Dido building Carthage

One of Turner's most ambitious imitations of the 17th-century French painter Claude. The subject, inspired by Virgil's epic Latin poem, the 'Aeneid', is the building of the North African city of Carthage, which Dido founded. The figure in blue on the left is Dido, and on the right is the tomb erected for her dead husband, Sichaeus. In front of Dido is a figure who may be Aeneas: Virgil tells of their love affair, and of Dido's suicide following his departure. Turner was attracted by the human contrast to the theme of empire building. Hints of doom contrast with the serene effects of sunlight.

In Turner's will he asked for this and his 'Sun Rising through Vapour' to be hung between Claude's 'Seaport with the Embarkation of the Queen of Sheba' and 'Landscape with the Marriage of Isaac and Rebecca' at the National Gallery.

Key facts

Artist dates
1775 - 1851
Full title
Dido building Carthage, or The Rise of the Carthaginian Empire
Date made
Medium and support
Oil on canvas
155.5 x 230 cm
Inscription summary
Signed; Dated
Acquisition credit
Turner Bequest, 1856
Inventory number
Location in Gallery