Joseph Mallord William Turner

Studies of a Procession in Honour of Bacchus, and of Antony and Cleopatra


In Tate Britain

Prints and Drawings Room

View by appointment
Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775–1851
Pen and ink on paper
Support: 150 × 258 mm
Accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest 1856
Turner Bequest XC 83 a

Catalogue entry

Drawn with the sketchbook inverted. This is one of two sets of related studies, the others facing on folio 84 (D05616). In the present example there are two studies of a procession, one at top left shown descending a winding stair or path, another passing in a line across the lower part of the sheet. Turner’s inscription above one of two effigies carried along by the crowd associates the ceremonies with ‘Iacchus’ (Bacchus) and the effigies hold the god’s thyrsus, or wand tipped with a pine cone. As Hill points out, this ‘festival’ illustrates Book 4 of Ovid’s Metamorphoses. Specifically, Turner shows the ceremonies in which Alcithoe and her Sisters, sceptical of Bacchus’s divine status, refuse to take part, thus disobeying the orders of a priest. In the Garth translation known to Turner, the priest bids the womenfolk ‘The leafy Thyrsus high in triumph bear | And give your locks to wanton in the air’. In the similar study on folio 84, the processing women also carry thyrsae, as well as the effigy carried at the head of their procession. Here however, Turner seems to have opted for more familiar oxen to pull the effigy instead of the ‘spotted lynxes’ described in the same version of the poem. In Turner’s mind, this procession was perhaps an alternative to that associated with Demeter which became part of the narrative of his Mercury and Herse, 1811 (on the London art market in 2005);1 see especially folios 52 verso and 57 (D05573, D05581). For other illustrations to Ovid see folio 54 (D05575).
Also on this leaf, running very slightly on to folio 84 but said by Hill to be entirely on it, is a sketch of a crowd of figures clustered around a ship and annotated by Turner ‘Anthony & Cleopatra’. This is related to the more elaborate study on folio 84 verso (D05617) which has the same inscription.

David Blayney Brown
August 2007

Martin Butlin and Evelyn Joll, The Paintings of J.M.W. Turner, revised ed., New Haven and London 1984, pp.80–2 no.114 (pl.122); Sotheby’s sale, 5 July 2005, lot 40.

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