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

ISBN 978-1-84976-386-8

Joseph Mallord William Turner The Temple of Minerva Medica ('Hindoo Devotions' or 'The Hindoo Worshipper') c.1808

Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775–1851
The Temple of Minerva Medica (‘Hindoo Devotions’ or ‘The Hindoo Worshipper’) circa 1808
Turner Bequest CXVII A
Watercolour on white wove writing paper, 202 x 273 mm
Blind-stamped with Turner Bequest monogram bottom right
Accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest 1856
Etching and mezzotint by Turner and Robert Dunkarton, untitled, published Turner, 1 January 1811
The domed ruin in the background of this design, published without a title in the Liber Studiorum, still stands on what is now the via Giolliti, east of the centre of Rome; it has since been identified as a nymphaeum,1 but had come to be known by Turner’s time as the Temple of Minerva Medica. Turner did not visit Italy until 1819 (when he made numerous drawings of the building – see below), and probably based his drawing on topographical prints, perhaps by Giovanni Battista Piranesi (1720–1778), three of whose etchings show the building’s ruined, open side.2 However, despite the building’s being well known and the large sections of classical entablature in the foreground, the presence of a kneeling man, dressed only in a white turban and dhoti and praying at a wayside shrine (more clearly defined in the subsequent print), led to the various early identifications of the composition as a Hindu religious scene.
William Chubb has related the theme of this composition and the similar Liber design Scene in the Campagna (for drawing see Tate D08141; Turner Bequest CXVII N) to contemporary Indian topographical views by British artists;3 Turner also took notes on the Hindu gods from Alexander Dow’s History of Hindostan (London 1768; new edition, London 1803), and from Sir William Jones’s essays On the Chronology of the Hindoos and On the Gods of Greece, Italy and India (1789 and 1790; collected edition, London 1799) in his Finance sketchbook, in use by 1807 (Tate D08346, D08348; Turner Bequest CXXII 40, 41).4 Jones saw parallels in the myths of ancient civilisations, and related these back to the Biblical account of the scattering of the earth’s previously homogeneous peoples and the confusion of their languages as God’s punishment for the building of the Tower of Babel.5
Chubb suggests that Turner was thus making an oblique reference to Jones’s writings by including both classical and Hindu elements.6 Rawlinson felt Turner was contrasting ‘the simplicity of the wayside worship and the half-clad worshipper, with the departed glories of a more elaborate faith and a higher civilization’.7 As with other designs engraved for the Liber’s ‘EP’ category (probably for ‘Elevated Pastoral’ – see general Liber introduction), Turner is also dependent on a sense of timelessness derived from the landscapes of Claude Lorrain. Without directly criticising Claude’s influence in this instance, Ruskin dismissed the Italianate trees here and in Scene in the Campagna, in comparison to Turner’s depictions of his native British woods: ‘fine in their arrangement, but they are very pitiful pines’.8 Stopford Brooke described the scene as ‘an ideal reminiscence of Rome’, dismissed ‘the nonsense title of “Hindoo Devotions”’, and – without access to Turner’s notes listing it as such (see below) – correctly identified the temple, which ‘might almost have been directly sketched from that of Minerva Medica.’9
Although Chubb and Gillian Forrester credit Thornbury’s 1862 biography of Turner with the title ‘Hindoo Devotions’ and ‘Hindoo Worshipping’,10 the first variant had been published a few years previously;11 the second derives from MS notes by Turner’s friend and patron Charles Stokes,12 a version of which Thornbury consulted. The present title is the customary one established by Finberg in 1924, with reference to Piranesi and based on the artist’s notes;13 Turner had recorded the composition as ‘7[:] 2 Minerva Medica’, in the Liber Notes (2) sketchbook (Tate D12157; Turner Bequest CLIV (a) 24), in a draft schedule of the first ten parts of the Liber (D12156–D12158; CLIV (a) 23a–24a)14 dated by Finberg and Forrester to before the middle of 1808.15 It also appears later in the sketchbook, again as ‘Minerva Medica’, in a list of published and unpublished ‘EP’ subjects (Tate D12162; Turner Bequest CLIV (a) 26a).16
The Liber Studiorum etching and mezzotint engraving, etched by Turner and engraved by Robert Dunkarton, bears the publication date 1 January 1811 and was issued to subscribers in part 5 (Rawlinson/Finberg nos.22–26;17 see also Tate D08127, D08129, D08130, D08131; Turner Bequest CXVI Z, CXVII B, C, D). Tate holds impressions of the preliminary outline etching (Tate A00956) and the published engraving (A00957). It is one of eleven published Liber subjects in Turner’s ‘EP’ category, likely to indicate ‘Elevated Pastoral’ (see general Liber introduction, and drawings Tate D08103, D08112, D08117, D08122, D08132, D08137, D08141, D08146, D08147, D08152, D08155, D08159, D08163, D08168; CXVI B, K, P, U, CXVII E, J, N, R, S, X, CXVIII A, Vaughan Bequest CXVIII E, I, N).
On his 1819 visit to Rome, Turner made drawings of the actual building in various sketchbooks: Albano, Nemi, Rome (Tate D15401–D15403, D15412, D15413; Turner Bequest CLXXXII 55, 55a, 56, 60a, 61); St Peter’s (Tate D16318; Turner Bequest CLXXXVIII 87a); Rome: Colour Studies (Tate D16362; Turner Bequest CLXXXIX 35); and Small Roman Colour Studies (Tate D16436–D16438; Turner Bequest CXC 27a, 28, 29). Of these, the Rome: Colour Studies drawing, worked up in watercolour, is the most developed.
‘Nymphaeum (2)’, in Samuel Ball Platner and Thomas Ashby, A Topographical Dictionary of Ancient Rome, London 1929, p.365, transcribed in The Perseus Digital Library, accessed 7 April 2006, http://www.perseus.tufts.edu.
Piranesi Luigi Ficacci, Giovanni Battista Piranesi: The Complete Etchings, Cologne 2000, p.94 pl.162, p.185 pl.165, p.727 pl.945.
William Chubb, ‘Minerva Medica and The Tall Tree’, Turner Studies, vol.1, no.2, 1991, pp.[26]–35.
Ibid., pp.28, 34–5 (Turner’s notes and source texts transcribed).
Ibid., pp.28–9; see Genesis 11:1–9
See also Forrester 1996, p.72.
Rawlinson 1878, p.52.
Cook and Wedderburn III 1903, p.237.
Brooke 1885, p.78.
Thornbury 1862 [1861], vol.II, respectively pp.388 no.10 (drawing) and 365 (print).
Burnet and Cunningham 1859, p.121 no.22.
Forrester 1996, p.72, note 3.
Finberg 1924, pp.89–92 no.23.
Forrester 1996, pp.160–1 (transcribed).
Finberg 1924, p.xliii; Forrester 1996, pp.13–14.
Forrester 1996, p.161 (transcribed).
Rawlinson 1878, pp.50–8; 1906, pp.59–68; Finberg 1924, pp.85–104.
Technical notes:
The sky was first washed evenly, then the lights washed out. Washing was followed by brushwork with thin, wet washes, pale sepia being used in the foliage. There is possibly some rubbing-out using bread in the middle ground; parallel scratching-out marks on the fragment of cornice in the foreground were made with a mezzotint rocker tool. The overall warm brown colour comprises pigments of burnt sienna and sepia shades.1
Joyce Townsend, circa 1995, Tate conservation files, with slides of details; see also Townsend 1996, I, p.379.
Blank, save for inscriptions.
Inscribed in pencil ‘11’ [circled], centre, ‘23’ bottom left, and ‘CXVII. A’ bottom centre
Stamped in black ‘[crown] | N•G | CXVII – A’ bottom left

Matthew Imms
August 2008

How to cite

Matthew Imms, ‘The Temple of Minerva Medica (‘Hindoo Devotions’ or ‘The Hindoo Worshipper’) c.1808 by Joseph Mallord William Turner’, catalogue entry, August 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-the-temple-of-minerva-medica-hindoo-devotions-or-the-hindoo-r1131730, accessed 19 June 2024.