Joseph Mallord William Turner

Stern of the ‘Santissima Trinidad’


In Tate Britain

Prints and Drawings Room

View by appointment
Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775–1851
Graphite on paper
Support: 114 × 184 mm
Accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest 1856
Turner Bequest LXXXIX 12

Catalogue entry

Drawn with the sketchbook inverted. When the book was restitched, this leaf was flipped, what Finberg knew as the recto becoming the verso. Although this is a partial and cursory sketch, it is sufficient to indicate a ship of great height with an unusual stern and four decks. Together with Turner’s inscription, this indicates the Santissima Trinidad, the huge flagship of the Spanish Rear-Admiral, Don Baltazar de Cisneros. With four gundecks and 136 guns she was often described as the largest warship in the world (though in fact recently-built French three-deckers tended to be larger still). She was also famed for the beauty of her carving and decoration, but was so heavy and hard to manoeuvre that she was sometimes said to be fit only for harbour duty at Cadiz. At Trafalgar she surrendered to the British Neptune and was taken in tow by the Prince, but was scuttled when the ensuing storm left little prospect of bringing her to England as a prize.
As with the French Redoutable for which see chiefly folio 10 (D05457; Turner Bequest LXXXIX 11), Turner needed an idea of the appearance of the great ship and obtained descriptions prior to including her to port of the Victory in his Battle of Trafalgar, as Seen from the Mizen Starboard Shrouds of the Victory (Tate N00480;1 see Introduction to the sketchbook for the picture and related works). Her position in the battle line is indicated in diagrams on folios 9 verso and 31 verso (D05456, D05479; Turner Bequest LXXXIX 24a). See also folios 28 and 31 verso (D05472, D05479; Turner Bequest LXXXIX 21, 24a) where, variously, her four tiers of guns are noted and another view of her stern and port side probably appears. The other side of this leaf (D05459) has a sketch of a Spanish ensign which must relate to Turner’s enquiry about the colouring of her ‘standard’. It would have been red and yellow.

David Blayney Brown
March 2006

Martin Butlin and Evelyn Joll, The Paintings of J.M.W. Turner, revised ed., New Haven and London 1984, p.46 no.58 (pl.68).

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