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

ISBN 978-1-84976-386-8

Joseph Mallord William Turner Temples of Paestum, for Rogers's 'Italy' c.1826-7

Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775–1851
Temples of Paestum, for Rogers’s ‘Italy’ circa 1826–7
Turner Bequest CCLXXX 148
Watercolour, gouache, and pen and ink, approximately 95 x 180 mm on white wove paper, 240 x 305 mm
Stamped in black ‘CCLXXX 148’ bottom right
Accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest 1856
This vignette was engraved by John Pye and appears as the head-piece for the forty-third section of Rogers’s Italy, entitled ‘Pæstum’.1 Pye was paid £35 for each of his engravings of Paestum and Tivoli (see Tate D27683; Turner Bequest CCLXXX 166) and the high price reflects his rank as one of the most important engravers of his day.2 Most of the other engravers of Italy vignettes were only paid 20 guineas.
The three fifth-century Doric Greek temples at Paestum were rediscovered in the mid eighteenth century and soon became the southernmost destination for many English travellers on the Grand Tour, including Turner himself during his 1819–20 journey through Italy.3 Turner here depicts two buildings; in the centre the so-called Temple of Neptune and in the distance on the right-hand side, a basilica (now both identified as part of a Sanctuary of Hera). A preparatory study for this subject shows that the artist considered presenting a distant view of all three temples (see Tate, D72609; Turner Bequest CCLXXX 92). However, in the end he decided to provide a close-up, three-quarter view of the central, and best preserved temple.
Turner had produced numerous sketches of the temples of Paestum during his 1819 tour of Italy (see Tate, D15945–6, D15967–73, D15980, D15995–7; Turner Bequest CLXXXVI 19a–19b, 28a–31a, 35, 42a–43a). However, although Turner may have referred to these drawings to refresh his memory, he certainly did not copy from them directly. Cecilia Powell has pointed out that Turner inaccurately represents the central temple with only eleven lateral columns, even though he noted the correct number in his earlier on-site sketches (see Tate D13953, Turner Bequest CLXXII 20 and D15971, D15972; Turner Bequest CLXXXVI 29–29b).4 She also observes that Turner has depicted the temple in a restored, complete state, rather than as the group of ruins which he actually saw and sketched.5 Nor was Turner overly concerned with correctly illustrating Rogers’s text down to every last detail. As Cecilia Powell has noted, Rogers’s describes a buffalo driver, who, in passing by the temples, ‘points to the work of magic and moves on,’ but Turner’s image shows a shepherd, who appears to be guiding his flock away from the impending storm.6
Rogers’s visit to Paestum made a deep impression upon him and his description of this experience was to become one of the most popular chapters in Italy.7 His lines would have already been familiar to many readers, for they had appeared along with his poem A Human Life (1819) and again in a new edition of his Poems in 1822. The verses offer a characteristic expression of Rogers’s response to the ancient architecture and history of Italy. For the poet, the ruins of Italy are at one with their natural surroundings but nonetheless subject to the ruinous effects of time:
They stand between the mountains and the sea;
Awful memorials, but of whom we know not!
    Nothing stirs
Save the shrill-voiced cicala flitting round
On the rough pediment to sit and sing;
Or the green lizard rustling through the grass,
And up the fluted shaft with short quick spring,
To vanish in the chinks that Time has made.
(Italy, pp.207–9)
Although Rogers’s text describes calm weather and the air ‘sweet with violets’, Turner presents the temples amidst gathering storm clouds. The reason for this can be found in the final and crucial lines of the passage on Paestum. Referring again to the temples, Rogers writes:
But what are These still standing in the midst?
The Earth has rocked beneath; the Thunder-stone
Passed thro’ and thro’, and left its traces there;
Yet still they stand as by some Unknown Charter!
Oh, they are Nature’s own! and, as allied
To the vast Mountains and the eternal Sea,
They want no written history; theirs a voice
For ever speaking to the heart of Man!
(Italy, p.211)
Turner here represents the temples withstanding the blows of the ‘Thunder-stones’ (an archaic term for thunderbolt) to which Rogers refers. Able to hold their own against the forces of nature, these man-made monuments have become ‘Nature’s own’, and thus a permanent part of the natural landscape. Although the storm and lightning are considerably more subdued in Turner’s watercolour than in Pye’s engraving, Turner frequently neglected to paint the skies in his Italy vignettes and seems instead to have provided specific instructions to the engravers about how to depict them. He carefully oversaw the engraving of his designs and it is likely that he intended these effects to be rendered with greater intensity in the final illustration. Even so, Ruskin would later chide Pye for having rendered the storm too feebly.8
Turner combined ancient structures and sublime landscape effects in a number of his other works. This vignette is closely linked to a colour study (see Tate, D36070; Turner Bequest CCCLXIV 224) and related mezzotint from the ‘Little Liber’ series, also entitled ‘Paestum’, which shows one of the ancient temples with lightning and an animal skeleton in the foreground. The ‘Little Liber’ designs date to 1824–26, around the same time that Turner produced his illustrations for Italy, and this image may well have been inspired by Rogers’s lines.9 Turner again combines these motifs in later works, including Stone Henge, circa 1827 (Salisbury and South Wiltshire Museum),10 engraved in 1829 for Picturesque Views in England and Wales,11 and Temple of Poseidon at Sunium (Cape Colonna), circa 1834 (Tate, T07561).12
Cecilia Powell has noted that the faint pencil lines drawn around this vignette were made by the engravers during the process of squaring-up the designs for reduction.13
Samuel Rogers, Italy, London 1830, p.207; W.G. Rawlinson, The Engraved Work of J.M.W. Turner, R.A., vol.II, London 1913, no.369. Two impressions are in Tate’s collection (T04664 and T04665).
Piggott 1993, p.28.
J.R. Hale (ed), The Italian Journal of Samuel Rogers, London 1956, p.87.
Powell 1983, p.8.
Ibid. p.4.
Hale (ed) 1956, p.113.
Piggott 1993, p.28 and Cook and Wedderburn (eds.) 1903–12, vol.III, pp.412–4.
Piggott 1993, p.39.
Wilton 1979, no.81.
Rawlinson 1913, vol.II, no.235. Two impressions are in Tate’s collection (T04549 and T06083).
Wilton 1979, no.497.
Powell 1983, p.10.
Inscribed by unknown hands in pencil ‘4 | a’ centre right and ‘CCLXXX 148’ bottom centre
Stamped in black ‘CCLXXX 148’ centre

Meredith Gamer
August 2006

How to cite

Meredith Gamer, ‘Temples of Paestum, 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-temples-of-paestum-for-rogerss-italy-r1133325, accessed 30 May 2024.