Turner's Desert Storm
chapterposted on 08.10.2014, 14:46 by Philip John Shaw
In the late 1790s and early 1800s Turner was engaged in the production of a series of paintings focussing on biblical themes. Five of these paintings, The Fifth Plague of Egypt (1800), The Tenth Plague of Egypt (1802), The Holy Family (1803), The Deluge (1805) and The Destruction of Sodom (1805) are extant; a fourth, The Army of the Medes (1801), is untraced. In this chapter I will consider how this lost painting bears on questions of war, representation and the transmission of affect in visual culture of the late Georgian period. I am interested in particular in how The Army of the Medes, a work focussed ostensibly on the destruction of a military force in ancient Persia, responds to the culmination of the British campaign against the French in Egypt at the turn of the nineteenth century. As I will go on to argue, the painting raises complex questions about the relations between biblical and historical notions of truth, the connections between war, visualisation and the concept of the sublime, and the political connotations of the discourse of sympathy.