Joseph Mallord William Turner

The Virgin and Child, after Guercino


In Tate Britain

Prints and Drawings Room

View by appointment
Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775–1851
Graphite on paper
Support: 128 × 114 mm
Accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest 1856
Turner Bequest LXXII 37

Catalogue entry

This has been among the most tantalising of Turner’s copies in this sketchbook. It has often been supposed to record a work by Titian, but no such source was found. In fact it is after a picture by Guercino, signed and dated 1629, taken by the French from the Capuchin church in Cento in 1796 and returned in 1816 (Pinacoteca Civica, Cento). For Turner’s comments on the subject and character of the figures, which he found unconvincing, see folio 36 verso of this sketchbook (D04321). These specifically mention the Christ child’s inclination of the head, and hand raised in a gesture of blessing, which are distinctive features of the picture though in the drawing the head is set straighter. It is interesting that these notes follow on without any differentiation of the artist from remarks on the Mars and Venus also by Guercino, which however Turner believed to be by Domenichino. To complicate matters further, the Virgin and Child may then still have retained the attribution to ‘Ercole Gennari’ made – despite its signature and date – by J.-B.-P. Le Brun in 1798. The further notes on the picture alongside the drawing are purely descriptive (and entirely correct): ‘red under-drapery at the wrists, and near the leg in Shadow | The upper drapery Blue over the ground though it is dark and green | and the neck and Head is Pale Yellow’. Turner’s copy is now faded and does not do justice to these colours. There are colour trials of blue wash at the right of the image.
For Turner’s copy of Guercino’s Mars and Venus see folio 35 (D04319), and of The Raising of Lazarus, folio 53 (D04342).

David Blayney Brown
July 2005

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