Joseph Mallord William Turner

Studies of Sculptural Fragments and Reliefs from the Vatican Museums, Including a Sarcophagus with the Three Graces, and the Sarcophagus of Sellia Celerina


In Tate Britain

Prints and Drawings Room

View by appointment
Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775–1851
Graphite on paper
Support: 161 × 101 mm
Accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest 1856
Turner Bequest CLXXX 6 a

Catalogue entry

During his 1819 stay in Rome, one of Turner’s most extensive sketching campaigns was the large number of pencil studies made from the sculpture collections of the Vatican Museums (for a general discussion, see the introduction to the sketchbook). This page contains six sketches of fragments, probably all from objects found in the Galleria Lapidaria (Lapidary Gallery) of the Museo Chiaramonti. The studies are numbered from top left to bottom right:
The sketch in the top left-hand corner depicts an unidentified grave altar. Turner has annotated the drawing with the number ‘276’.
In the top right-hand corner is an unidentified sculptural relief, possibly part of a funerary altar, inscribed beneath ‘[PAEIEKOI]’
An unidentified sculptural fragment of a wreath, inscribed in the centre ‘[?NONA...]’
Cecilia Powell has identified the middle sketch as a sarcophagus with the Three Graces,1 which today can be found in the Galleria Lapidaria of the Museo Chiaramonti.2 The sketch is inscribed ‘13’ which probably refers to the number of times the strigil pattern is repeated on each side of the object.
Powell has identified this as a fragment of the sarcophagus of Sellia Celerina,3 from the Galleria Lapidaria of the Museo Chiaramonti.4 Turner has transcribed the Latin inscription from the object, ‘DMS | SELLA | CELERINA | VALIII | HS [?S]’. The first part translates as ‘D[is] M[anibus] S[acrum]’, ‘Sacred to the spirits of the departed’, and is a common phrase found on Roman funerary monuments.
In the bottom right-hand corner is part of an unidentified grave altar, annotated with the number ‘283’.
Jerrold Ziff described the Vatican Fragments sketchbook as ‘nearly a dictionary or pattern book of motifs’ which Turner consulted for the featured pieces of sculpture in the finished oil painting, What You Will! exhibited 1822 (Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute, Williamstown, Massachusetts).5 As Cecilia Powell identified, one of the statue groups in the background of this picture represents the Three Graces and Turner appears to have derived the composition from the bas-relief design on this page, and from another sarcophagus in the Capitoline Museums, see folio 54 (D15208; Turner Bequest CLXXX 53).6

Nicola Moorby
October 2009

Powell 1984, p.412.
See Walther Amelung, Die Sculpturen des Vaticanischen Museums, Berlin 1903–8, vol.I, ‘2. Galleria Lapidaria Seite 161–308’, no.12, pp.172–3, reproduced pl.24.
Powell 1984, p.412
See Amelung 1903–8, vol.I, ‘2. Galleria Lapidaria Seite 161–308’, no.18c, p.178, not illustrated.
Jerrold Ziff, ‘Copies of Claude’s Paintings in the Sketch Books of J.M.W. Turner’, Gazette des Beaux-Arts, vol.LXV, January 1965, p.64 note 30; Butlin and Joll 1984, no.229, reproduced pl.232, and in colour in Powell 1987, colour pl.11, p.[64].
Powell 1984, p.482 note 67.

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