Joseph Mallord William Turner

Antony and Cleopatra

1805

In Tate Britain

Prints and Drawings Room

View by appointment
Artist
Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775–1851
Medium
Pen and ink on paper
Dimensions
Support: 150 × 258 mm
Collection
Tate
Acquisition
Accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest 1856
Reference
D05617
Turner Bequest XC 84 a

Catalogue entry

Drawn with the sketchbook inverted. This quite elaborate study shows a large and sumptuously decorated vessel surrounded by smaller boats and excited crowds of figures in a harbour. A slighter variant of some of the figures, with the same inscription, is on folio 83 verso (D05615). Also related is the sketch of a ship with figures on folio 1 (D05491) on which Turner noted ‘Cleopatra sailing down to Cydnus’ as a possible subject along with other alternatives. There, a meeting of two lovers is more clearly discernible than it is here in the denser crowds. In this study Turner has let his imagination run riot, giving the ship a prow or stern with the carved figure of a reclining female nude, thus presumably to denote the golden barge in which Cleopatra arrived at Tarsus, on the River Cydnus, having been summoned by Mark Antony to explain her actions in regard to the murder of Julius Caesar. It was then that Mark Antony fell in love with her. However Finberg, followed by Hill, assumed the barge is on the Nile.
Compare the drawing of state barges on the Thames on folio 20 (D05518).

David Blayney Brown
August 2007

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