Joseph Mallord William Turner

Inscription by Turner: Notes, Probably from Richard Payne Knight’s ‘Account of the Remains of the Worship of Priapus’


In Tate Britain

Prints and Drawings Room

View by appointment
Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775–1851
Graphite on paper
Support: 69 x 112 mm
Accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest 1856
Turner Bequest CXXII 42

Catalogue entry

Turner’s note comprises a single line in ink along the top edge of the page:
Worship of the Lingam or Phallus – Priapus
There are other passages concerning non-Christian religions on folios 40 recto and 41 recto (D08346, D08348). William Chubb has suggested that the source in the present case is likely to have been An Account of the Remains of the Worship of Priapus Lately Existing in Isernia, by the scholar-collector Richard Payne Knight (1751–1824), published by the Dilettanti Society in 1786; Knight was apparently unique at the time in using the form ‘lingam’ rather than ‘linga’ in discussing ‘the phallus of the Hindu god Siva’.1 His account has been described as ‘a thorough and graphic account of the sexual origins of ancient rites’.2 Ian Warrell has suggested a connection between the note here and the rapid ink sketch of sexual activity on folio 37 recto (D08342).3
Chubb speculates that Turner might have had access to Knight’s text through patrons with antiquarian interests such as Sir Richard Colt Hoare or indeed Knight himself, who commissioned a painting exhibited in 1808;4 he notes the presence of drawings in this sketchbook which may be from 1807 or earlier (see under folio 9 recto; D08297), implying that the notes here could have dated from that early,5 an important point in relation to the other two pages concerning religion, which possibly had some bearing on works of about 1808–9.
John Gage has discussed Turner’s wider interests in comparative religion,6 and Kathleen Nicholson has also acknowledged Chubb’s interpretation of the artist’s notes.7
Chubb 1981, p.35.
Nicholson 1990, p.152.
Warrell 2003, p.18.
Chubb 1981, p.35.
Ibid., p.34.
See John Gage, J.M.W. Turner: ‘A Wonderful Range of Mind’, New Haven and London 1987, pp.207–9.
See Nicholson 1990, pp.152, 213 note 16
Technical notes:
The outer edges of the page are stained from proximity to the leather overlaps under the paste-down inside the back cover (D40901).

Matthew Imms
September 2013

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