Joseph Mallord William Turner

Notes on Perspective in the Raphael Tapestry Cartoons, ‘Paul and Barnabus at Lystra’ and ‘Paul Preaching at Athens’ (Inscriptions by Turner)


In Tate Britain

Prints and Drawings Room

View by appointment
Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775–1851
Pen and ink on paper
Support: 115 × 76 mm
Accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest 1856
Turner Bequest CII 24 a

Catalogue entry

Finberg transcribed on the first two sentences of this note (continued on folio 24, D06766), which reads:
Error in the Paul at Lyistria | The pediment is not shown altho | the side of the Building is and the | pavement is not quite accurately | drawn to the point of sight | neither do [?ditto] the diagonals, but each | square and the Altar is very | erronious drawn [here Turner adds a sketch of the top of the altar but without flames as in the original] Paul preaching at Athens | The step upon wh Paul is placed | is smaller than the ones | below [here a sketch of the steps] | The temple in the center is | either out of all proportion or | the rails upon it is broken [continued on folio 24] Arches upon the right are drawn more than a point | and the point of the arch is out of all rule
These remarks are notes for Turner’s lectures as Professor of Perspective at the Royal Academy. In his lectures, he made extensive reference to Raphael’s tapestry cartoons, copies of which by Sir James Thornhill had been in the Academy’s collection since 1800 and hung in the Great Room at Somerset House where the lectures were given. For example in Lecture 1, on perspective and geometry, he discussed the use of perspective in the cartoons, which he felt was insufficiently appreciated.1 In these notes, he is more critical. In the cartoon St Paul and Barnabus at Lystra his objections are to the building in the distance whose portico is seen in a different perspective to its main block, to the pavement whose black and white slabs do not meet at the same vanishing point and to the altar whose top is seen in a shallower perspective. In Paul Preaching at Athens he takes issue with the steps in the foreground and the round temple in the right background. Despite these strictures, in Lecture 6, ‘Backgrounds: Introduction of Architecture and Landscape’, Turner went on to praise Raphael’s use of parallel perspective to give grandeur to this subject, noting how ‘by means of the high horizon and the steps, only Paul possesses that elevation which, together with the simple yet energetic form, commands that attention ... which the nature of the subject demanded’.2 A sketch of the figure, without the supporting steps, is Tate D17139; Turner Bequest CXCV 168.

David Blayney Brown
March 2007

Davies 1992, p.36.
Ibid., pp.54–5.

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