Joseph Mallord William Turner

Commentary on Titian’s ‘St Peter Martyr’ (Inscription by Turner)


In Tate Britain

Prints and Drawings Room

View by appointment
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 28 a

Catalogue entry

Turner’s notes (written with the sketchbook inverted) continue on the recto of this leaf (D04308), as Turner worked his way back through the book and conclude on folio 27 verso (D04306). For convenience they are transcribed in full here:
This Picture is an instance of his | great power as to conception and | sublimity of intellect for the characters | are finely contrasted [Finberg also suggested contrived]. The com | position is beyond all system the | landscape tho natural is heroic the | figure wonderfully expressive of | surprise and its concomitate fear | The sanguinary assassin striding over | the prostrate martyr who with | uplifted arm exults in being ack | nowledged by Heaven. The affrighted | Saint has a dignity even in his | fear (and tho’ this idea might have been | borrow’d) yet is here his own. The | force with which he appears to | bound towards you is an effort | of the highest powers, the angels [continued on the recto of this leaf] finely introduced and are boyant | Surely the sublimity of the whole lies | in the simplicity of the parts | and not in the historical colour which | produces the sublimity in some pictures | were [sic] the Subject and Nature must accord.| much has been said upon this subject | more as an extenuation of an excentric | color than as a Beauty or rule. Tho a | charged with colour it should be | uniform and accord with sentiments as of Nature. But here the tender green | of the foreground and the foliage of the | large trees are rendered Black by the | vivid blue of the Sky which no doubt | was glazed over with the nuteralizing | tint that pervades in the Saints | but has been removed which has [concluded on folio 27 verso] surely been removed from the right hand & | leg of St Peter for it is of the same tone | as the stone near it while the Assasin | is brown and full of colour. Fear is full, | for when nature rather demands less of | color, therefore the nuteralizing tint, alias | historical color has been partially | removed: not but Blue is | highly essential to the dignity of the subject, but | its present glaze divides the picture | into two, by being vivid and tender.

David Blayney Brown
October 2009

Kenneth Garlick and Angus Macintyre eds., The Diary of Joseph Farington, vol.V,, New Haven and London 1979, pp.1819–20 (1 September 1802).
Ibid., p.1825.
Ibid., p.1847.
Butlin and Joll 1984, pp.38–9 no.49 (pl.60).
Ibid., pp.113–15 no.150 (pl.49).
Warrell 2003, p.57.
Farington in Garlick and Macintyre eds. 1979, p.1929.
Jerrold Ziff, ‘“Backgrounds, Introduction of Architecture and Landscape”: A Lecture by J.M.W. Turner’, Journal of the Warburg and Courtauld Institutes, vol.26, 1963, p.135.

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