Joseph Mallord William Turner

Hannibal Passing the Alps, for Rogers’s ‘Italy’


In Tate Britain

Prints and Drawings Room

View by appointment
Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775–1851
Graphite and watercolour on paper
Support: 243 × 305 mm
Accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest 1856
Turner Bequest CCLXXX 149

Catalogue entry

Hannibal is the second, albeit much earlier, historical hero to appear crossing the Alps in Rogers’s Italy (the first being Napoleon, see Tate D27663; Turner Bequest CCLXXX 146). Turner here illustrates the moment in 218 BC when the Carthaginian general famously crossed the Alps with his army and a herd of elephants on his way to invading Italy. This vignette was engraved by W.R. Smith and appears as the headpiece to the eighth section of Italy, entitled ‘The Alps.’1 Rogers describes his encounter with the sublime Swiss landscape, which leads him to conjure up a dramatic vision of Hannibal’s historical crossing:
Who first beholds those everlasting clouds,
Seed-time and harvest, morning noon and night,
Still where they were, steadfast, immovable
Those mighty hills, so shadowy, so sublime,
As rather to belong to Heaven than Earth –
To me they seemed the barriers of a World,
Saying, Thus far, no farther! and as o’er
The level plain I travelled silently,
Nearing them more and more, day after day,
My wandering thoughts my only company,
And they before me still I felt as tho’ I gazed
For the first time! – Great was the tumult there,
Deafening the din, when in barbaric pomp
The Carthaginian on his march to Rome
Entered their fastnesses. Trampling the snows,
The war-horse reared; and the towered elephant
Upturned his trunk into the murky sky,
Then tumbled headlong, swallowed up and lost,
He and his rider.
(Italy, pp.29–30)
Turner’s interest in the subject of Hannibal crossing the Alps long predated his commission for Rogers’s Italy. He made his first sketch of the subject as early as 1798 (see Tate D01576; Turner Bequest XL 67) and later produced the full-scale canvas Snow Storm: Hannibal and his Army Crossing the Alps, which he exhibited in 1812 (Tate N00490).2 In this vignette, nature is sublime in scale but divested of the menacing power that it possesses in Snow Storm. Instead, Turner focuses on the pleasing aesthetic effects generated by the contrast between the pure white, monumental Swiss scenery and the miniature members of Hannibal’s army, particularly the African archer in the foreground.
Samuel Rogers, Italy, London 1830, p.29; W.G. Rawlinson, The Engraved Work of J.M.W. Turner, R.A. vol.II, London 1913, no.356. There is one impression in Tate’s collection (T04644).
Martin Butlin and Evelyn Joll, The Paintings of J.M.W. Turner, revised ed., New Haven and London 1984, no.126.
Powell 1983, p.13 note 60.
Ibid., p.10.

Meredith Gamer
August 2006

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