J.M.W. Turner: Sketchbooks, Drawings and Watercolours

ISBN 978-1-84976-386-8

Joseph Mallord William Turner Hannibal Passing the Alps, for Rogers's 'Italy' c.1826-7

Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775–1851
Hannibal Passing the Alps, for Rogers’s ‘Italy’ circa 1826–7
Turner Bequest CCLXXX 149
Pencil and watercolour, approximately 151 x 204 mm on white wove paper, 243 x 305 mm
Inscribed by ?W.R. Smith in pencil with regular dots and marks (some of them punctured) framing all four sides of the vignette
Stamped in black ‘CCLXXX 149’ bottom right
Accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest 1856
Hannibal is the second, albeit much earlier, historical hero to appear crossing the Alps in Rogers’s Italy (the first being Napoleon, see Tate D27663; Turner Bequest CCLXXX 146). Turner here illustrates the moment in 218 BC when the Carthaginian general famously crossed the Alps with his army and a herd of elephants on his way to invading Italy. This vignette was engraved by W.R. Smith and appears as the headpiece to the eighth section of Italy, entitled ‘The Alps.’1 Rogers describes his encounter with the sublime Swiss landscape, which leads him to conjure up a dramatic vision of Hannibal’s historical crossing:
Who first beholds those everlasting clouds,
Seed-time and harvest, morning noon and night,
Still where they were, steadfast, immovable
Those mighty hills, so shadowy, so sublime,
As rather to belong to Heaven than Earth –
To me they seemed the barriers of a World,
Saying, Thus far, no farther! and as o’er
The level plain I travelled silently,
Nearing them more and more, day after day,
My wandering thoughts my only company,
And they before me still I felt as tho’ I gazed
For the first time! – Great was the tumult there,
Deafening the din, when in barbaric pomp
The Carthaginian on his march to Rome
Entered their fastnesses. Trampling the snows,
The war-horse reared; and the towered elephant
Upturned his trunk into the murky sky,
Then tumbled headlong, swallowed up and lost,
He and his rider.
(Italy, pp.29–30)
Turner’s interest in the subject of Hannibal crossing the Alps long predated his commission for Rogers’s Italy. He made his first sketch of the subject as early as 1798 (see Tate D01576; Turner Bequest XL 67) and later produced the full-scale canvas Snow Storm: Hannibal and his Army Crossing the Alps, which he exhibited in 1812 (Tate N00490).2 In this vignette, nature is sublime in scale but divested of the menacing power that it possesses in Snow Storm. Instead, Turner focuses on the pleasing aesthetic effects generated by the contrast between the pure white, monumental Swiss scenery and the miniature members of Hannibal’s army, particularly the African archer in the foreground.
An unusual amount of time and labour was lavished upon this vignette. Hannibal is among the few Italy vignettes where the studies demonstrate a significant evolution in Turner’s design.3 In establishing the composition, Turner experimented with three preliminary sketches (see Tate D27523, D27525 and Tate D27668; Turner Bequest CCLXXX 6, CCLXXX 8 and CCLXXX 151) and there is an additional small pencil sketch of Hannibal’s palanquin on the right-hand side of the finished vignette. Meanwhile, the engraver, Smith, produced four trial proofs before the plate was finally approved for publication. The printmakers employed on Italy normally made only one or two trial proofs for Turner to review and correct, so the high number produced for Hannibal illustrates the particular care the artist took with this design. Cecilia Powell has noted that faint pencil lines drawn around the vignettes were made by the engravers during the process of squaring-up the designs for reduction.4 In this instance regular marks and dots guided by a straight edge and some of them punctured, appear about every 7 mm framing all four sides of the vignette
Hannibal remains among the most emblematic of Turner’s Italy vignettes both for its fantastic disparities of scale and for the remarkable subtlety with which Smith translated it into print form. It is fitting that this superbly sublime depiction of the Alpine landscape is the final illustration of the Swiss portion of Rogers’s travels. The final verses of this section describe Rogers’s long-awaited entry into Italy:
    But now ’tis passed,
That turbulent Chaos; and the promised land
Lies at my feet in all its loveliness!
To him who starts up from a terrible dream,
And lo, the sun is shining, and the lark
Singing aloud for joy, to him is not
Such sudden ravishment as now I feel
At the first glimpses of fair Italy.
(Italy, p.31)
Samuel Rogers, Italy, London 1830, p.29; W.G. Rawlinson, The Engraved Work of J.M.W. Turner, R.A. vol.II, London 1913, no.356. There is one impression in Tate’s collection (T04644).
Martin Butlin and Evelyn Joll, The Paintings of J.M.W. Turner, revised ed., New Haven and London 1984, no.126.
Powell 1983, p.13 note 60.
Ibid., p.10.
Inscribed by unknown hands in pencil ‘1’ top left and ‘9’ and ‘5b’ centre and ‘CCLXXX.149’ bottom centre. Also in ink ‘[?1012]’ bottom left (inscription is partially obscured by paper mount). Furthermore there are two geometric compositions drawn in pencil centre left. One shows a line bisected by a perpendicular line, the other shows an acute angle, with one leg bisected by a perpendicular line.
Stamped in black ‘CCLXXX 149’ lower centre left

Meredith Gamer
August 2006

How to cite

Meredith Gamer, ‘Hannibal Passing the Alps, for Rogers’s ‘Italy’ c.1826–7 by Joseph Mallord William Turner’, catalogue entry, August 2006, in David Blayney Brown (ed.), J.M.W. Turner: Sketchbooks, Drawings and Watercolours, Tate Research Publication, December 2012, https://www.tate.org.uk/art/research-publications/jmw-turner/joseph-mallord-william-turner-hannibal-passing-the-alps-for-rogerss-italy-r1133300, accessed 30 May 2024.