Joseph Mallord William Turner

Sketches of the Ruins of the Theatre at Herculaneum


In Tate Britain

Prints and Drawings Room

View by appointment
Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775–1851
Graphite on paper
Support: 189 × 113 mm
Accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest 1856
Turner Bequest CLXXXV 78 a

Catalogue entry

As Cecilia Powell has previously discussed, the drawings on folios 80 verso–87 (D15886–D15898; Turner Bequest CLXXXV 78a–85) of this sketchbook relate to Turner’s exploration of the archaeological site at Herculaneum.1 Unlike the extensive ruins at Pompeii, in 1819 the ancient town had not yet been subject to a sustained period of excavation and there was very little to see beyond a few subterranean passages. Consequently, Turner’s sketches are very sparse in detail and, by their rough nature, appear to have been executed in the dark.2 This page contains views within the underground tunnels of the theatre. At the bottom of the sheet is a study of the pedestal of Appius Claudius Pulcher, see folio 86 (D15896; Turner Bequest CLXXXV 84). The recessed semi-circular and rectangular niches meanwhile represent the ruins of the scaenae frons (the backdrop to the stage). Leaning against a wall in the top left-hand corner are a fragments of columns and a Corinthian capital.
For a fuller description of Herculaneum and the theatre see folio 86 (D15896; Turner Bequest CLXXXV 84).

Nicola Moorby
November 2010

Cecilia Powell, ‘Turner on Classic Ground: His Visits to Central and Southern Italy and Related Paintings and Drawings’, unpublished Ph.D thesis, Courtauld Institute of Art, University of London 1984, p.187, and Cecilia Powell, Turner in the South: Rome, Naples, Florence, New Haven and London 1987, pp.82–3.

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