Joseph Mallord William Turner

The ‘Birth of Adonis’


In Tate Britain

Prints and Drawings Room

View by appointment
Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775–1851
Pen and ink on paper
Support: 143 × 228 mm
Accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest 1856
Turner Bequest XCIV 17

Catalogue entry

Myrrha gives birth to Adonis, assisted by Lucina. The story is told in Book 10 of Ovid’s Metamorphoses. For Ovid subjects in this sketchbook see note to folio 13 (D05865). Properly, Myrrha should appear in the form of a tree, into which she has been changed as a punishment for incest, and the birth takes place through a fissure that opens in its bark. However Turner shows her still in recognisably human form, or at least only partly merged with a tree against which she leans. On folio 18 (D05870) is what appears to be a variant design, in which Myrrha is at least half-tree and is moved to the centre of the composition in a riverside setting whereas here there are suggestions of a distant city. As Hill observes, Ovid is vague about the setting except for mentioning green turf; possibly the splashes on the verso of folio 16 (D05868), facing this drawing, are of watercolour that Turner was going to use to mark this feature here or in another version.

David Blayney Brown
December 2007

Read full Catalogue entry

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