Joseph Mallord William Turner (British, 1775–1851)
Watercolor over graphite
14 3/16 x 9 1/4 in. (36 x 23.5 cm)
Rogers Fund, 1906 (06.1051.3)
Turner copied this view of an imaginary prison interior from an etching by the Italian printmaker, architect, archaeologist, art theorist, and designer Giovanni Battista Piranesi (17201778). Like other scenes from Piranesi's celebrated Carceri d'invenzione, this image (Dark Prison with a Courtyard for the Punishment of Criminals) presents a cavernous space crisscrossed by labyrinthine walkways and populated by diminutive figures. Turner made this drawing at the beginning of his career, presumably at the evening "Academy" of Dr. Thomas Monro (17591833), a pioneering psychologist who welcomed artists to his home to copy or color works in his collection. (Other versions after the present Piranesi design by members of the Monro circle are known.) Although Turner often worked in close collaboration with his friend Thomas Girtin in preparing copies, the present work appears to have been made by Turner alone.