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As Finberg identified, the subject of this sketch is the fifteenth-century Duomo (cathedral) of Turin. An impressive building, and the most important Roman Catholic church in northern Italy, the cathedral is perhaps most famous for the celebrated Turin Shroud, housed in the adjoining seventeenth-century Cappella della Sacra Sindone (Chapel of the Holy Shroud), as noted by Turner in his summary of information from A Classical Tour Through Italy by Revd John Chetwode Eustace (see the Italian Guide Book sketchbook, Tate D13962; Turner Bequest CLXXII 16a). The study does not depict a comprehensive view of the cathedral, but rather a distant view of the dome and the campanile. The latter, completed in 1470, is of a slightly earlier style than the main building. Turner’s viewpoint is a location just outside the Giardini Reale (Royal Gardens) and a section of city walls, the corner turret of which can be seen in the left-hand foreground, partially obscuring the view of the dome.1 Visible in the background on the left is part of the Palazzo Reale, the palace of the Italy’s Savoy monarchy. For a more detailed sketch of the Duomo see folio 29 (D14200; Turner Bequest CLXXIV 28).
Turin was the first major Italian location which Turner reached on his 1819 tour. He made a significant number of sketches of the city, reflecting not only his interest in the topography and the largely Baroque architecture of Turin, but also the fact that he stayed there for a few days, allowing himself time to roam about and sketch at greater leisure than was possible the road.2 The main body of drawings can be found between folio 23 verso (D14189; Turner Bequest CLXXIV 22a) and folio 40 (D14221; Turner Bequest CLXXIV 39). These comprise a number of general views from the banks of the River Po, see folios 25–27 and 38–40 (D14192–D14196 and D14217–D14221; Turner Bequest CLXXIV 24–26 and 37–39), as well as more focused studies on some of the most important buildings and locations, including the Duomo, Palazzo Madama, Piazza Castello, Piazza San Carlo and the Church of San Filippo Neri.3 Unusually for a tourist to Turin he does not appear to have visited the Basilica of Superga on the high hill to the east of the city, despite having recently produced an illustration on the subject for James Hakewill’s Picturesque Tour of Italy (published 1820).4 He did however, sketch the building from a distance, see folios 23 verso and 37 (D14189 and D14215; Turner Bequest CLXXIV 22a and 36).
The location is on the present-day Rivella roundabout, on the Corso Regina-Margherita.
Crimi 2009, p., suggests that Turner stayed in Turin three nights.
NB. Turin’s most famous architectural landmark and present-day ‘symbol’ of the city, the Mole Antonelliana, was not built until the second half of the nineteenth century.
Turin from the Portico of the Superga Church, watercolour, 1818 (private collection). See Andrew Wilton, The Life and Work of J.M.W. Turner, Fribourg 1979, no.717.