Joseph Mallord William Turner

Study for ‘Hannibal Passing the Alps’, for Rogers’s ‘Italy’


In Tate Britain

Prints and Drawings Room

View by appointment
Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775–1851
Graphite and watercolour on paper
Support: 223 × 299 mm
Accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest 1856
Turner Bequest CCLXXX 8

Catalogue entry

This study is one of three preparatory drawings that Turner made for the vignette Hannibal Passing the Alps (see Tate D27666; Turner Bequest CCLXXX 149), which appeared as the head-piece to the section entitled ‘The Alps’ in Rogers’s Italy.1 The two additional studies are Tate D27523; Turner Bequest CCLXXX 6 and Tate D27668; Turner Bequest CCLXXX 151.
This unfinished Alpine landscape shows the same steep cliffs and snow-capped mountains that appear in the final version of Hannibal Passing the Alps. Hannibal’s army appears in the foreground and follows a swooping line toward the shadowy, circular passageway on the left side of the composition. Although the topographical location of this study remains uncertain, this passageway and the path leading up to it bear a strong resemblance to the Simplon Pass, as Finberg suggests in his catalogue of Turner’s works on paper.2 It would have been an appropriate subject for ‘The Alps’ since Rogers does make specific reference to the newly-built Simplon pass in this section of Italy:
    Now the scene is changed;
And o’er the Simplon, o’er the Splugen winds
A path of pleasure. Like a silver zone
Flung about carelessly, it shines afar,
Catching the eye in many a broken link,
In many a turn and traverse as it glides;
And oft above and oft below appears,
Seen o’er the wall by him who journies up,
As tho’ it were another, thro’ the wild
Leading along he knows not whence or whither.
Yet thro’ its fairy-course, go where it will,
The torrent stops it not, the rugged rock
Opens and lets it in; and on it runs,
Winning its easy way from clime to clime
Thro’ glens locked up before.
(Italy, p.30)
Hannibal Passing the Alps is one of a number of Italy vignettes for which Turner produced preliminary studies that differ significantly from the design that was eventually engraved for publication. For other examples, see Venice (Tate D27710; CCLXXX 193), Florence (Tate D27673; CCLXXX 156) and Paestum (Tate D27665; CCLXXX 148). In all cases, it is clear that Turner was familiar with the content of Rogers’s poem and gave considerable thought to the process of selecting verses for illustration.
Samuel Rogers, Italy, London 1830, p.29.
Finberg 1909, vol. II, p.891.

Meredith Gamer
August 2006

Read full Catalogue entry

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