Joseph Mallord William Turner

A Villa (Villa Madama - Moonlight), for Rogers’s ‘Italy’

c.1826–7

View this artwork by appointment, at Tate Britain's Prints and Drawings Rooms

Artist
Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775–1851
Medium
Graphite, pen and ink and watercolour on paper
Dimensions
Support: 241 x 297 mm
Collection
Tate
Acquisition
Accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest 1856
Reference
D27676
Turner Bequest CCLXXX 159

Catalogue entry

This vignette was engraved by Henry le Keux and appears as the end-piece for the twenty-seventh section of Rogers’s Italy, entitled ‘An interview.’1 It is arguably the most dramatic of the moonlit scenes that Turner produced for Rogers’s Italy, the other two being Galileo’s Villa and Villa on the Night of the Festa di Ballo (see Tate D27680; Turner Bequest CCLXXX 163 and Tate D27682; Turner Bequest CCLXXX 165).
Villa Madama is one of the most famous and widely imitated villas and terraced gardens of the High Renaissance. It was designed by Raphael who intended it to rival the villas of antiquity. The villa, on the Janiculum Hill in Rome, included a courtyard with a monumental flight of steps (seen here in the foreground) and an open air amphitheatre, which the poet describes at some length. Rogers’s final verses are nicely complemented by the dark and poetic exterior view shown here:
   The rising moon we hailed,
Duly, devoutly, from a vestibule
Of many an arch, o’er-wrought and lavishly
With many a labyrinth of sylphs and flowers,
When Raphael and his school from Florence came,
Filling the land with splendour – nor less oft
Watched her, declining, from a silent dell,
Not silent once, what time in rivalry
Tasso, Guarini, waved their wizard-wands,
Peopling the groves from Arcady, and lo,
Fair forms appeared, murmuring melodious verse,
– Then, in their day, a sylvan theatre,
Mossy the seats, the stage a verdurous floor,
The scenery rock and shrub-wood, Nature’s own;
Nature the Architect.
(Italy, pp.134–5)
In addition to the Villa Madama, Turner’s vignette also shows the Villa Mellini, which appears in the upper right of the composition. The structures have been drawn according to two different perspective systems and are lit by opposing light sources: whereas Villa Madama appears to be illuminated from within, the exterior of Villa Mellini is brightly lit by the moon. Both of these ambiguities contribute to the overall sense of other-worldly mystery that dominates the scene.
The drawings of the Villa Madama that Turner made during his 1819 visit to Italy show the building from a different vantage point and bear little formal relation to the vignette (see for example, Tate D16182; Turner Bequest CLXXXVIII 13a). The building was in a state of decline by the time Rogers and Turner visited it, though this fact is far from clear in the vignette.2 Instead, Turner here seems to show the building restored to its former glory. Given the fluid movement between past and present that occurs throughout Rogers’s text, as well as in Turner’s vignettes, this imaginative recreation of the building as it might have once looked is neither surprising nor out of place. Turner appears to do the same in Paestum, in which he depicts the central temple restored to its original state (see Tate D27665; Turner Bequest CCLXXX 148).3
1
Samuel Rogers, Italy, London 1830, p.135; W.G. Rawlinson, The Engraved Work of J.M.W. Turner, R.A., vol.II, London 1913, no.361. There is one impression in Tate’s collection (T04651).
2
Piggott 1993, p.81.
3
Powell 1983, p.8.
4
Finberg 1909, vol.II, p.90.
5
Martin Butlin and Evelyn Joll, The Paintings of J.M.W. Turner, revised ed., New Haven and London 1984, no.313
6
Butlin and Joll 1984, no.241; Piggott 1993, p.81.

Meredith Gamer
August 2006

Read full Catalogue entry

You might like