Joseph Mallord William Turner

Details of the Sculptures from the East End of the Arch of Constantine, Rome; Also Sketch of Four Figures


In Tate Britain

Prints and Drawings Room

View by appointment
Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775–1851
Graphite on paper
Support: 114 × 189 mm
Accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest 1856
Turner Bequest CLXXXVIII 18

Catalogue entry

Like many other ancient monuments in the Roman Forum, Turner made a detailed study of the Arch of Constantine, a triumphal arch which stands at the eastern end of the Forum, near to the Colosseum. The three sketches on this page record the separate elements on the eastern end of the arch (the end nearest the Colosseum). In the top left-hand corner is the bas-relief panel of a battle scene found on the eastern attic. To the right is a sketch of the tondo positioned on the eastern façade which shows an allegorical depiction of the goddess of the dawn, Aurora, rising from the sea with a quadriga, a chariot drawn by four horses.1 Finally, the narrow sketch beneath records the frieze placed beneath the roundel which depicts the triumphal entry into Rome of Emperor Constantine and his soldiers after the Battle of the Milvian Bridge in AD 312. For further studies of the Arch of Constantine see folios 20–23 (D17158; Turner Bequest CXCV a H and D16194–D16197; Turner Bequest CLXXXVIII 20–22). See also the Small Roman C. Studies sketchbook (Tate D16396, D16398, D16416 and D16455; Turner Bequest CXC 2, 4, 15a and 41) and the Rome: C. Studies sketchbook (Tate D16355 and D16367; Turner Bequest CLXXXIX 29 and 40).
Cecilia Powell has suggested that Turner’s sketch of the ‘dawn’ medallion may have been an iconographical source of inspiration for his later oil painting, Ulysses deriding Polyphemus exhibited 1829 (National Gallery, London).2 The roundel shows Aurora holding her son, Phosphorus, the boy carrying a torch who personifies the morning star. Powell, following John Gage, argues that the nereids in the foreground at the prow of the ship may refer to phosphorescence, and hence recall Turner’s knowledge of classical mythology cultivated during his study of Roman antiquities.3
In the top right-hand corner of the page, Turner has drawn a quick study of four figures, possibly wearing religious robes. He possibly observed them, like himself, looking up at the monuments of the Forum.

Nicola Moorby
September 2008

Marco Bussagli (ed.), Rome: Art or Architecture, Berlin 1999, p.152, reproduced.
Martin Butlin and Evelyn Joll, The Paintings of J.M.W. Turner, revised ed., New Haven and London 1984, no.330.
Powell 1987, p.59.

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