Joseph Mallord William Turner

Lecture Diagram 4: Top of Trajan’s Column, Rome


In Tate Britain

Prints and Drawings Room

View by appointment
Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775–1851
Pen and ink and watercolour on paper
Support: 980 × 642 mm
Accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest 1856
Turner Bequest CXCV 152

Catalogue entry

As Professor of Perspective at the Royal Academy, Turner accompanied Lecture 1 with various diagrams of ancient columns to illustrate how the Romans adjusted the proportions of their sculptures, especially those in spiral bas relief, to enhance ‘what would be lost by distance’.1 Based on prints published by Giovanni Battista Piranesi (1720–1778) in the 1770s, this view of the top of Trajan’s Column in Trajan’s Forum near the Quirinal Hill, Rome works as a comparison to that of the Column of Marcus Aurelius Antoninus in the same city (Tate D17124; Turner Bequest CXCV 153).2 According to Turner, ‘if we are to depend on [Piranesi’s] geometric sections we shall find that the space between the spiral line increases [in Trajan’s Column] in the first volutions and in the Antonine it increases a whole return at the top’.3
For other derivations from Piranesi among the lecture diagrams see Tate D17090, D17091, D17099; Turner Bequest CXCV 120, 121, 128, based on his prison scenes, and D17124; Turner Bequest CXCV 102, probably derived from his views of Paestum.
Turner, ‘Royal Academy Lectures’, circa 1807–38, Department of Western Manuscripts, British Library, London, ADD MS 46151 K folio 8 verso.
Turner, ‘Royal Academy Lectures’, circa 1807–38, Department of Western Manuscripts, British Library, London, ADD MS 46151 C folio 8 verso–9, K folio 10 and J folio 9.
Ibid., K folio 9 verso.
Technical notes:
Peter Bower states that the sheet is Double Elephant size Whatman paper made by William Balston, at Springfield Mill, Maidstone, Kent. The largest group within the perspective drawings, this batch of paper shows a ‘grid-like series of shadows that can be seen within the sheet in transmitted light. This appears to have been caused by a trial method of supporting the woven wire mould cover on the mould’. Because this is the only batch he has seen with such a feature, Bower believes that ‘it may have been tried on one pair of moulds and for some reason never tried again’. He also writes that it is ‘not the best Whatman paper by any means; the weight of this group is also very variable and the moulds have not been kept clean during use’.1
Notes in Tate catalogue files.
Indications of Turner’s transfer process, a small sketch by Turner in red ink of an unidentified architectural element with measurements top right and an inscription by an unknown hand in pencil ‘146’ top left.

Andrea Fredericksen
June 2004

Revised by David Blayney Brown
January 2012

Read full Catalogue entry

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