Joseph Mallord William Turner

Sketch of Titian’s ‘Sacred and Profane Love’ in the Galleria Borghese, Rome, and Notes on Other Paintings


In Tate Britain

Prints and Drawings Room

View by appointment
Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775–1851
Support: 115 × 94 mm
Accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest 1856
Turner Bequest CXCIII 4

Catalogue entry

Titian (circa 1490–1576) was one of the Old Masters who represented a strong influence and challenge to Turner during his lifetime.1 The rough, schematic drawing in the top left-hand corner of this page represents a study of Titian’s, Sacred and Profane Love circa 1513–14, in the Galleria Borghese, Rome.2 Charlotte Eaton, who visited the Villa Borghese the year before Turner and published a popular travel account, Rome in the Nineteenth Century, first published in 1820, described the painting as follows:
But, out of Venice, I have seen nothing of Titian’s to compare to his Sacred and Profane Love, which is here. It represents two figures, – one a heavenly and youthful form, unclothed, except with a light drapery – the other, a lovely female, dressed in the most splendid attire; both are sitting on the brink of a well, into which a little winged Love is groping, apparently to find his lost dart. Description can give you no idea of the consummate beauty of this beautiful composition. It has all Titian’s matchless warmth of colouring, – with a correctness of design no other painter of the Venetian School ever attained.3
An additional related sketch depicting part of the background of Titian’s painting can be found on folio 4 verso (D16767; Turner Bequest CXCIII 3a).
John Gage has suggested that Turner may have received a personal recommendation to view Titian’s picture from his friend, the Scottish artist, Hugh ‘Grecian’ Williams (1773–1829), whom he met in Scotland in 1818.4 Williams described it as a ‘faultless’ piece of colouring and Turner no doubt agreed.5 At some point he acquired a copy of part of the painting which he kept in his studio, suggesting a profound and personal connection to the image.6 Echoes of the symbolic elements of the composition such as the hare or rabbit being chased by hounds, and the sarcophagus in the foreground, may be reflected by similar elements within Turner’s later historical oil paintings such as Bay of Baiae, with Apollo and the Sibyl 1823 (Tate, N00505), and The Golden Bough, 1834 (Tate).7 Gerald Finley has also remarked upon the similarity of the dress worn by the woman on the left of Titian’s painting to that of the figure of La Fornarina in Turner’s Rome, from the Vatican 1820 (Tate, N00503).8

Nicola Moorby
February 2011

See Martin Butlin ‘Titian’ in Evelyn Joll, Martin Butlin and Luke Herrmann (eds.), The Oxford Companion to J.M.W. Turner, Oxford 2001, p.338, and David Solkin (ed.), Turner and the Masters, exhibition catalogue, Tate Britain, London 2009, pp.134–5, 138–41.
Reproduced in Paola della Pergola, Galleria Borghese: I Dipinti, Rome 1955–9, vol.I, no.233.
Charlotte Anne Eaton, Rome in the Nineteenth Century, vol.III, Edinburgh 1820, p.49.
Gage 1987, p.60.
Quoted in ibid.
Gage 1969, p.243 note 94. See also Warrell 2003, p.60.
See Powell 1987, p.70 and Shanes 1990, p.144; Martin Butlin and Evelyn Joll, The Paintings of J.M.W. Turner, revised ed., New Haven and London 1984, nos.230 and 355.
Finley 1999, p.115; Butlin and Joll 1984, no.228.
Partially transcribed by Powell 1984, p.433, with minor variations and additions here.
See Pergola 1955–9, vol.II, nos.126–7, 131, 132, 133.
Reproduced in ibid. vol.I, no.31.
Ibid., vol.II, no.272, reproduced.
Powell 1987, p.65, and Warrell 2002, pp.59–60.

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