Joseph Mallord William Turner

Notes on Writers and Artists (Inscriptions by Turner)


In Tate Britain

Prints and Drawings Room

View by appointment
Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775–1851
Graphite on paper
Support: 114 × 83 mm
Accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest 1856
Turner Bequest CXIII 21 a

Catalogue entry

Turner’s note reads:
Ist of Jany 1577: in 1580 | In a roll illuminated by Petruchi | Ubaldini Sr Phillip Sydney is depict | ed as representing it to the Queen E[lizabeth] | at New Years tide | Solimene sarcastic reply | to the solicitations of Bernnini who wanted to | know the opinion of the artist notwith | standing the importunity of the Sculptor is | a sufficient proof of the contempt of artists | view of different artists. The painter refused | all the offers Bernnini offered for his accomm | odation but walked in his night cap and | slippers to a certain distance from the | work by the chair of St Peters and positively | refused to view it close and being importunated | for his opinion, turn’d away saying the figure | was not long enough by a palm
Five leaves seem to have been removed from the sketchbook at this point and the first sentence might be part of a longer note now missing. It refers to gifts to Elizabeth I from the courtier and writer, Sir Philip Sidney (1554–86) and to a work depicting one of these by Petruccio Ubaldini (fl.1545–99), a calligrapher and writer who spent much of his life in England working for the court as a scribe and illuminator and on occasional diplomatic missions. Matthew Imms has traced the source of Turner’s note to the following passage in a recently reissued memoir of Sidney: ‘On the first day of January 1577–8 Mr. Philip Sidney gave her Majesty, at her honour of Hampton Court, “a smock of camerick ...”. In 1580 his gift was “a cup of crystal covered with a cover.” In a roll, illuminated by Petrucci Ubaldini, he is depicted as presenting the Queen at a new year’s tide in 1581, with a “jewel of gold...”’1
The longer passage is an anecdote about the painter Francesco Solimena (1657–1747) and the sculptor Gian Lorenzo Bernini (1598–1659) involving the latter’s altarpiece incorporating the chair of St Peter (1666) in St Peter’s, Rome. It is an interesting example of the tales of artists’ lives and temperaments collected by Turner’s Romantic generation, usually to justify their independence and sense of self-worth. Thanks are due to Professor Nigel Llewellyn and Dr Jennifer Montagu for attempting to trace the source of this story, which so far remains obscure.

David Blayney Brown
July 2009

Thomas Zouch, Memoirs of the Life and Writings of Sir Philip Sidney, 2nd ed., York 1809, pp.331–2.

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