Joseph Mallord William Turner

Cortes and Pizarro, for Rogers’s ‘Poems’


In Tate Britain

Prints and Drawings Room

View by appointment
Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775–1851
Gouache, graphite and watercolour on paper
Support: 244 × 288 mm
Accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest 1856
Turner Bequest CCLXXX 192

Catalogue entry

This vignette, Cortes and Pizarro is the last of seven illustrations that Turner produced for ‘The Voyage of Columbus’, the last work in Rogers’s Poems (for a brief description 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 the rest of the ‘Columbus’ series, Cortes and Pizarro was engraved by Edward Goodall.1 The design appears as the head-piece to the epilogue of the poem,2 in which Rogers recounts the fabled visit of the Spanish conquistadors, Hernán Cortés (1485–1547) and Francisco Pizarro ( circa 1471 or 1476–1841) to the Convent of La Rabida, where they pay homage to Columbus:
They entered, and from aisle to aisle
Wandered with folded arms awhile,
Where on his altar-tomb reclined
The crosiered Abbot; and the Knight
In harness for the Christian’s fight,
His hands in supplication joined;–
Then said as in a solemn mood,
“Now stand we where COLUMBUS stood!”
(Poems, p.268)
The ‘Columbus’ series therefore ends as it began, at the Convent of La Rabida (see Tate D27705; Turner Bequest CCLXXX 188). Turner shows the two men standing in the beautiful convent church gazing upon the standard of Columbus which can be seen at the far left of the composition, bearing the letter ‘C’ and the emblem of a ship. Light is streaming in through the windows, although this is more prominent in the engraved version than in the watercolour. Both of the Spaniards are richly dressed and appear as Rogers describes them in his text; Cortes wears a velvet cap and an ermine-fringed vest, while the figure with the long black cape, resting his hand on the hilt of his sword is Pizarro.3 The cross formed by the sword, which is rendered with particular clarity in Goodall’s engraving, may be intended to remind the viewer that they, like Columbus, are Christian explorers of new lands.4 A nearby statue of the Madonna and Child alludes to the Columbus’s religious zeal, as well as to his famous ship, the Santa Maria.5
W.G. Rawlinson, The Engraved Work of J.M.W. Turner, R.A., vol.II, London 1913, no.404. There is one impression in Tate’s collection (T05131).
Samuel Rogers, Poems, London 1834, p.265.
Rogers 1834, pp.266–7.
Piggott 1993, p.44.
Warrell 1994, p.170 and Piggott 1993, p.44.

Meredith Gamer
August 2006

Read full Catalogue entry

You might like