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“Hannibal and his Army Crossing the Alps” by J. M. W. Turner

"Snow Storm: Hannibal and his Army Crossing the Alps" by J.M.W. Turner

“Hannibal and his Army Crossing the Alps” by J.M.W. Turner

“Snow Storm: Hannibal and his Army Crossing the Alps” by J.M.W. Turner depicts the challenging efforts of Hannibal’s soldiers to cross the Alps in 218 BC, with Salassian tribesmen fighting Hannibal’s rearguard. At the same time, a curving menacing black storm cloud dominates the sky, poised to descend on the soldiers below, with an orange sun attempting to break through the clouds. Meanwhile, on the right of the valley, a white snow avalanche is cascading down the mountain.

This twisted composition, without geometric axes or perspective, broke the traditional rules of composition. It is the first appearance in Turner’s work of a swirling oval vortex of wind, rain and cloud. Turner created a dynamic balance of contrasting light and dark that recurred in later works, such as his painting “Snow Storm: Steam-Boat off a Harbour’s Mouth”.  Turner insisted that the picture should be hung low on the wall at its first exhibition to ensure it would be viewed from the correct angle. It was widely praised as impressive, terrible, magnificent and sublime.

We can imagine Hannibal riding his elephant at the lead of his army, just visible in the distance. The storm and the landscape dwarf the giant animal. We can see the sunlit plains of Italy opening up beyond while in the foreground, the local tribesmen are fighting Hannibal’s rearguard. This confrontation, at the Maritime Alps, and Hannibal’s challenges in crossing the Alps are described in detail by Roman historians.

Turner saw parallels between Hannibal and Napoleon’s crossing of the Alps and this painting was Turner’s response to Jacques-Louis David’s portrait of “Napoleon Crossing the Alps”, which showed a romantic view of Napoleon leading his army over a similar pass in 1800. Turner had seen David’s painting during a visit to Paris in 1802 and Turner set his portrayal in the Val d’Aosta, one of the possible routes that Hannibal may have used to cross the Alps, which Turner visited during the same year.

When this painting was first exhibited in 1812, it was accompanied in the catalogue with some lines from Turner’s unfinished epic poem,  “Fallacies of Hope”:

“Craft, treachery, and fraud – Salassian force,
Hung on the fainting rear! then Plunder seiz’d
The victor and the captive, – Saguntum’s spoil,
Alike, became their prey; still the chief advanc’d,
Look’d on the sun with hope; – low, broad, and wan;
While the fierce archer of the downward year
Stains Italy’s blanch’d barrier with storms.
In vain each pass, ensanguin’d deep with dead,
Or rocky fragments, wide destruction roll’d.
Still on Campania’s fertile plains – he thought,
But the loud breeze sob’d, “Capua’s joys beware!”

Turner became unrivalled in painting the natural world untamed by humanity and exploring the effects of the elements and the battle of the forces of nature.

Maritime Alps

The Maritime Alps are a mountain range in the southwestern part of the highest and most extensive mountain range system that lies in Europe. The Maritime Alps form the border between the French region of Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur and the Italian regions of Piedmont and Liguria. They are the southernmost part of the Alps.

The Alps separate the Southern from Central and Western Europe and stretching approximately 1,200 kilometres (750 mi) across eight Alpine countries: France, Switzerland, Monaco, Italy, Liechtenstein, Austria, Germany, and Slovenia.

Joseph Mallord William Turner

Joseph Mallord William Turner, later more commonly called J. M. W. Turner entered the Royal Academy of Art in 1789, aged 14, and his first watercolour was accepted for the Royal Academy summer exhibition of 1790 when Turner was 15. From a young art student trained in executing topographical watercolours, he became one of the most original artists of his time. Turner was a Romantic painter, printmaker and watercolourist, today known for his vivid colouration, imaginative landscapes and turbulent marine paintings. As a private, eccentric and reclusive figure, Turner was controversial throughout his career. He left over 2,000 paintings and 19,000 drawings and sketches.

Hannibal and his Army Crossing the Alps

  • Title:               Snow Storm: Hannibal and his Army Crossing the Alps
  • Artist:             J.M.W. Turner
  • Year:              1842
  • Medium:        Oil on canvas
  • Dimensions    Height: 144.7 cm (56.9 ″); Width: 236 cm (92.9 ″)
  • Museum:        Tate Britain

Joseph Mallord William Turner

  • Name:             Joseph Mallord William Turner
  • Born:               1775 – Covent Garden, London, England
  • Died:               1851 (aged 76)  – Cheyne Walk, Chelsea, England
  • Nationality:     English
  • Movement      Romanticism
  • Famous Works:

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Reflections

  • Turner was unrivalled in painting the natural world untamed by humanity and exploring the effects of the elements and the battle of the forces of nature.

J. M. W. Turner Quotes

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“To select, combine and concentrate that which is beautiful in nature and admirable in art is as much the business of the landscape painter in his line as in the other departments of art.”

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“I have no secret but hard work. This is a secret that many never learn, and they don’t succeed because they don’t learn it. Labour is the genius that changes the world from ugliness to beauty and the great curse to a great blessing.”

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“I don’t paint so that people will understand me; I paint to show what a particular scene looks like.”

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“It is necessary to mark the greater from, the lesser truth: namely, the larger and more liberal idea of nature from the comparatively narrow and confined; namely that which addresses itself to the imagination from that which is solely addressed to the eye.”

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“It is only when we are no longer fearful that we begin to create.”

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“I did not paint… to be understood. I wished to show what such a scene was like.”

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“I know of no genius but the genius of hard work.”
– J. M. W. Turner

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Photo Credit: 1) J. M. W. Turner [Public domain]

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