Joseph Mallord William Turner

Ulysses and Nausicaa


In Tate Britain

Prints and Drawings Room

View by appointment
Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775–1851
Support: 117 × 182 mm
Accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest 1856
Turner Bequest XCVIII 3

Catalogue entry

For the subjects in this sketchbook illustrating Homer’s Odyssey see Introduction to the sketchbook, the continuation of the present sketch on folio 2 verso (D40594) and folios 4 verso–5 (D41507–D06186).
The subject here is from Book 6 of the Odyssey. It depicts the next stage of the narrative after the premature preparations for Nausicaa’s hoped-for marriage, which Turner sketched in outline as an upright composition in his contemporary Studies for Pictures: Isleworth sketchbook (Tate D05573; Turner Bequest XC 52a); there, the girl and her entourage have gone in a procession, inspired by Athena, to wash her bridal garments in a pool. Now, they have set their laundry aside to play games and Nausicaa herself, breaking off to chase a stray ball, encounters the shipwrecked Ulysses. The city ruled by her parents is visible through the trees. Commenting on the narrative, Nicholson notes that the graceful style of the drawing and elegant proportions of the figures convey the ‘genteel nature’ of the meeting between Ulysses and Nausicaa.1
The Studies for Pictures: Isleworth design is annotated both with its own subject and a reference to Dido and Aeneas, anticipating the connection between the stories of the two couples seen in the present sketchbook where they are represented on adjacent pages (see folio 2; D06182 for Dido and Aeneas) in similarly rhythmic, Claude-like compositions. Nicholson observes that Turner’s sense of the rapport between these themes shows his sensitive readings of the poems, since Virgil based his account in the Aeneid of Aeneas’s first sight of Dido on Homer’s of Ulysses’s encounter with Nausicaa.2 See also folio 5 of the sketchbook (D06186) for another Odyssey subject, Ulysses’s taunting of Polyphemus which, as Nicholson further comments, complements the Nausicaa episode by showing contrasting aspects of his character. While the interlude on her island following his shipwreck shows him in humble and supplicant mode, his defiance of Polyphemus proclaims his heroic courage.

David Blayney Brown
July 2008

Nicholson 1990, p.272.
Ibid., p.281.

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