Joseph Mallord William Turner

Part of the Ceremony of the Laying of the Foundation Stone of the National Monument, Calton Hill


In Tate Britain

Prints and Drawings Room

View by appointment
Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775–1851
Graphite on paper
Support: 187 × 114 mm
Accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest 1856
Turner Bequest CC 23 a

Catalogue entry

This is the second of a series of eight sketches recording the ceremony of the laying of the foundation stone of the National Monument on 27 August 1822 (see folio 22 verso; D17540). It was made at the outer edge of the page with the sketchbook turned to the right. Several figures stand around the pit into which the three-ton stone was laid, and to their right – probably as a separate drawing – are guards, perhaps the Scot’s Greys or 3rd Dragoons who were present at the ceremony. Gerald Finley regards these figures as part of the procession to the ceremony.1
Although it is impossible to be certain with these slight and idiosyncratic drawings (which were nevertheless clear to Turner; containing all the information he needed), this sketch may capture one particular and significant moment in the ceremony. After the stone was lowered into the pit by a crane which is visible at the left, the Grand Master Mason, the Duke of Hamilton, began a series of rituals, first checking the position with a setsquare and plumb line and then knocking the stone three times with a mallet.
The Grand Master then received from the Substitute, a cornucopia containing corn, and two cups containing wine and oil; and having poured them upon the stone, said, “Praise be to the Lord immortal and eternal...2
Turner’s sketch shows a figure standing with his back to us at the south side of the pit holding what appears to be a cup. This could be Hamilton. Beneath this sketch is a puff of smoke that may have come from the signal gun fired on Calton Hill immediately after the performance of this rite. There then followed speeches by Hamilton and the Duke of Atholl which may be depicted in the following sketches. Folios 24 verso, 25 verso and 26 verso (D17544, D17546, D17548) also appear to depict specific ceremonial actions, although exactly which parts of the ceremony is less clear.

Thomas Ardill
October 2008

Finley 1981, p.82
Robert Mudie, An Historical Account of His Majesty’s Visit to Scotland, Edinburgh 1822, p.264.

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