Joseph Mallord William Turner

Studies of Sculptural Fragments from the Vatican Museums, Including an Ossuarium


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 21 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 sketches of five objects, some or all of which were probably found in the Museo Chiaramonti. The studies are numbered from top left to bottom right:
A sketch of an unidentified grave altar, with the accompanying inscription ‘D M | CLUCIFERI AVC | LIB.NVMISIA | COIVC’. The first part translates as ‘D[is] M[anibus]’, ‘To the spirits of the departed’, and is a common phrase found on Roman funerary monuments.
From the accompanying Latin text, Cecilia Powell has identified the top centre sketch as an ossuarium (receptacle for bones), found in the Galleria Lapidaria (Lapidary Gallery) of the Museo Chiaramonti.1 Turner has transcribed the inscription ‘OSSVARIVO’.
A sketch of an unidentified architectural or sculptural fragment, possibly part of a grave altar. The artist has annotated the drawing ‘351’, which presumably relates to an exhibit number displayed on the work. However, it does not appear to correspond to any known lists published within contemporary guide books or catalogues of the Vatican collections.
A sketch of an unidentified architectural fragment decorated with stylised acanthus leaves.
A sketch of an unidentified sculptural fragment decorated with figures and writing sea creatures. Turner has annotated the sketch with the note ‘Prow of a Ship’.

Nicola Moorby
November 2009

Powell 1984, p.414. See Walther Amelung, Die Sculpturen des Vaticanischen Museums, Berlin 1903–8, vol.I, ‘2. Galleria Lapidaria Seite 161–308’, no.130a, pp.260–1, not reproduced.

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