"Dark Prison (Carcere Oscura)"

Artist: Joseph Mallord William Turner (British, London 1775–1851 London)

Artist: After Giovanni Battista Piranesi (Italian, Mogliano Veneto 1720–1778 Rome)

Date: 1790–99

Medium: Watercolor over graphite

Dimensions: Sheet: 14 3/16 x 9 1/4 in. (36 x 23.5 cm)

Classification: Drawings

Credit Line: Rogers Fund, 1906

Accession Number: 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 (1720–1778). 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 criss-crossed 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 (1759–1833), 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.