Joseph Mallord William Turner

Columbus and his Son, for Rogers’s ‘Poems’


In Tate Britain

Prints and Drawings Room

View by appointment
Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775–1851
Watercolour on paper
Support: 239 × 308 mm
Accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest 1856
Turner Bequest CCLXXX 188

Catalogue entry

This is the first 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. The poem purports to be a translation of a sixteenth-century Castilian manuscript found at the Convent of la Rabida in Palos, Spain. Writing in the voice of a medieval chronicler, Rogers describes Columbus as a noble Christian hero who brought the light of revelation to the benighted peoples of the Americas, heretofore governed by primitive evil spirits. The verses, replete with supernatural figures and references to the struggle of Christianity against paganism, inspired some of Turner’s most inventive and mysterious vignette illustrations. As Jan Piggott has observed, they were also particularly successful engravings, since the dramatic black and white palette effectively conveyed the struggle between light and darkness played out in Rogers’s text.1 The engraver for all of the prints was Edward Goodall.2
Columbus and his Son appeared in the 1834 edition of Poems as the head-piece to an introductory note meant to have been inscribed on the original manuscript.3 The note describes the hero’s arrival at the Convent of La Rabida to ask for some bread and water for his young son, Diego. Turner highlighted with pencil several lines in his own copy of the 1827 edition of Poems (see Tate D36330; Turner Bequest CCCLXVI pp.235–6):
In RABIDA’S monastic fane
No earthly thought has here a place,
The cowl let down on every face;
From GENOA when COLUMBUS came,
(At once her glory and her shame)
’Twas here he caught the holy flame.
’Twas here the generous vow he made;
His banners on the altar laid.
(Poems, p.220)
However, the final vignette illustrates more closely a verse which does not appear in the earlier edition but which was added later:
Here, tempest-worn and desolate,
A Pilot, journeying thro’ the wild,
Stopt to solicit at the gate
A pittance for his child.
’Twas here, unknowing and unknown,
He stood upon the threshold-stone.
But hope was his – a faith sublime,
That triumphs over place and time
(Poems, pp.220–1)
Piggott 1993, p.42.
W.G. Rawlinson, The Engraved Work of J.M.W. Turner, R.A., vol.II, London 1913, no.398. There are two impressions in Tate’s collection (T05124 and T06170).
Samuel Rogers, Poems, London 1834, p.219.
Piggott 1993, p.42.

Meredith Gamer
August 2006

Read full Catalogue entry

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