Joseph Mallord William Turner

Figures: Laying of the Foundation Stone of the National Monument, Calton Hill

1822

In Tate Britain

Prints and Drawings Room

View by appointment
Artist
Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775–1851
Medium
Graphite on paper
Dimensions
Support: 187 × 114 mm
Collection
Tate
Acquisition
Accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest 1856
Reference
D17548
Turner Bequest CC 26 a

Catalogue entry

With the sketchbook turned to the right are a series of sketches of people involved in the ceremony of the laying of the foundation stone of the National Monument (see folio 22 verso; D17540). While Turner has depicted the figures in more detail than in some of his other sketches of the occasion (for example folio 22 verso), paying attention to their costumes and poses, the studies are still rather obscure and hard to decipher without reference to accounts of the event.1
While the other sketches of the sequence tend to capture a single moment within a sequence of events which unfold across the sketches, this page has been used for a mixture of sketches of the activities of various participants at different points in the ceremony, of individuals at the ceremony and of details of particular objects of interest.
At the top left is a sketch showing several figures, one of which may be on his knees at the edge of the foundations. Although there is not enough detail to be very certain it is possible that this tiny sketch depicts one of the Masonic rites described by Mudie:
The senior Grand Warden then applied the square, the Junior Warden the plumb-line, and the Substitute Grand Master the level; and having gone through the other usual solemnities, the Grand Master gave the stone three knocks with a mallet, and craved the following benediction on the work2
Beneath this is another sketch of two figures which appears to depict a specific moment of significance. The figure at the left, who wears a gown and elaborate headgear appears to bow on one knee, while the other – his back to us – holds out his arms; a gesture that may have been made by the Reverend Dr Lee, the Grand Chaplain of the Masonic Lodge, when he gave his prayer at the ceremony.3 Two sketches at the centre of the cluster of drawings both show four stooped figures; perhaps helping to lay the foundation stone.
At the bottom centre are two figures with a series of dots between them. The dots may be an idiosyncratic shorthand technique of Turner’s (as in folio 22 verso) in which case their meaning remains obscure. However, there is a chance that they could represent grains of corn, scattered on the foundation stone by the Grand Master as part of a Masonic ceremony (see folio 23 verso; D17542 for more information).

Thomas Ardill
October 2008

1
Such as Robert Mudie’s, An Historical Account of His Majesty’s Visit to Scotland, Edinburgh 1822, pp.258–69.
2
Ibid., p.264.
3
Ibid. pp.261–3.
4
See Finley 1981, pp.21–2.

Read full Catalogue entry

You might like