J. M. W. Turner

Lecture Diagram 10: Proportion and Design of Part of Raphael’s ‘Transfiguration’ (ca. 1810)

The Transfiguration by Raphael (Pinacoteca Vaticana) was seen by Turner in the Louvre, Paris, in 1802. This diagrammatic treatment must have been based on engraved sources as no other drawing by Turner made directly from the picture is known. At the conclusion of the version of Lecture 1 delivered on 7 January 1811, as Professor of Perspective at the Royal Academy, Turner returns to the role of geometry in the history of painting. His diagram of The Transfiguration demonstrates how the upper part of the composition is made up of intersecting triangles, forming a pyramid, and shows how the figure of Christ is larger than the others because it is nearer to the viewer. Turner claims that it would be presumptuous on his part to say whether Raphael ‘had any allegorical intention in placing the three figures at the top of the picture,’ only that it was clear from the design the extent to which he followed geometric rules. As he puts it, ‘the higher the authority the stronger may it be affirmed that lines cooperate and that chance could not have produced the positive geometric figure in the “Transfiguration” which is now placed before us’. (source: Tate)
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