Joseph Mallord William Turner

Study for a Landscape with a Ruined Roman Bridge: ?Pan and Syrinx


In Tate Britain

Prints and Drawings Room

View by appointment
Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775–1851
Pen and ink on paper
Support: 150 × 258 mm
Accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest 1856
Turner Bequest XC 55

Catalogue entry

This is one of two versions of a wooded river landscape with a ruined Roman bridge in the right middle distance, the scenery of which seems to be based on this sketchbook’s various views of the Thames at Kew; the other is folio 56 (D05579). These have variant foregrounds, probably with ideas for episodes from Ovid’s Metamorphoses; see note to folio 54 (D05575) for Ovidian subjects in the sketchbook. In his note to folio 54, Hill describes the present study as depicting Pan and Syrinx, from Book 1 of the Metamorphoses.1 Pursued by the god Pan to the shady banks of the Arcadian River Ladon, Syrinx was transformed into reeds to escape his advances, and Pan bound the reeds together with wax to form his pipes; Mercury lulled Argus to sleep by telling him their story, before slaying him and releasing Io (then in her guise as a heifer) from captivity. Hill’s identification is convincing as there is a cow in the left foreground, and two figures behind it, while pen strokes by the water in the foreground would represent reeds. Moreover, ‘Pan and Syrinx’ is noted with other subjects from the Metamorphoses on folio 55 verso (D05578). However, in describing 55 recto, Hill suggests only ‘an incident from the life of Io’.
Turner made Pan and Syrinx the subject of one of his unpublished plates for the Liber Studiorum and its source in his ‘Arcadian interlude in Isleworth’ – that is, in this sketchbook – is noted by Gillian Forrester,2 along with the unfinished, contemporary oil Willows Beside a Stream (Tate N02706) whose similarly sylvan background was observed by Butlin and Joll.3 Butlin and Joll also recognised that the present drawing and folio 56 provided the source for another unfinished oil in the same series, Trees beside the River, with Bridge in the Middle Distance (Tate N02692).4
Forrester sees the diffusion of this composition into another very Claudean Liber plate, Woman with Tambourine, as further evidence that the drawings in this sketchbook were made ‘with classical themes in mind’.5

David Blayney Brown
August 2007

Hill 1993, p.162.
Forrester 1996, p.144.
Butlin and Joll 1984, pp.118–19 no.172 (pl.172).
Ibid., p.118 no.169 (pl.169).
Forrester 1996, p.48.

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