Joseph Mallord William Turner

The Temple of Isis, Pompeii


In Tate Britain

Prints and Drawings Room

View by appointment
Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775–1851
Graphite on paper
Support: 113 × 189 mm
Accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest 1856
Turner Bequest CLXXXV 17

Catalogue entry

One of the first structures to be excavated after the re-discovery of Pompeii during the late eighteenth century was the Temple of Isis, a small but ornate Roman temple dedicated to the eponymous Egyptian goddess.1 Not only one of the earliest landmarks to be uncovered, the temple also represents one of the most complete surviving buildings in Pompeii and its discovery had an immediate impact on artistic culture.2 The composer, Mozart (1756–1791), for example, is known to have visited the site in 1769 and his experiences may be reflected in the 1791 opera, The Magic Flute.3 The temple also quickly became one of the most popular subjects for artists.4 Turner’s study reflects an established pictorial tradition of depicting the building from the entrance to the porticoed courtyard so that the temple itself is diagonal to the picture plane with the purgatorium (a fenced area with water basin) and altar on the left.5
For further sketches and a general discussion of Turner’s visit to Pompeii see the introduction to the sketchbook.

Nicola Moorby
September 2010

Pompeii site number VIII.7.28.
See Roberto Cassanelli, Pier Luigi Ciapparelli, Enrico Colle et al., Houses and Monuments of Pompeii: The Works of Fausto and Felice Niccolini, Los Angeles 1997, p.218.
See Matheus Franciscus Maria Berk, ‘Mozart Visits the Isis Temple in Pompeii’, in The Magic Flute, Leiden 2004, pp.450–8.
See for example the engraving after Pietro Fabris, ‘Excavation of the Temple of Isis at Pompeii’ for Campi Phlegraei, published 1776, reproduced in Ian Jenkins and Kim Sloan, Vases and Volcanoes: Sir William Hamilton and his Collection, London 1996, fig.14, p.42; also an ‘Interior View of the Chapel of Isis’ in William Hamilton, Account of the Discoveries at Pompeii, London 1777, pl.VI.
The viewpoint and composition is virtually identical to an engraving by G. Hollis, ‘View in the Court of the Temple of Isis’, published February 1819, reproduced in Sir William Gell and Joseph Gandy, Pompeiana: The Topography, Edifices, and Ornaments of Pompeii, London 1824, vol.II, pl.69, between pp.258–9. See also the engraved plate after a drawing by Major James Cockburn, ‘Temple of Isis’, first published 1819, in Pompeii, Illustrated with Picturesque Views, Engraved by W.B. Cooke, from the Original Drawings of Liet. Col. Cockburn, of the Royal Artillery, vol.I, London 1827, p.[43].

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