Joseph Mallord William Turner

Studies of Sculptural Fragments from the Vatican Museums, Including Ten Dancing Figures from a Four-Sided Altar, and an Altar to Artemis


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 33

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 three objects found in the Museo Chiaramonti. The studies are numbered from top left to bottom right:
Cecilia Powell has identified the ten sketches at the top of the page as those of dancing female figures adorning a four-sided altar in the Museo Chiaramonti.1 Turner seems to have been able to walk right around the object to record the decorations on all four sides, although a photograph from 1903 shows it in a position which would have made this impossible.2
Powell has identified the sketch in the bottom left-hand corner as part of an altar to Artemis in the Museo Chiaramonti.3
The sketch in the bottom right-hand corner depicts a fragment of relief depicting the torso of a woman holding a staff, found in the Museo Chiaramonti.4
Cecilia Powell has suggested that sketches of female sculpture such as the dancing women on this page may have provided inspiration for the foreground figures in Turner’s later oil painting,5 Phyrne Going to the Public Baths as Venus – Demosthenese Taunted by Aeschines exhibited 1838 (Tate, N00522).6

Nicola Moorby
November 2009

Powell 1984, p.415; see Walther Amelung, Die Sculpturen des Vaticanischen Museums, Berlin 1903–8, vol.I, ‘Museo Chiaramonti I’, no.182, pp.436–9, reproduced pl.45, bottom left.
Ibid., pl.45.
Powell 1984, p.415; see Amelung 1903–8, vol.I, no.123A, pp.390–1, reproduced pl.45, right.
See Amelung 1903–8, vol.I, no.115, p.382, reproduced pl.39, bottom right.
Powell 1987, pp.59 and 203 note 42.
Martin Butlin and Evelyn Joll, The Paintings of J.M.W. Turner, revised ed., New Haven and London 1984, no.373, reproduced pl.378.

Read full Catalogue entry

You might like

In the shop