Joseph Mallord William Turner

Sketches of Sculptured Reliefs from the Northern Façade of the Arch of Constantine, Rome


In Tate Britain

Prints and Drawings Room

View by appointment
Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775–1851
Graphite on paper
Support: 114 × 189 mm
Accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest 1856
Turner Bequest CXCV a H

Catalogue entry

As Cecilia Powell has noted, this page contains studies of various sculptured details from the northern façade of the Arch of Constantine.1 The sketches isolate the separate components and have been arranged by Turner in order across three successive rows which provide a guide to their relationship in situ. The top row contains two pairs of panels found on either side of the inscription on the attic above the lateral arches: far left, the Emperor Marcus Aurelius entering Rome; left, the Emperor leaving Rome for the campaign against the Germanic tribes; right, the Emperor distributing money to the people; and far right, an enemy chieftain surrendering to the Emperor. In the centre, Turner has indicated the position of the inscription in relation to the panels, in between two sculptures of Dacian prisoners (Dacia was the ancient name for part of south-east Europe). The middle row contains sketches of the four roundels which are found in two sets of pairs above the lateral arches of the monument. The orientation of Turner’s drawings corresponds to their position on the arch. The medallions on the left depict a wild-boar hunt and a sacrifice to the god Apollo. The right-hand pair meanwhile shows a lion hunt and a sacrifice to Hercules. The sketches on the bottom row record part of the frieze which runs all around the monument above the height of the lateral arches. The scenes depicted here are those from the north face and also correspond to their placement on the Arch. On the left, the Emperor Constantine addresses a crowd from a platform in the Forum and on the right he distributes money to the people. For other sketches of the Arch of Constantine see folio 18 (D16190).
At some point in its history this single page was removed from the sketchbook without record of its original location, probably by John Ruskin or Ralph Nicholson Wornum during their survey of the Bequest in 1857–8. It was selected for the Third Loan Collection, a group of seventy-one works chosen by Wornum for exhibition in the provinces during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.2 Consequently, like the other works included in those tours, the drawing has suffered badly from over-exposure to light and the paper has yellowed considerably. Finberg catalogued it as part of a group of miscellaneous pencil sketches, although recognised that it was a leaf from a sketchbook.3 During the 1930s the page was eventually reunited with other sketches of the Arch of Constantine in the St Peter’s sketchbook where it was bound between CLXXXVIII 19–20.

Nicola Moorby
September 2008

Powell 1987, p.51 note 8.
Warrell 1991, pp.36–8.
Finberg 1909, p.597.

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