Joseph Mallord William Turner

Studies of Sculptural Fragments from the Palazzo Nuovo in the Capitoline Museums, Rome


In Tate Britain

Prints and Drawings Room

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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 53

Catalogue entry

In addition to sketching in the Vatican Museums, Turner made a thorough study of the ancient Greek and Roman sculptures in the Palazzo Nuovo of the Capitoline Museums. The drawings on this page include works from the Sala degli Imperatori (Hall of the Emperors), so called because it contains rows of busts and portraits depicting Roman emperors. All of the subjects were first identified by Cecilia Powell. The studies are numbered from top left to bottom right:
The sketch at the top of the page represents the grave altar of T. Apusulenus Alexander.1 Turner has depicted the sculptural frieze from the front of the object, as well as the decorative motifs of an urn and a medallion on either side. He has also transcribed the altar’s Latin inscription in two parts: ‘D M | T.APVSVLENVS.ALEXANDER | V.A.LXXIIX.T.APVSVLENVS LVCRIO | TA PVS V[L]ENVS IANVARIVS | T A | B’ and ‘T. APVS V [LENVS]. IVCVNDVS | APVSVLENA.METHE.FEC PA[T]R.S | BENE. DESE MERENTI’. Today the altar is exhibited in a ground floor room (Sala terrena a destra III), but it was previously displayed in the Sala delle Colombe (Hall of the Doves, from 1736 to 1929).
The sketches in the centre of the page represent a sarcophagus relief depicting a scene of Dionisiac combat.2 The object is found in the Sala degli Imperatori. Turner has recorded the full length of the relief by completing the right-hand side of the frieze on the line above the left-hand side.
The sketch at the bottom represents a relief dedicated to the Springs and Nymphs, also found in the Sala degli Imperatori, positioned over the doorway leading to the Sala dei Filosofi.3 Turner has transcribed part of the Latin inscription from the object as ‘BONIFATI | VIVAS SACER | DVS’.
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).4 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 relief depicted at the bottom of this page, and from another bas-relief design in the Vatican Museums, see folio 7 verso (D15116; Turner Bequest CLXXX 6a).5

Nicola Moorby
November 2009

Powell 1984, p.419; H. Stuart Jones, A Catalogue of the Ancient Sculptures preserved in the Municipal Collections of Rome. The Sculptures of the Museo Capitolino, Oxford 1912, ‘Sala delle Colombe’ no.8, p.140, reproduced pl.43. See also the Capitoline Museums online collection records,, accessed November 2009.
Powell 1984, p.419; Jones 1912, ‘Stanza degli Imperatori’ no.87, p.217, reproduced pl.53. See also
Powell 1984, p.419; Jones 1912, ‘Stanza degli Imperatori’ no.93, p.220, reproduced pl.53. See also
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 and Powell 1987, p.58 note 38.

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