Joseph Mallord William Turner

Inscription by Turner: A Definition of Colour, from Giovanni Paolo Lomazzo

c.1809

In Tate Britain

Prints and Drawings Room

View by appointment
Artist
Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775–1851
Medium
Pen and ink on paper
Dimensions
Support: 88 × 115 mm
Collection
Tate
Acquisition
Accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest 1856
Reference
D07422
Turner Bequest CVIII 40 a

Catalogue entry

A single sentence runs across the top of the page:
Color
is a matterial substance indued with a quality of diversly | affecting the Eye according to the matter wherein it is found
The word ‘found’ is inserted again immediately below, apparently for clarity, as the tail of the ‘y’ from the end of the first line runs through and obscures the first occurrence.
John Gage and Jerrold Ziff have identified this note, continuing in sequence from folio 39 verso (D07420), as a transcription from the 1598 English edition of Giovanni Paolo Lomazzo’s Tracte Containing the Artes of Curious Paintinge Carvinge & Buildinge (see the sketchbook Introduction).1 This passage from page 125 falls within the English translator Richard Haydocke’s own commentary, ‘A briefe censure of the booke of colours’, following Lomazzo’s ‘Third Booke: Treating of Colour’. Haydocke notes ‘... me thinkes I coulde frame this definition out of mine Authors discourse’, presenting the explanation as noted (with an added ‘of’) by Turner.
Without recognising the source, and taking it as ‘his [Turner’s] definition’, Jack Lindsay has quoted the note as ‘opposed to the ideas of [Isaac] Newton and [John] Locke ... according to which colour is a purely subjective impression’.2 Ann Livermore had also taken it to be a poetic evocation of ‘the latent colouring of all animate and inanimate things’.3 Gage subsequently related it to Turner’s more informed, scientific interest in ‘recent discussion of the materiality of light and colour’.4
Further passages of Turner’s extensive notes from Lomazzo appear later in the sketchbook, continuing with passages about light opposite on folio 41 recto (D07423).

Matthew Imms
June 2008

1
Gage 1969, pp.109, 249 note 179; Ziff 1984, p.49 note 6; see also Davies 1994, p.288; Lomazzo also checked directly.
2
Lindsay 1966, p.206, with transcription of Turner’s note.
3
Livermore 1957, p.80.
4
Gage 1969, pp.249–50 note 179, citing as examples ‘G[eorge] Adams, Lectures on Natural and Experimental Philosophy, 2nd ed. revised [William] Jones, [London] 1799, [vol.] II, pp.143–4’ and ‘[?Edward Hussey] Delaval’s experiments’ (publication not identified).

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