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Sir James Thornhill, 1675–1734
Sketch for "The Conversion of St. Paul" for the Dome of St. Paul's Cathedral
between 1709 and 1717
Materials & Techniques:
Red chalk on thin, moderately textured, brown laid paper
Sheet: 9 1/2 × 11 3/4 inches (24.1 × 29.8 cm)

Inscribed in pen and brown ink, lower right: "a first Sketch of one of the pictures| of the Dome of St. Paul's"; inscribed on verso in graphite, upper left: "Sir Jas Thornhill| colls: Barnard | Lawrence | Arnal of Toulouse"; lower right: "D 25679 CH."

Collector’s mark: Henry Scipio Reitlinger (Lugt 2274a)

Credit Line:
Yale Center for British Art, Paul Mellon Collection
Copyright Status:
Public Domain
Accession Number:
Drawings & Watercolors
Prints and Drawings
Subject Terms:
awe | Christianity | history paintings | horses (animals) | preparatory studies | reclining | religious and mythological subject
Associated Places:
England | London | St. Paul's Cathedral | United Kingdom
Associated People:
Paul, the Apostle, St. (c. AD 5–c. AD 67)
Accessible by appointment in the Study Room [Request]
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IIIF Manifest:

The majority of Thornhill's commissions as a decorative painter were for domestic settings, although on a grand scale (see cat. 145). In 1714, however, he was awarded the prestigious public commission to decorate the cupola, lantern, and whispering Gallery of Sir Christopher Wren's St. Paul's Cathedral (see cat. 129) with "Scripturall History taken from the Acts of the Apostles." Church decoration provided careers for Thornhill's counterparts in France and Italy by was a rare opportunity in eighteenth century Protestant England; Thornhill's main competitors were the Italians Sebastiano Ricci and Giovanni Antonio Pellegrini.

Thornhill and his assistants concentrated on the St. Paul's project for three years, from 1714-1717. The Cupola and drum depicted scenes from the life of St. Paul, including the saint's conversion on the road to Damascus. Thornhill's work progressed from informal studies to large cartoons and finally wall painting itself in grisaille. Working studies such as this one allowed the artists to arrange compositional groupings and experiment with the placement and expression of figures, as his attention to the fallen St. Paul demonstrates. Thornhill was committed to training younger artists in these working methods, and he was one of the twelve original directors of the earliest art academy in England, Sir Godfrey Kneller's Academy in London. He later established his own drawing school at Convent garden where he taught William Hogarth (see cats. 147-8).

Morna O'Neill

Wilcox, Forrester, O'Neil, Sloan. The Line of Beauty: British Drawings and Watercolors of the Eighteenth Century. Yale Center for British Art, New Haven, 2001, pg. 173 cat. no. 146

The Line of Beauty : British Drawings and Watercolors of the Eighteenth Century (Yale Center for British Art, 2001-05-19 - 2001-08-05) [YCBA Objects in the Exhibition] [Exhibition Description]

Scott Wilcox, Line of beauty : British drawings and watercolors of the eighteenth century, , Yale Center for British Art, New Haven, CT, 2001, p. 173, no. 146, NC228 W53 2001 (YCBA) [YCBA]

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