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Creator:
Joseph Mallord William Turner, 1775–1851, British
Title:

Lake Avernus: Aeneas and the Cumaean Sibyl

Former Title(s):

Lake Avernus: Aeneas and the Cumaean Sybil

Date:
between 1814 and 1815
Medium:
Oil on canvas
Dimensions:
28 1/4 x 38 1/4 inches (71.8 x 97.2 cm) and 36 1/2 × 47 × 3 inches (92.7 × 119.4 × 7.6 cm)
Credit Line:
Yale Center for British Art, Paul Mellon Collection
Copyright Status:
Public Domain
Accession Number:
B1977.14.78
Classification:
Paintings
Collection:
Paintings and Sculpture
Subject Terms:
Aeneas' visit to the underworld | armor | castle | city | costume | darkness | epics | hills | lake | landscape | legend | men | mountains | mythology | poem | relief | religious and mythological subject | Roman | ruins | ruins | shield | soldiers | the arrival of Aeneas at Cumae, where they consult Deiphobe, the Cumaean Sibyl, who foretells of Aeneas' wars in Latium | woman
Associated Places:
Averno, Lago d' | Avernus, Lake | Campania | Cumae | Italy | Napoli
Associated People:
Sibyl of Cumae
Publius Vergilius Maro (70 BC–19 BC), classical Roman poet
Aeneas
Access:
Not on view
Link:
https://collections.britishart.yale.edu/catalog/tms:5010
Export:
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IIIF Manifest:
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The Cumaean Sibyl occupied a cave complex above Lake Avernus, near Naples, and was highly respected in antiquity as an oracle of Apollo. In Virgil’s Aeneid, Aeneas consults the sibyl to seek guidance on his destiny after abandoning Dido in Carthage. J. M.W. Turner shows Aeneas sacrificing to Apollo before receiving the god’s answer through the sibyl. Dissatisfied, Aeneas then asks the sibyl to let him go down to Hades to speak with his dead father. This picture was made for Sir Richard Colt Hoare, the antiquarian and amateur artist who owned the celebrated landscape garden at Stourhead in Wiltshire, which was designed to evoke the ideal Italianate landscapes that Turner emulated in this painting. Since Turner did not visit Italy until 1819, Hoare supplied Turner with his own sketches of the landscape at Cumae. Hoare intended to pair Turner’s painting with Lake Nemi with Diana and Callisto (1758) by Richard Wilson, which was already at Stourhead.

Gallery label for installation of YCBA collection, 2022



The Cumaean Sibyl occupied a cave complex above Lake Avernus, near Naples, and was highly respected in antiquity as an oracle of Apollo. In Virgil’s Aeneid, Aeneas consults the sibyl to seek guidance on his destiny after abandoning Dido in Carthage. J. M. W. Turner shows Aeneas sacrificing to Apollo before receiving the god’s answer through the sibyl. Dissatisfied, Aeneas then asks the sibyl to let him go down to Hades to speak with his dead father. This picture was made for Sir Richard Colt Hoare, the antiquarian and amateur artist who owned the celebrated landscape garden at Stourhead in Wiltshire, which was designed to evoke the ideal Italianate landscapes that Turner emulated in this painting. Since Turner did not visit Italy until 1819, Hoare supplied Turner with his own sketches of the landscape at Cumae. Hoare intended to pair Turner’s painting with Lake Nemi with Diana and Callisto (1758) by Richard Wilson, which was already at Stourhead.

Gallery label for installation of YCBA collection, 2016



The story of Aeneas and the Sibyl is in the sixth book of Virgil's Aeneid. After landing at Cumae, near Naples, Aeneas begs the Sibyl (a prophetess and priestess of Apollo) to take him into the underworld to meet the ghost of his dead father. She tells him he must first break off a golden bough from a tree in a neighboring grove to bring as an offering for Proserpine, queen of the underworld. The Sibyl then leads Aeneas to a cave near Lake Avernus-from the Greek for "birdless," owing to the noxious vapors rising from the underworld-and thence they descend. This ancient poem, about leaving the realm of light and entering the darkness, appealed powerfully to the Romantic imagination, and to Turner's interest in the landscape of myth, as well as the operation of natural light. The artist adopts here the luminous manner of Claude Lorrain, long before he had visited Rome.

Gallery label for installation of YCBA collection, 2009



The story of Aeneas and the Sibyl is from the sixth book of Virgil's "Aeneid." The Trojan hero and his men land on the Italian coast at Cumae, near Naples, a famous shrine to the god Apollo. Knowing there is an entrance to the underworld near by, he begs the Sibyl (Apollo's priestess and prophetess) to take him to see the shade of his dead father. She tells him he must first break off a golden bough from a tree in a neighboring grove to take as an offering for the queen of the underworld, Proserpine. Then she leads him to a cave near Lake Avernus, named from the Greek for "birdless" since the vapors rising from the underworld killed any birds flying overhead, and here they make their descent. As the tale of a hero who braves the unknown, leaving Apollo's realm of light and sun to follow his destiny in the nether regions, this was the kind of classical legend that appealed most powerfully to the Romantic imagination.

Gallery label for installation of YCBA collection, 2008
The story of Aeneas and the Sibyl is from the sixth book of Virgil's Aeneid. The Trojan hero and his men have landed on the Italian coast at Cumae, near Naples, which is famous as a shrine to the god Apollo. Here Aeneas consults the Sibyl, Deiphobe, who serves as the god's priestess and prophetic mouthpiece. He knows that within the sacred precincts there is an entrance to the underworld, and begs the Sibyl to take him down to the nether regions to see the shade of his dead father, Anchises. The Sibyl tells him of a tree in a neighboring grove that bears a golden bough; if he breaks this off and takes it as an offering to the queen of the underworld, Proserpine, it will protect him from the perils of the journey. She leads him to a cave near Lake Avernus, named from the Greek for "birdless" since its hellish vapors supposedly killed any birds flying overhead. He makes sacrificial offerings to Proserpine and Pluto; then he and the Sibyl make their descent into the underworld, carrying the golden bough. In the Elysian Fields Aeneas meets the shade of his father, who shows him the souls of his descendants as yet unborn, the line of kings, consuls, and emperors who will rule the future Rome. As the story of a hero who braves the unknown, leaving Apollo's realm of light and sun to follow his destiny in that of Stygian gloom, this was the kind of classical legend that appealed most powerfully to the Romantic imagination.
Turner shows the Sibyl holding aloft the golden bough, gesturing toward the lake, and calling upon Aeneas to follow her: "Now, Trojan, take the way thy fates afford; / Assume thy courage, and unsheathe thy sword" (from the translation by Dryden, which Turner probably used). A couple of his men and a priest are making a burnt offering, presumably part of the sacrifices to Proserpine and Pluto. In the shadows to the right, a foretaste of the darkness of the underworld, the relief carved on a piece of fallen masonry represents the parallel story of the twelfth labor of Hercules, in which the hero descends into the underworld to bring back the monstrous three-headed guard-dog Cerberus. The view over the lake is from the north side looking south. The ruins on the edge of the lake to the left were believed in Turner's time to be an ancient temple of Apollo, but are in fact Roman baths. The large building in the distance on the right is the Castle of Baiae; and the island visible on the horizon is Capri. The fall of light indicates late afternoon or early evening: Aeneas prepares to enter the darkness of the underworld just as darkness encroaches on the world above.
As the second version of a picture of more or less the same size, painted in about 1798, this is a rare instance of Turner's repeating himself.1 He had never seen Lake Avernus (he was to make his first visit to Italy in 1819- 20) and based the first version on a topographical drawing by Sir Richard Colt Hoare of Stourhead, Wiltshire. Hoare was a lover of Italy and the Antique, and as a child had watched his grandfather Henry Hoare create the magnificent classical gardens at Stourhead, with their lake and temples-including one dedicated to Apollo. As well as providing the drawing, Hoare may actually have commissioned the first version of Lake Avernus, probably to hang as a pendant to a view of Lake Nemi by Richard Wilson that was already at Stourhead: the canvases are close in size; they deal with related subjects-Lake Nemi was associated with Apollo's sister Diana-and the Turner was obviously intended as an imitation of Wilson's style.2 The exact chain of events is a matter for speculation, but we know that Hoare did commission this, the second version, and that it did hang as a pendant to the Wilson at Stourhead. Perhaps there was an exchange in which Turner took back the first version-which would explain why it was in his studio at his death and became part of the Turner Bequest (Tate Gallery). Certainly the second version represents the artist more impressively than the first; with its brighter palette and wonderfully subtle effects of aerial perspective, it typifies his artistic development around the middle of his career.

Malcolm Warner

Julia Marciari-Alexander, This other Eden, paintings from the Yale Center for British Art, Yale Center for British Art, New Haven, CT, 1998, p.88, no. 31, ND1314.3 Y36 1998 (YCBA)

Turner (British Council - Japan) (The National Museum of Western Art, 1986-08 - 1986-09) [YCBA Objects in the Exhibition]

Turner (British Council - Japan) (Kyoto Municipal Museum of Art, 1986-10 - 1986-11) [YCBA Objects in the Exhibition]

Romanticism (Gallerie d'Italia - Piazza Scala, 2018-10-25 - 2019-03-17) [YCBA Objects in the Exhibition]

Richard Wilson and the Transformation of European Landscape Painting (National Museum Wales, 2014-07-05 - 2014-10-26) [YCBA Objects in the Exhibition]

Richard Wilson and the Transformation of European Landscape Painting (Yale Center for British Art, 2014-03-06 - 2014-06-01) [YCBA Objects in the Exhibition]

Turner and Italy (Szépmuvészeti Múzeum, Budapest, 2009-07-15 - 2009-10-25) [YCBA Objects in the Exhibition]

Turner and Italy (National Gallery of Scotland, 2009-03-26 - 2009-06-07) [YCBA Objects in the Exhibition]

Turner and Italy (Palazzo dei Diamanti, Ferrara, 2008-11-16 - 2009-02-22) [YCBA Objects in the Exhibition]

Nobleness and Grandeur - Forging Historical Landscape in Britain, 1760 - 1850 (Yale Center for British Art, 2005-01-27 - 2005-04-24) [YCBA Objects in the Exhibition]

Great British Paintings from American Collections: Holbein to Hockney (The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens, 2002-02-01 - 2002-05-05) [YCBA Objects in the Exhibition]

Great British Paintings from American Collections: Holbein to Hockney (Yale Center for British Art, 2001-09-27 - 2001-12-30) [YCBA Objects in the Exhibition]

This Other Eden : British Paintings from the Paul Mellon Collection at Yale (Art Gallery of South Australia, 1998-09-16 - 1998-11-15) [YCBA Objects in the Exhibition]

This Other Eden : British Paintings from the Paul Mellon Collection at Yale (Queensland Art Gallery, 1998-07-15 - 1998-09-06) [YCBA Objects in the Exhibition]

This Other Eden : British Paintings from the Paul Mellon Collection at Yale (Art Gallery of New South Wales, 1998-05-01 - 1998-07-05) [YCBA Objects in the Exhibition]

J. M. W. Turner (Musée du Louvre, 1983-10-14 - 1984-01-16) [YCBA Objects in the Exhibition]

Classic Ground - British Artists and the Landscape of Italy, 1740-1830 (Yale Center for British Art, 1981-07-29 - 1981-09-20) [YCBA Objects in the Exhibition]

J. M. W. Turner - A Selection of Paintings from the Collection of Mr. and Mrs. Paul Mellon (National Gallery of Art, 1968-10-31 - 1969-04-21) [YCBA Objects in the Exhibition]

Painting in England 1700-1850 - From The Collection of Mr. and Mrs. Paul Mellon (Yale University Art Gallery, 1965-04-15 - 1965-06-20) [YCBA Objects in the Exhibition]

Walter Armstrong, Turner, Thos. Agnew and Sons Ltd., London, 1902, p. 218, Folio A N 11 (YCBA) [OCLC]

Duncan Bull, Classic ground, British artists and the landscape of Italy, 1740-1830 , Yale Center for British Art, New Haven, 1981, pp. 17-19, cat. 1, 4, ND1354.4 B85 (YCBA) [YCBA]

Martin Butlin, The paintings of J.M.W. Turner, The Paul Mellon Centre for Studies in British Art, New Haven, 1984, v.1: pp. 24, 87, 135-36, 279; v.2: pl. 5, no. 226, pl. 51, NJ18 T85 B885 1984 OVERSIZE (YCBA) [YCBA]

Christie's sale catalogue : Stourhead heirlooms: pictures by old masters of the Italian, French, and Dutch schools; fine works of the early English school, and drawings : 2 June 1883, , Christie's, Christie, Manson & Woods, London, June 2, 1883, p. 5, Lot 17, Fiche B51 (YCBA) Also Available online : Art Sales Catalgues - Lugt # 43108 [YCBA]

Malcolm Cormack, A Concise Catalogue of Paintings in the Yale Center for British Art, Yale Center for British Art, New Haven, CT, 1985, pp. 226, 227, N590.2 A83 (YCBA) [YCBA]

Gabriele Crepaldi, Turner, Prestel, Munich ; London, 2011, pp. 70-71, NJ18.T85 C75 2011 (YCBA) [YCBA]

J. C. Eade, Projecting the landscape, no. 4, Humanities Research Centre, Australian National University, Canberra, 1987, pl. 25, N8213 P76 (YCBA) [YCBA]

Gerald Finley, Love & Duty: Turner and the Aeneas Legend, Zeitschrift f r Kunstgeschichte, vol. 55, 1990, p. 385, Available online Available online through JStor [ORBIS]

John Gage, Turner and Stourhead: The Making of a Classicist?, Art Quarterly, vol. 37, Spring 1974, pp. 59-87, J10 Ar 81 + (LSF) [ORBIS]

Vic Gatrell, The first bohemians, life and art in London's golden age , Allen Lane, London, 2013, pp. 209, 210, fig. 89, NX544.L6 G37 2013 (YCBA) [YCBA]

Marco Goldin, Turner e gli impressionisti, la grande storia del paesaggio moderno in Europa , Linea d'ombra srl, Conegliano [Italy], 2006, p. 117, ND192.I4 T87 2006 + (YCBA) [YCBA]

Catherine M. Gordon, British paintings Hogarth to Turner, Frederick Warne, London, 1981, p. 67, ND466 G67 (YCBA) [YCBA]

James Hamilton, Turner & Italy, National Galleries of Scotland, Edinburgh, 2009, p. 30, fig. 27, NJ18 T85 H252 2009 (YCBA) [YCBA]

Robert L. Herbert, Monet on the Normandy coast, tourism and painting, 1867-1886 , Yale University Press, New Haven, 1994, pp. 57-59, NJ18 M77 H43 1994 (YCBA) [YCBA]

Luke Herrmann, The Paul Mellon Collection at Burlington House, Connoisseur, v. 157, no. 634, December 1964, 215,218,221, unnum color pl, N1 C75 + OVERSIZE (YCBA) Another copy available in YCBA Vertical File Collection: v 2334 [YCBA]

Horsfall Turner, Olivia., Nobleness & grandeur, forging historical landscape in Britain 1760-1850. , Yale Center for British Art, New Haven, CT, 2005, no. 53, V 1420 (YCBA) [YCBA]

J.M.W. Turner : a selection of paintings from the collection of Mr. and Mrs. Paul Mellon., Exhibition held Oct. 31, 1968-Apr. 21, 1969 in the National Gallery of Art , National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C., 1968, pp. 13, 22, no. 7, fig. 7, NJ18 T85 U5 (YCBA) [YCBA]

J.M.W. Turner à l'occasion du cinquantième anniversaire du British Council, Galeries nationales du Grand Palais, Paris, 14 octobre 1983-16 janvier 1984. , Editions Réunion des Musées Nationaux, Paris, 1983, no. 31, NJ18 T85 J14 (YCBA) [YCBA]

Julia Marciari-Alexander, This other Eden, paintings from the Yale Center for British Art , Yale Center for British Art, New Haven, CT, 1998, p. 88, no. 31, ND1314.3 Y36 1998 (YCBA) [YCBA]

Fernando Mazzocca, Romanticismo, Silvana Editoriale, Cinisello Balsamo, Milano, p. 167, fig. 47, N6917.5.R6 R66 2018 (LC) Oversize (YCBA) [YCBA]

Franny Moyle, Turner : The Extraordinary Life and Momentous Times of J.M.W. Turner, New York, 2016, p. 271, NJ18 T85 M79 2016 (YCBA) [YCBA]

National Gallery of Art, Painting in Georgian England from the collection of Mr. and Mrs. Paul Mellon., National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C., 1970, pp. 20, ND488 P25 (YCBA) [YCBA]

Kathleen Dukeley Nicolson, Turner's classical landscapes, myth and meaning , Princeton University Press, Princeton, N.J., 1990, fig. 24, NJ18 T85 N53 1990 + (YCBA) [YCBA]

Painting in England 1700-1850 from the Collection of Mr. and Mrs. Paul Mellon, The Royal Academy of Arts Winter Exhibition 1964-65., , Royal Academy of Arts, London, UK, 1964, pp. 49- 50 (v.1), no. 181, pl. 61, ND466 R68 1964/65 (YCBA) Also available on Microfiche: Fiche B214 (YCBA) [YCBA]

Paul Mellon's Legacy, a passion for British art. [large print labels] , Yale Center for British Art, New Haven, CT, 2007, v.3, N5220 M552 +P381 2007, Mellon Shelf (YCBA) [YCBA]

Martin Postle, Richard Wilson and the transformation of European landscape painting, Yale University Press, New Haven, 2014, Cat. No. 158, pp. 326-27, NJ18.W72 R53 2014 OVERSIZE (YCBA) [YCBA]

Sam Smiles, The late works of J. M. W. Turner : the artist and his critics, The Paul Mellon Centre for Studies in British Art, London, p. 203, fig. 122, NJ18.t85 S655 2020 Oversize (YCBA) [YCBA]

David H. Solkin, Turner and the masters, Tate Publishing, London, 2009, pp. 100, 112, fig. 57, NJ18 T85 T8352 2009+ (YCBA) [YCBA]

Malcolm Warner, Great British paintings from American collections, Holbein to Hockney , Yale Center for British Art, New Haven, CT, 2001, p. 170, no. 49, ND464 W27 2001 (YCBA) [YCBA]

Ian Warrell, Turner's Wessex : architecture and ambition, Scala, London, 2015, pp. 20-2135-37, 130, unnumbered enlargement; fig. 29, NJ18.T85 W3784 2015 (YCBA) [YCBA]

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K. Woodbridge, Sacred landscape: Painters and the Lake-garden of Stourhead, Apollo, v. 88, no. 79, London, England, September 1968, pp. 210-14, N1 A54 + (YCBA) [YCBA]

Yale University Art Gallery, Painting in England, 1700-1850, from the collection of Mr. and Mrs. Paul Mellon, [exhibition at] Yale University Art Gallery, April 15-June 20, 1965. , vol. 1, W. Clowes and sons, New Haven, 1965, p. 53 (v.1), no. 198, pl. 61, ND466 Y35 (YCBA) [YCBA]


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