Joseph Mallord William Turner

Studies of Sculptural Fragments from the Vatican Museums, Including the Medea Sarcophagus and a Selection of Vases from the Galleria dei Candelabri


In Tate Britain

Prints and Drawings Room

View by appointment
Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775–1851
Graphite on paper
Support: 101 × 161 mm
Accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest 1856
Turner Bequest CLXXX 49 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 includes sketches of objects found in the Museo Pio-Clementino. The studies are numbered from top left to bottom right:
Cecilia Powell has identified the subject of the top sketch as the Medea sarcophagus.1 Powell has argued that although the study may represent Turner’s first exposure to the story of the tragic Greek figure, Medea, it does not appear to relate to the artist’s later oil painting, Vision of Medea 1828 (Tate, N00513).2 The finished picture shows Medea performing an incantation, which is not one of the scenes depicted on the sarcophagus.3 Furthermore, since Turner did not label this drawing, it is not clear whether he was even cognisant of the subject of the Vatican reliefs.4
The left-hand sketch from the middle row depicts the triangular base of a candelabrum decorated with reliefs and rams’ heads at the top. The object can be found in the fourth bay of the Galleria dei Candelabri (Gallery of Candelabra, formerly the Galleria delle Miscellanee).5
The second sketch from the left in the middle row is currently unidentified although it may represent part of the base of a candelabrum base.
The subject of the second sketch from the right in the middle row is a marble vase decorated with Dionysian reliefs. The object is found in the fourth bay of the Galleria dei Candelabri.6
On the far right-hand side of the middle row is a sketch of a vase decorated with handles in the shape of birds. The source is currently unidentified.
The sketch in the bottom left-hand corner depicts an urn, found in the fourth bay of the Galleria dei Candelabri.7
An unidentified sketch of an urn or vase.
The central sketch from the bottom row depicts a vessel of green, black and white textured stone, found in the fourth bay of the Galleria dei Candelabri.8
The sketch second from the right on the bottom row represents a cup shaped vase. Turner has inscribed the drawing ‘P’ which probably indicates that the object is made of porphyry.9
The sketch in the bottom right-hand corner appears to represent a black marble amphora found in the first bay of the Galleria dei Candelabri.10

Nicola Moorby
November 2009

Powell 1984, p.418; see Salomon Reinach Répertoire de Reliefs Grecs et Romains, vol.3, Paris 1912, no.382, 1.
Martin Butlin and Evelyn Joll, The Paintings of J.M.W. Turner, revised ed., New Haven and London 1984, no.293.
Powell 1982, p.12 and Powell 1984, p.144.
Giandomenico Spinola, Il Museo Pio-Clementino, vol.III, Vatican City 1999, no.GCSIV 54, pp.257–8, reproduced fig.32. See also,s1034f.html>, accessed November 2009.
Ibid., no.GCSIV 41, p.248, reproduced figs.26 and 27.
Visible in Georg Lippold, Die Skulpturen des Vaticanischen Museums, vol.III, no.2, Berlin 1956, pl.134.
Ibid., no.12, p.281, reproduced pl.126.
Ibid., reproduced pl.3, bottom left.
Ibid., no.I, p.105, reproduced pl.51.

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