Joseph Mallord William Turner

Study of a Sarcophagus in the Vatican Museums


In Tate Britain

Prints and Drawings Room

View by appointment
Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775–1851
Graphite on paper
Support: 101 x 161 mm
Accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest 1856
Turner Bequest CLXXX 14

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). Cecilia Powell has identified the subject of this sketch as a sarcophagus,1 found in the Galleria Lapidaria (Lapidary Gallery) of the Museo Chiaramonti.2 The object is decorated with a frieze of figures across the top, ornamental Corinthian columns at the side topped by sculptural heads, and a strigil pattern across the front. Turner has only sketched a couple of the strigils and left the rest of the drawing blank. In the centre of the sarcophagus, is a panel with a sleeping Cupid and a Latin inscription starting ‘D[is] M[anibus]’, which translates as ‘To the spirits of the departed’, a common text on Roman funerary monuments.

Nicola Moorby
November 2009

Powell 1984, p.413.
See Walther Amelung, Die Sculpturen des Vaticanischen Museums, Berlin 1903–8, vol.I, ‘2. Galleria Lapidaria Seite 161–308’, no.177, pp.291–3, reproduced pl.29.

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