Joseph Mallord William Turner

Inscription by Turner: Notes on Proportion, from Giovanni Paolo Lomazzo


In Tate Britain

Prints and Drawings Room

View by appointment
Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775–1851
Pen and ink on paper
Support: 88 × 115 mm
Accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest 1856
Turner Bequest CVIII 33

Catalogue entry

The whole page is taken up with the following notes:
Michael. Angelo is said to have given his scholar, Marus [Lomazzo: ‘Marcus’] | de Sciena, that he should always make a figure – | Piramidal Serpentlike and multiplied by 2 and 3 | to produce motion the end of Painting as it represented | flame so that a picture having this form must be | most beautifull what is intended is to affirm | that the most beauty form is ¿ o S and that the | 2 and 3 is that the angle is half the half and the High | 3 times
As the 7 qualities of substantial accidents | that cause the particularities of substances calld | particularizing qualities yet. The Painter must | add <ad> particular[?ized] colors that if those qualities are to | be counterfeited they may be known by them
John Gage and Jerrold Ziff have identified these notes, continuing opposite from folio 32 verso (D07406), as free transcriptions from the 1598 English edition of Giovanni Paolo Lomazzo’s Tracte Containing the Artes of Curious Paintinge Carvinge & Buildinge (see the sketchbook Introduction).1 Turner’s first paragraph is taken from page 17 and the second from page 18 in chapter I, ‘The Definition of Painting’, of ‘The First Booke of the Naturall and Artificiall Proportion of Things’; the passage on Michelangelo appears in Turner’s manuscripts for his Royal Academy perspective lectures.2
On page 17, Lomazzo refers to proportions
multiplied by one two and three. In which precept (in mine opinion) the whole mysterie of the arte consisteth. ... Nowe there is no forme so fitte to express this motion, as that of the flame of fire. Which according to Aristotle and the other Philosophers, is an element most active of all others: because the forme of the flame thereof is most apt for motion: for it hath a Conus or sharpe pointe wherewith it seemeth to divide the aire, that so it may ascende to his proper sphere. So that a picture having this forme will bee most beautifull.
He continues: ‘... it shoulde resemble the form of the letter S placed right, or else turned the wronge way, as [printed ‘S’ rotated ninety degrees anticlockwise]; because then it hath his beauty’. He attempts to clarify Michelangelo’s system of proportion: ‘For the Diameter of the biggest place, betweene the knee and the foote is double to the least, and the largest part of the thigh triple’.

Matthew Imms
June 2008

Gage 1969, pp.109, 249 note 179; Ziff 1984, p.49 note 6; see also Davies 1994, p.288; Lomazzo also rechecked directly.
Ziff 1984, p.49 note 7, citing Turner, ‘Royal Academy Lectures’, circa 1807–38, Department of Western Manuscripts, British Library, London, ADD MS 46151 C folio 7 recto.
Gage 1969, p.249 note 179.

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