Joseph Mallord William Turner

Two Sketches of the Head of Christ, Then Attributed to Michelangelo, in Sant’Agnese fuori le mura, Rome; the So-Called Sedia del Diavolo; and details from a Bas-Relief


In Tate Britain

Prints and Drawings Room

View by appointment
Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775–1851
Graphite and watercolour on paper
Support: 255 × 130 mm
Accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest 1856
Turner Bequest CXC 5

Catalogue entry

The two sketches in the top left-hand corner of this page have been identified by Cecilia Powell as studies of a sculptural bust of Christ from the Church of Sant’Agnese fuori le mura on the Via Nomentana in Rome.1 The statue, found in front of an altar of a chapel dedicated to Saints Stephen and Lorenzo, is now attributed to the French artist, Nicolas Cordier (1565–1612).2 Turner’s interest however, derives from the fact that during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries the head was believed to be the work of Michelangelo and was widely mentioned in guidebooks and travel literature.3 He annotated a small pen and ink sketch of Sant’Agnese fuori le mura copied from Select Views in Italy by John ‘Warwick’ Smith, with the words ‘a Bust of Saviour | by MAngelo’, see the Italian Guide Book Sketchbook (Tate D13966; Turner Bequest CLXXII 19, third from top right). For sketches of the exterior of the church, see folio 61 verso (D16430; Turner Bequest CXC 24a). Turner also made a study of a marble candelabrum found to the left of the altar, see folio 68 verso (D16441; Turner Bequest CXC 31a).
Beneath the head of Christ can be found a small study of the so-called Sedia del Diavolo, a tomb on the Via Nomentana, in between the Ponte Nomentana and Sant’Agnese fuori le mura.4 More detailed sketches of the monument can be found on folios 25 verso, 26 verso, 39, 42 and 43 (D16426, D16428, D16458, D16462 and D16463; Turner Bequest CXC 22a, 23a, 44, 47 and 48) and the tomb can also be seen in relation to the Ponte Nomentano on folios 24 verso and 45 (D16424 and D16465; Turner Bequest CXC 21a and 50). The Sedia del Diavolo is the monument featured in Turner’s vignette illustration, Campagna of Rome circa 1827, for Rogers’s Italy (see Tate D27678; CCLXXX 161), not as previously suggested the so-called Temple of Salus on the Via Appia Nuova.5 Despite the apparent swiftness and spontaneity of this drawing, it appears to be the closest to the composition of the vignette watercolour.
The subject of the third remaining element on this page has not yet been identified although the sketch appears to represent details from a bas-relief. Further studies showing similar figures from a decorative frieze can be found on folios 24 and 50 verso (D16423 and D16472; Turner Bequest CXC 21 and CXC 56v).

Nicola Moorby
May 2009

Powell 1984, p.428.
Touring club italiano, Roma e Dintorni, 6th edition, Milan 1977, p.318.
See Powell 1984, p.484 note 90.
See photographs in Oreste Ferrari, Tea Marintelli, Valerie Scott et al., Thomas Ashby: Un Archeologo Fotografa la Campagna Romana Tra ’800 e’900, Rome 1986, p.32, no.10 figs.1–4.
Cecilia Powell, ‘Turner on Classic Ground: His Visits to Central and Southern Italy and Related Paintings and Drawings’, unpublished Ph.D thesis, Courtauld Institute of Art, University of London 1984, p.428.

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