Joseph Mallord William Turner

Studies of Sculptural Fragments from the Vatican Museums, Including Two Sketches of a Reclining Nymph and Four Figures from a Sarcophagus Depicting the Dance of Bacchus


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 38 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:
Cecilia Powell has identified the subject of the two sketches at the top as a statue of a reclining nymph.1 Today the object is found in the East Portico of the Cortile Ottagono (also known as the Cortile Ottagonale, formerly the Cortile del Belvedere) in the Museo Pio-Clementino.2 Turner has annotated the drawing ‘321’ 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.
Powell has further identified the sketches at the bottom of the page as dancing figures from a relief depicting the Dance of Bacchus which adorns a large sarcophagus in the Museo Pio-Clementino.3 The figures are from the left-hand end of the object.4 Other details from the monument can be seen on folio 40 (D15180; Turner Bequest CLXXX 39). Today the object can be found in the East Portico of the Cortile Ottagono.5
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,6 Phyrne Going to the Public Baths as Venus – Demosthenese Taunted by Aeschines exhibited 1838 (Tate, N00522).7

Nicola Moorby
November 2009

Powell 1984, p.416.
See Walther Amelung, Die Sculpturen des Vaticanischen Museums, Berlin 1903–8, vol.II, ‘Belvedere I’, no.30, pp.82–3, reproduced pl.24, and Giandomenico Spinola, Il Museo Pio-Clementino, vol.I, Vatican City 1996, no.PE 6, p.37.
Powell 1984, p.416. See Amelung 1908, vol.II, ‘Belvedere I’, no.28, pp.76–81, reproduced pl.6.
See Deutsches Archäologisches Institut, Bildkatalog der Skulpturen des Vatikanischen Museum: Museo Pio Clementino Cortile Ottagono, Berlin and New York 1998, vol.II, reproduced no.28, PE5, pl.294.
Spinola 1996, no.PE 5, p.37, reproduced fig.5.
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.

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