Romantic Circles Gallery
The Temptation on the Mountain
Satan and Jesus are silhouetted on the right at the edge of a cliff. A serpent hangs from a cliff on the left. Cities and rivers are revealed far below them, from the bottom of the print to about 2/3 up it. The land transitions into the ocean, which fades out to a less-defined horizon. The sun is centered in the top third of the image, illuminating the landscape; it appears to be either sunrise or sunset. Everything is rounded, as though it had been drawn by looking in a Claude mirror.
Copyright 2009, Department of Special Collections, Memorial Library, University of Wisconsin-Madison, Madison, WI
Thordarson T 2187-2192
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ProvenanceJohn Macrone (publisher), 1809-1837: Macrone writes in the “Advertisement” of the first volume of The Poetical Works of John Milton that he took up the project of organizing notes on Milton and Milton’s works together; the artists and engravers came to his aid when he announced the project.
Marks DescriptionAlong the bottom left edge: "J.M.W. Turner; R.A."
Along the bottom right edge: "J. Cousen"
Printing ContextThis vignette illustrates the fourth volume of The Poetical Works of John Milton (John Macrone, 1835).
Associated TextsJ.M.W. Turner's Dawn of Christianity (Flight into Egypt) (1841)
This is a later painting of Turner’s, and also has a biblical theme. Like The Temptation, this work includes water: a river, which blends into the skyline as a result of either mist rising from the water, fog, or low clouds (Hamilton 50).
The Macklin Bible (1800)
Artist Philip de Loutherbourg contributed some illustrations of chaos to Thomas Macklin’s project to illustrate the Bible. These illustrations made a profound impression on Turner in his youth (Tracy 46).
SubjectThis image depicts the temptation of Christ by Satan, specifically the moment where Satan offers Christ the kingdoms of the world. This vision of the temptation as extending to the open sea is eerily similar to the possibilities of conquest as commonly depicted in British and American art during the Romantic era (Hamilton 34).
SignificanceTurner’s use of shadow at the outer edges of the image—in the silhouetted Satan and Christ, the dark trees, and the shadowed cliffs—centers the viewer’s focus on the land displayed before Christ by Satan, much as if the viewer himself were standing on the cliff’s edge looking down upon the light-drenched kingdoms of the world. Turner’s choice to depict water as a part of this landscape suggests the vastness of the land: the water extends into the far distance and fades with the horizon, obscured by the intense light of the sun. A circular frame is created around the image by the surrounding figures of trees, mountains, cities, and the cliffs on which Christ, Satan and the serpent stand. This framing (as though the image were drawn using a Claude mirror) creates an open space in the forefront of the image which is reminiscent of some of Turner’s port paintings. This open space creates a “stage” effect that suggests future action, an effect explained by James Hamilton in his analysis of Keelmen Heaving Coals by Moonlight. In The Temptation, such potential action could include the conquest of new lands and victories over foreign powers enabled by access to and control over the sea. While this serves to communicate the potential value of the space which Satan offers to Christ, it also communicates the possibility of power which Turner, as a marine artist, associated with bodies of water. The potentiality of the sea, as illustrated by Turner’s vignette, explains the national appeal of laying claim to such a space.
BibliographyHamilton, James. Turner: The Late Seascapes. New Haven: Yale UP, 2003. Print.
Bénézit, E., et al. "John Cousen." Benezit Dictionary of Artists. Vol 4. Paris: Gründ, 2006. Print.
Tracy, Nicholas. Britannia's Palette: The Arts of Naval Victory. Montreal: McGill-Queen's UP, 2007. Print.
Patten, Robert L. "John Macrone." Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. Ed. H. C. G. Matthew and Brian Harrison. Oxford: Oxford UP, 2004. Web. 1 Apr 2009.
The Poetical Works of John Milton. Vol. 4. London: Macrone, 1835. Print.
Long TitleThe Poetical Works of John Milton
By John Milton, Egerton Brydges, Joseph Mallord William Turner
Illustrated by Joseph Mallord William Turner
Published by John Macrone, 1835
Item notes: v. 5
Original from Harvard University
Digitized Jun 16, 2008