Joseph Mallord William Turner

Lecture Diagram 52*: The Temple of Neptune at Paestum (?after Giovanni Battista Piranesi)


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Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775–1851
Graphite and watercolour on paper
Support: 479 × 621 mm
Accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest 1856
Turner Bequest CXCV 102

Display caption

Turner used this diagram to illustrate several different subjects, including shadows formed by oblique sunlight, and the nature of doric architecture.

Gallery label, September 1992

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Catalogue entry

Prepared by Turner for his lectures as Professor of Perspective at the Royal Academy, this finished watercolour of the Temple of Neptune at Paestum was once marked ‘52*’ according to Finberg. Maurice Davies suggests that the number may have been attached to a mount which has since been removed.1 A reference to the diagram occurs in a draft lecture text on architectural orders which Davies links to Lecture 4.2 Turner also refers to the Temple of Neptune in what Davies describes as a draft of a lecture on shadows that is now lost but recorded in a collection of manuscript fragments.3
As Helen Dorey demonstrates, this diagram and its subject are evidence of the overlapping interests of Turner and John Soane as respectively Professors of Perspective and Architecture at the Royal Academy. Soane had visited Paestum, south of Naples, in 1778 when he spent several days measuring the Doric Temple of Neptune which although ‘exceedingly rude’ and lacking ‘elegance & taste’ exerted enduring influence on his own work for its grandeur and scale.4 Soane referred to the temple in his second, third, seventh and tenth Academy lectures; the third, in which it is mentioned twice, was given in 1810 when Turner is likely to have drawn his own diagram. Illustrating the pronaos of the Temple of Neptune with its massive paired columns, a feature which Soane especially admired and acknowledged in his own buildings, it enabled Turner to demonstrate the primitive grandeur of the Doric style but also the fall of slanting shadows in oblique sunlight. Dorey states that Soane is likely by now to have acquired his fifteen drawings of Paestum by Giovanni Battista Piranesi (1720–1778), one of which depicts the temple from the same angle looking south-west and could well have been Turner’s direct source. Alternatively, Turner might have seen the etched plate made by Piranesi late in life and published posthumously.5 Turner visited Paestum in 1819.
For other derivations from Piranesi among the lecture diagrams see Tate D17123, D17124; Turner Bequest CXCV 152, 153, both after prints of Roman columns, and Tate D17090, D17091, D17099; Turner Bequest CXCV 120, 121, 128 based on his prints of prisons.
Davies 1992, p.105 note 50.
Davies 1994, p.272; Turner, ‘Royal Academy Lectures’, circa 1807–38, Department of Western Manuscripts, British Library, London, ADD MS 46151 M folio 33 verso.
Davies 1994, pp.263, 281 (BB f12); Turner, ‘Royal Academy Lectures’, circa 1807–38, Department of Western Manuscripts, British Library, London, ADD MS 46151 BB folios 12 and verso.
Soane, ‘Italian Sketches, J. Soane, 1779’, Sir John Soane’s Museum, London; John Wilton-Ely, Piranesi, Paestum & Soane, Sir John Soane’s Museum, London 2002; Dorey 2007, p.24.
Piranesi, Différantes vues de quelques restes de trois grands édifices qui subsistent encore dans le milieu de l’ancienne ville de Pesto, pl.XIV; Dorey 2007, p.24 reproduced fig.1.

Andrea Fredericksen
June 2004

Revised by David Blayney Brown
January 2010

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