These three sketches represent Jonah, a marble statue of the Old Testament character located in the Chigi Chapel in the Church of Santa Maria del Popolo. Like the chapel itself, the sculpture was designed by Raphael although was ultimately executed by his pupil, Lorenzo Lotto, also known as Lorenzetto (1490–1541). It still stands in the same position as in Turner’s day, in a niche on the left-hand side of the altar. Cecilia Powell has argued that the aspect on entering the chapel is unsatisfactory since the the legs appear foreshortened. In order to find the best compositional arrangement therefore, Turner must have adopted the viewpoint at the far side of the altar, below the pendant sculpture of Elijah by Bernini. Another sketch of the statue inscribed ‘Jonas’, can be found in the Remarks (Italy) sketchbook (see Tate D16855; Turner Bequest CXCIII 85a).
During the nineteenth century the work was still believed to be the sole example of Raphael’s skill as a sculptor, even though it had in fact been established that it had been executed by a pupil from a model by the master.1 Samuel Rogers, who visited Rome in 1814, wrote in his journal entry for 15 December, ‘Chapel of “Agostin Chigi amico suo caro” the work of which was superintended by Raphael; who died before it was finished. The cieling [sic] is in mosaic from his designs ... & the statue of Jonas must have been modelled by him, it is so full of sweetness. The head, says Canova, is that of the Antinous.’2 John Gage has linked Turner’s knowledge of the statue with his homage to Raphael, the large oil painting Rome, from the Vatican exhibited 1820 (Tate N00503).3 Gage has suggested that the reclining statue in the foreground of the picture, possibly of a river god, is intended to represent the Renaissance master’s skill in various aspects of the arts, including sculpture. However, Robert McVaugh has argued that the sculpture in the painting in fact may represent, Day, a work by Michelangelo from the Medici Chapel, Florence.4