Joseph Mallord William Turner

An Artist at Work in the Vatican Loggia: Study for ‘Rome from the Vatican’

1819

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

Artist
Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775–1851
Medium
Graphite on paper
Dimensions
Support: 112 x 186 mm
Collection
Tate
Acquisition
Accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest 1856
Reference
D14972
Turner Bequest CLXXIX 26

Catalogue entry

One of the most significant series of studies dating from Turner’s 1819 trip to Rome was the sequence of pencil sketches relating to the Loggia of Raphael, a colonnaded porch on the second floor of the Vatican’s Apostolic Palace, decorated by Raphael (1483–1520) and his studio. From these drawings evolved the artist’s first finished oil painting following his Italian tour, the vast canvas Rome from the Vatican. Raffaelle Accompanied by La Fornarina, Preparing his Pictures for the Decoration of the Loggia exhibited 1820 (Tate, N00503).1 In addition to compiling a detailed visual record of the southern end of the loggia, see folios 13 verso–21 (D14955–D14965), Turner also made two compositional sketches exploring the theme of an artist working in the loggia. The rough, free execution of these drawings belies their imaginary, conceptual nature, in marked contrast to the carefully observed and annotated studies of the decorative and architectural elements of the loggia. Although obviously related in theme and appearance, the two sketches reveal different strategies for the depiction of the figure of Raphael within the foreground of the finished picture.
This sketch has been described as the ‘stronger and more ambitious’ of the two compositional studies, although the details are still somewhat smudged and indistinct.2 The design shows a standing man gesturing with an outstretched arm towards a canvas or panel propped up next to a group of three or four models or spectators. The archaic dress and dark floppy hat suggest that the man is an artist, whilst the voluptuous naked female is perhaps intended to represent Raphael’s mistress and muse, La Fornarina. On the far right-hand side is another assemblage of figures, including what appears to be a mother and child, which is possibly intended to represent a statuary group.3 The presence of various pictures, as well as the female nude and the draped curtain are strongly suggestive of an artist’s studio. Cecilia Powell has described the setting of the sketch as a ‘barrel-vaulted room or loggia’, where the scale of architecture is too small in comparison with the human figures to represent the Vatican logge.4 However, the arched windows and the façade of a building identifiable as the Apostolic Palace visible beyond appears to confirm that it is intended to represent the Loggia of Raphael.5 As Gerald Finley and Maurice Davies have both observed, the depiction of space is very odd. In common with the twisting perspective of the finished painting, Turner has distorted the arcading so that it curves away to the right, thus providing a more commodious and interesting foreground.6

Nicola Moorby
January 2010

1
Butlin and Joll 1984, no.228.
2
Finley 1986, p.58.
3
Ibid., p.59.
4
Powell 1984, pp.117 and 509 note 59.
5
McVaugh 1987, p.372.
6
Finley 1986, p.58 and Davies 1992 p.89.
7
Finley 1986, p.58.
8
Butlin and Joll 1984, no.340. See Finley 1981, p.246 note 25; Powell 1987, p.198; Finley 1999, pp.123–5, and Butlin, Luther and Warrell 1989, p.91.

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