Joseph Mallord William Turner

Studies of Sculptural Fragments from the Vatican Museums, Including Reliefs from the Sarcophagus of Helena


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 46 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 objects found in the Museo Pio-Clementino. The studies are numbered from top to bottom:
The sketch at the top represents part of a bas-relief depicting two figures with an urn. The object is found in the Sala a Croce Greca (Hall of the Greek Cross), positioned above the right-hand flight of stairs leading to the Galleria dei Candelabri on the upper level of the museum.
Cecilia Powell has identified the subject of the lower sketch as the Sarcophagus of Helen, 1 a tomb decorated with reliefs belonging to the mother of Constantine, which as Turner has noted beneath his drawing is made of red porphyry. The sarcophagus still stands in situ in the Sala a Croce Greca (Hall of the Greek Cross),2 and can be seen in a drawing by James Hakewill (1778–1843), Rome. Museum of the Vatican. Sala a croce greca looking to the Rotonda (British School at Rome Library), an illustration which was engraved for Hakewill’s Picturesque Tour of Italy, published 1818.3 Turner, who collaborated with Hakewill on other illustrations for this project, made a couple of similar general sketches of the Sala a Croce Greca, see folios 48 and 48 verso (D15196 and D15197; Turner Bequest CLXXX 47 and 47a). He also recorded the other large sarcophagus on the opposite side of this room, that belonging to Constantia, daughter of Constantine, see folio 47 (D15194; Turner Bequest CLXXX 46).

Nicola Moorby
November 2009

Powell 1984, p.418; Salomon Reinach Répertoire de Reliefs Grecs et Romains, vol.3, Paris 1912, 412,2 and 413,1.
Georg Lippold, Die Skulpturen des Vaticanischen Museums, vol.III, no.1, Berlin 1956, no.576, reproduced pl.66.
See Tony Cubberley and Luke Herrmann, Twilight of the Grand Tour: A Catalogue of the drawings by James Hakewill in the British School at Rome Library, Rome 1992, no.5M.8, reproduced p.301.

Read full Catalogue entry


You might like

In the shop