Dido building Carthage, or The Rise of the Carthaginian Empire by Joseph Mallord William Turner (1775-1851). Exhibited 1840. Oil on canvas, 155.5 x 230 cm. Courtesy of the National Gallery, London. (Accession no. NG498 Accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest 1856.) Click on image to enlarge it.

Commentary from the National Gallery Online

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.

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Butlin, Martin, and Evelyn Joll, The Paintings of J.M.W. Turner. revised ed.. New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 1984.

Last modified 16 May 2016