sun exhibited 1846 (Tate N00550),5 to which Turner appended the following couplet from Canto VI of Rogers’s ‘Voyage of Columbus’:6
W.G. Rawlinson, The Engraved Work of J.M.W. Turner, R.A., vol.II, London 1913, no.403. There are two impressions in Tate’s collection (T04677 and T05130).
Samuel Rogers, Poems, London 1834, p.264.
Anne Tennant, unpublished MA report, Courtauld Institute, University of London 1978, p.28.
Martin Butlin and Evelyn Joll, The Paintings of J.M.W. Turner, revised ed., New Haven and London 1984, no.346; Piggott 1993, p.44.
Butlin and Joll 1984, no.425.
John Gage, J.M.W. Turner: ‘A Wonderful Range of Mind’, New Haven and London 1987, p.204.

Meredith Gamer
August 2006

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