Joseph Mallord William Turner

Commentary on Titian’s ‘Entombment of the Dead Christ’ (Inscription by Turner)


In Tate Britain

Prints and Drawings Room

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Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775–1851
Graphite on paper
Support: 128 × 114 mm
Accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest 1856
Turner Bequest LXXII 31 a

Catalogue entry

For Turner’s copy of Titian’s picture, see folio 32 of this sketchbook (D04315). There is a slight offset of colour from it on this leaf, where (with the book inverted) Turner began a long analysis of the work which he continued, working backwards, on the recto (D04313), folio 30 verso and recto (D04312, D04311) and folio 29 verso (D04310). For convenience his remarks are transcribed in full here:
This may be rank. [Finberg: ranked] among the first | of Titians pictures as to colour and pathos | of effect for by casting a brilliant | light on the Holy Mother and Martha | the figures of Joseph and the Body | has the effect of Sepuchural [Finberg: a Sepulceral effect] the | expression of Joseph is fine as to | the care he is undertaking but with | out grandeur. The figure which is | cloathed in striped drapery conveys | the idea of silent distress the one | in vermillion attention, while the agony | of Mary and the solicitude of Martha | to prevent her grief and view of | the dead Body with her own anguish | by seeing are admirably described | and on the first View they appear [continued on the recto] ‘but collateral figures yet the whole | is dependant upon them, they are | the breadth of and the expression | of the Picture. Mary is in Blue | which partakes of a common [Finberg: crimson] tone | and by it unites with the Blue of Sky [Finberg: Bluer sky]. Martha is in striped Yellow |and some streaks of Red which thus unite with the warm streak of | light in the sky. Thus the Breadth | is made by the 3 primitive colors | breaking into [Finberg: breaking each] each other, and are connected by the figure in vermillion to the | one in crimson’d striped drapery which | balances all the breadth of the left of | the picture by its Brilliancy. Thus | the Body of Jesus has the look of [continued on folio 30 verso] death without the affected leaden colour | often resorted unto, and the whole of the | half tints resemble the colour of the | Robe [Finberg also suggested Book] the lights warmer more of | oker. The drapery of the Body is the | highest light or more properly the | first that strikes the Eye. Of great | use it is gives color to the dead | Body and Breadth to the center for | Joseph being draped in dark red and | green cuts off all connection with | the former Breadth of Mary & Martha | This brilliancy and contrast of effect | are produced on the left, the shadow is | balanced by the broad one upon | the Head and part of the Body of Jesus whose count | nance is meek but the shadow | obliterates any other ideas| and is [continued on folio 30 recto] rather overcharged, for Titian could have | balanced Josephs shadow by other means. viz the | rock above the [Finberg: his] striped figure for it is | so sombre that Mary & Martha tell | it must be Jesus and thus hold the | very sentiment, and where the Eye | returns to with sympathy and satisfa | ction Titian is obscuring [Finberg: of Titian so obscuring] the principal figure. – The flesh is thinly painted, first by a | cold color over a Brown ground so that | it is neither purple or green, some red is used | in the extremities, and the lights are warm | If he wanted to color them higher by a | glaze thus his brown figures lose in | a great measure the grey color which | in part is produced by the ground. All | the draperys are strongly painted with [continued on folio 29 verso] cold or warm lights and glazed over | The greens are particularly glutinous and | the vermilion he sparingly used as it appears heavy unglazed by Lake.

David Blayney Brown
July 2005

John Gage, Colour in Turner: Poetry and Truth, London 1969, p.62.

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