Joseph Mallord William Turner

Notes from ‘The Elements of Architecture’ by Sir Henry Wotton (Inscription by Turner)


In Tate Britain

Prints and Drawings Room

View by appointment
Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775–1851
Graphite on paper
Support: 110 × 88 mm
Accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest 1856
Turner Bequest CXI 89 a

Catalogue entry

Turner’s inscription reads
than his own) the visual beam extend | to the Head of the figure by being longer than the | foot must make that farther so as to reduce | to an erect position Vitruvius calls this | the Affection in the Eye a | resupination of the figure [being inserted] (his own) | Michael Angelo said the Sculpture | was nothing but a purgation of superfluities | the remainder the intended figure as his | figure of a washerwoman wringing linen | at a fountain | I should think it almost | harder to be a good censurer than a | good architect because the working | part may be helped by deliberation | but the other must flow extemporally | Therefore I could wish (not finish the piece | without light) to examine himself
Continuing his notes from Wotton’s book from folio 90 of the sketchbook (D07736), Turner develops Palladio’s1 observations on the need to model figures set high up on buildings as if bowing forwards and to adjust their proportion. As well as Palladio, Wotton quotes sayings of Vitruvius2 and Michelangelo, the latter to demonstrate that sculpture is an art of ‘subtraction ... For take away, from a piece of wood or stone, all that is superfluous, and the remainder is the intended figure’. Wotton cites a fountain by Michelangelo in which a washerwoman ‘wrings out the water that made the fountain’ as a ‘gracefull and naturall conceit’. Also from Wotton is the comparison between the ‘censurer’ or critic and the architect, and the invitation to the critic to ‘examine himself’ that Turner continues on the recto (D07734).

David Blayney Brown
May 2011

Andrea Palladio (1508–80), Venetian architect and writer.
Vitruvius Pollio (active 40 BC), Roman architect and writer.

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