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

ISBN 978-1-84976-386-8

Joseph Mallord William Turner Inscription by Turner: Notes on Colour, Light and Proportion, from Giovanni Paolo Lomazzo c.1809

Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775–1851
Folio 33 Verso:
Inscription by Turner: Notes on Colour, Light and Proportion, from Giovanni Paolo Lomazzo circa 1809
Turner Bequest CVIII 33a
Pen and ink on white wove paper, 88 x 115 mm
Inscribed by Turner in ink (see main catalogue entry)
Accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest 1856
The whole page is taken up with the following notes:
a double | effect | of color | The color of the thing and the light of the sun | upon that thing .. For Color cannot be seen | without light Philosopicaly the extreme superficies | of a dark untransparent body lightend | The Light comes to the eye in a <bl...> blunter and | bigger angle than shadow from a pyramidal [?form] | is the extreme light and ex. shade, and Titian add | a. [...]rtion of white to his light that gave such a | wonderfull Spirit of Elevation of figures. Per | [...] alone must determine their corresponding proportions | as the upper parts much elevated are hid and [?determined] | that he [?is] the <Appelles> or Phidias who correspondingly with | the situation of his statue according to the general rule | teaching that so much of the part must be added that | is lost by the distance Which rule Phidias and | Praxilites observed in Monte Cavallo which
Jerrold Ziff has identified these notes, continuing from the recto of the present leaf (D07407), as free transcriptions from the 1598 English edition of Giovanni Paolo Lomazzo’s Tracte Containing the Artes of Curious Paintinge Carvinge & Buildinge (see the sketchbook Introduction).1 Turner’s ‘a double effect of color’ in the top left corner is taken from a marginal heading in chapter II, ‘Of the Division of Painting’, of ‘The First Booke: Of the Naturall and Artificiall Proportion of Things’, page 19. The section to ‘lightend’ comes from page 19; to ‘shade’ from similar passages on pages 19 and 20; the passage on Titian from p.20; and the rest from page 22.
On page 20, Lomazzo argues that Titian went to extremes of light and shadow, so the corresponding ‘blunt’ angle of bright light and ‘acuter’ angles of shadows coming to the eye are emphasised. Turner’s notes are convoluted, as is Lomazzo’s text at this point; on page 19 he refers to the ‘Conus of the Pyramis [sic]’, and on page 20 to ‘Pyramidall forme’. On the latter page he says Titian would ‘add a little too much white’.
Marginal notes on page 21 flag the subject of ‘Proportion proper | Prop. Perspective’. Pages 21–2 relate to the proportions of a figure according to angle at which it is seen. Lomazzo explains on page 22:
because the statue being on high, and hee which beholdeth is belowe, the heade, face and upper partes, which come to the eie in a sharp angle, and the legges and lower partes in a blunte, whence the beholder will conclude that the upper partes are small in respect of the lower partes.
Now the Philosophicall and Perspective reason hereof is because when the statue is represented in the middest of the open aire, which being transparent, is filled with certaine visuall species (like unto those which are reflected from a looking glasse to the eie of the beholder,) which coming into the eie, meete with those visuall lines, which come in a pyramidal forme, whose cone toucheth the eie. Now the Painter must not observe both these proportions together in his worke, neither indeed can he. ... So that he only is represented a true Phidias, or exact Apelles, who proportioneth his statue or picture, answerable to the place where it is to be set, in respect of the beholders eie. ... according to the generall rule which teacheth; that so much of that parte must be added, as is lost by the distance of the place; ...
John Gage has noted the importance of Turner’s underlined passages to his thinking on the relationship between light, tone and colour in his later paintings.2
More of Turner’s extensive notes from Lomazzo appear later in the sketchbook; this passage continues immediately opposite on folio 34 recto (D07409). Ziff has observed that the anecdote about works by the ancient Greek sculptors Phidias and Praxiteles, which continues ‘Michael Angelo measured found them their faces to be as | much bigger as they lost by their elevation’, and a subsequent brief note about the same effect on the ‘Trajan column’ in Rome, also appear in Turner’s manuscripts for his Royal Academy perspective lectures.3 Trajan’s Column also features in notes on folios 34 recto, 35 recto, 35 verso, 36 verso, 37 recto, 37 verso and 61 verso (D07409, D07411, D07412, D07414–D07416, D07459).
The two giant marble statues referred to are those called variously ‘Alexander and Bucephalus’ (Alexander the Great’s horse), with both supposedly depicted twice, ‘Castor and Pollux’ (the ‘Dioscuri’), the ‘Horse Tamers’ and so on, in the Piazza del Quirinale, Rome. The area was formerly known on their account as Monte Cavallo – ‘cavallo’ being the Italian for ‘horse’. They were formerly attributed to Phidias and Praxiteles, following Roman inscriptions to that effect.4 In 1819, Turner drew the statues in the St Peter’s sketchbook on his first visit to Rome (Tate D16278; Turner Bequest CLXXXVIII 67). They are mentioned again here on folio 61 verso (D07459).

Matthew Imms
June 2008

Ziff 1984, p.49 note 6; see also Davies 1994, p.288; Lomazzo also checked directly.
Gage 1969, p.117.
Ziff 1984, p.49 note 11, citing Turner, ‘Royal Academy Lectures’, circa 1807–38, Department of Western Manuscripts, British Library, London, ADD MS 46151 C folio 7 verso, as from page 22 of Lomazzo.
Francis Haskell and Nicholas Penny, Taste and the Antique: The Lure of Classical Sculpture 1500–1900, New Haven and London 1981, pp.136–[141], figs.71 and 72.

How to cite

Matthew Imms, ‘Inscription by Turner: Notes on Colour, Light and Proportion, from Giovanni Paolo Lomazzo c.1809 by Joseph Mallord William Turner’, catalogue entry, June 2008, 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-inscription-by-turner-notes-on-colour-light-and-proportion-r1136604, accessed 04 March 2021.