Joseph Mallord William Turner

Part of the Sarcophagus of Scipio Barbatus from the Vatican Museums


In Tate Britain

Prints and Drawings Room

View by appointment
Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775–1851
Graphite on paper
Support: 161 × 101 mm
Accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest 1856
Turner Bequest CLXXX 70 a

Catalogue entry

During his 1819 stay in Rome, one of Turner’s most extensive sketching campaigns was the large number of studies made from the sculpture collections of the Vatican Museums (for a general discussion, see the introduction to the sketchbook). As Cecilia Powell first identified, the subject of this sketch is a detailed study of part of the sarcophagus of the Roman consul, Lucius Cornelius Scipio Barbatus, which had been discovered during the late eighteenth century within the Tomb of the Scipios on the Via Appia.1 Turner saw the object on display in the Vestibolo Quadrato (Square Hall) of the Museo Pio-Clementino and also sketched it in situ, see folio 37 (D15174; Turner Bequest CLXXX 36). This study, however, records the decorative ornamental detail adorning the top of the sarcophagus. Powell has noted that the artist has misleadingly represented the spacing of the dentillation, the number of guttae and the profile of the mouldings at the base.2
The majority of Turner’s sketches in the Vatican were executed in pencil on white paper. This page however contains black pen and ink over paper prepared with a grey wash. There are in fact eight such leaves bound into this sketchbook which Peter Bower has noted all come from a single sheet of trimmed white wove Whatman paper.3 This is the only washed page which has been worked upon. Turner also made a number of tonal drawings in Rome using pencil and white chalk on a grey ground, see the Roman Colour Studies sketchbook (Tate, CLXXXIX) and Small Roman Colour Studies sketchbook (Tate CXC).

Nicola Moorby
December 2009

Powell 1984, p.421; see also Giandomenico Spinola, Il Museo Pio-Clementino, vol.I, Vatican City 1996, no.VQ 5, pp.10–12, reproduced fig.1.
Powell 1984, p.474 note 23.
Peter Bower, Turner’s Papers: A Study of the Manufacture, Selection and Use of his Drawing Papers 1787–1820, exhibition catalogue, Tate Gallery, London 1990, p.115

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