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Joseph Mallord William Turner, Dido building Carthage

Key facts
Full title Dido building Carthage, or The Rise of the Carthaginian Empire
Artist Joseph Mallord William Turner
Artist dates 1775 - 1851
Date made 1815
Medium and support Oil on canvas
Dimensions 155.5 × 230 cm
Inscription summary Signed; Dated
Acquisition credit Turner Bequest, 1856
Inventory number NG498
Location Room 36
Collection Main Collection
Previous owners
Dido building Carthage
Joseph Mallord William Turner

Turner’s painting of the North African city of Carthage, founded by Dido, its first queen, was inspired by Virgil’s epic poem, the Aeneid. The figure on the left dressed in blue and wearing a diadem is Dido herself, visiting the tomb that is being built for her dead husband, Sychaeus. The man in a cloak and helmet standing before her is probably Aeneas, the hero of the poem, with whom she will fall in love. Turner painted 10 major paintings on the subject of the Carthaginian empire. The story of the rise and fall of empires was a theme that preoccupied him throughout his life.

This is the first of Turner’s paintings in which he set out to match the seventeenth-century French landscape painter, Claude, in particular Claude’s Seaport paintings. In his will, Turner specified that Dido building Carthage, together with his Sun Rising through Vapour, should be hung in the National Gallery alongside two of Claude’s paintings.

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