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Drawing - St Paul Converting the Jailor at Philippi
  • St Paul Converting the Jailor at Philippi
    Thornhill, James Sir, born 1675 - died 1734
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St Paul Converting the Jailor at Philippi

  • Object:

    Drawing

  • Place of origin:

    Britain

  • Date:

    c.1715

  • Artist/Maker:

    Thornhill, James Sir, born 1675 - died 1734

  • Museum number:

    D.1089-1886

  • Gallery location:

    Prints & Drawings Study Room, level H, case PD, shelf 208, box A(I)

This drawing is a preliminary study for one of the illusionistic lunettes decorating the interior of the dome in St Paul’s Cathedral. Sir James Thornhill received the coveted commission to decorate the dome of the cathedral in 1715 and completed the project in 1717.

The drawing depicts St Paul converting the Jailor at Philippi, Macedonia (Acts 16:29-31), one of ten scenes from the life of the saint depicted on the dome. Thornhill sketched the composition of this drawing in brown chalk, enhancing the darker passages with wash and using white chalk to emphasise the highlights.

Physical description

Drawing in brown chalk heightened with white, and wash; the borders in pen, ink and gold. Study for an illusionistic lunette in the dome of St Paul’s Cathedral depicting Paul Converting the Jailor at Philippi.

Place of Origin

Britain

Date

c.1715

Artist/maker

Thornhill, James Sir, born 1675 - died 1734

Marks and inscriptions

4
At the top and bottom of the sheet, possibly in a 20th-century hand. There is an illegible inscription in the top right corner of the sheet.

Dimensions

Height: 400 mm, Width: 279 mm, Height: 427 mm, Width: 308 mm

Object history note

Provenance: Purchased from E. Parsons in 1886

This drawing came to the museum as part of a set of eight preparatory studies for the painted decoration of the dome of St Paul’s Cathedral. At the time of acquisition, these drawings were inserted into a small folio volume with Horace Walpole’s bookplate; they have since been remounted. St Paul’s Cathedral holds an associated oil painting, probably painted after the project was completed (acc. no. 8204).

Sir James Thornhill received the sought-after commission to decorate the dome of the cathedral in 1715 and completed the project in 1717, for which he was paid a total of £6575. The terms of the commission stipulated that the dome be painted with scenes from the New Testament’s Acts of the Apostles and that they should be executed in monochrome to give the appearance of sculptural relief. This study and the final painting indicate Thornhill’s strict observance of these rules.

In 1719, Thornhill announced that he would publish the scenes as a series of prints. One week before the engravings were issued to subscribers in May 1720, Thornhill gave the first set of prints to George I on the occasion of his knighthood.

Paul Converting the Jailor at Philippi, Macedonia (Acts 16: 29-31) is the fourth scene from the life of St Paul and is located to the right of the Sacrifice at Lystra (see D.1088-1886).

Descriptive line

Drawing, St Paul Converting the Jailor at Philippi, study for an illusionistic lunette in the dome of St Paul’s Cathedral by Sir James Thornhill, brown chalk heightened with white, and wash, the composition bordered in gold, laid down on washline mount, Britain, ca. 1715

Bibliographic References (Citation, Note/Abstract, NAL no)

Edward Croft-Murray, Decorative Painting in England 1537-1837, I, London, 1962, p. 271, no. 33 (4)

- - -
For broader discussions of Thornhill’s commission to paint the dome of St Paul’s Cathedral, see:

Tabitha Barber (ed.), Baroque Britain: Power and Illusion, exhibition catalogue, Tate, 2020, pp. 59-60

Richard Johns, ‘"An Air of Grandeur & Modesty": James Thornhill's Painting in the Dome of St Paul's Cathedral’, Eighteenth-Century Studies, vol. 42, no. 4, Summer, 2009, pp. 501-527

Arline Meyer, Sir James Thornhill and the Legacy of Raphael's Tapestry Cartoons, exhibition catalogue, Miriam and Ira D. Wallach Art Gallery, Columbia University in the City of New York, 1996, pp. 69-72

Carol Gibson-Wood, 'The Political Background to Thornhill's Paintings in St Paul's Cathedral', Journal of the Warburg and Courtauld Institutes, vol. 56, 1993, pp. 229-37

Materials

Brown chalk; White chalk; Wash

Techniques

Drawing

Collection

Prints, Drawings & Paintings Collection

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