Joseph Mallord William Turner

Details of the Trajanic Frieze and of the Sculptures on Side of the Arch of Constantine, Rome


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 21

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. This page contains sketches relating to the northern and western façades of the structure. In the top left-hand corner of this page is a sketch of the inner panel on the east side of the central archway. The bas-relief shows a battle scene representing Trajan’s Dacian Wars. Turner has also transcribed the inscription above the panel, although his record is slightly inaccurate. The text on the arch reads ‘FVNDATORIQVIETIS’, meaning ‘To the Founder of Peace’. On the right-hand side are four sketches showing closely grouped full length figures. These are scenes of soldiers and prisoners from the right-hand side of the column bases of the lateral arches. Turner drew the panels from the front and left-hand side of the bases on another page, see folio 21 (D16194).
The roundel detail records the medallion on the western side of the Arch depicting the figure of the Moon with a two horse chariot, a pendant to the Sun on the opposite side. To the left of the roundel is a detail of two figures with a horse which relates to the small section of frieze isolated by the column on the far right-hand side of the northern façade. The square-shaped details in the bottom right-hand corner relate to the inner bays of lateral arches where there are several portrait busts in an advanced state of deterioration. Turner has also drawn a detail from part of the decorative border from the entablature, and has transcribed the two inscriptions to be found above the lateral arches: on the left ‘VOTIS X’ and on the right ‘VOTIS XX’
The selection and grouping of the various components reveal Turner’s method. For the drawings on this page he stood at a point near the north-west corner of the arch and sketched all the planes which he could see from that particular viewpoint i.e. the western or right-hand sides of exterior surfaces, and the eastern, or left-hand side of inner surfaces such as the bays of the arches. For other sketches of the Arch of Constantine see folio 18 (D16190).

Nicola Moorby
September 2008

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