Joseph Mallord William Turner

Galileo’s Villa, for Rogers’s ‘Italy’


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

Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775–1851
Watercolour on paper
Support: 241 x 307 mm
Accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest 1856
Turner Bequest CCLXXX 163

Display caption

Turner designed almost one hundred and fifty vignettes which were engraved and published in volumes of literature by his contemporaries, thereby bringing his art to a vast audience, many of whom would not have been familiar with the paintings he exhibited at the Royal Academy. Some of his most successful work in this form was made for two volumes of poetry by the now unfashionable Samuel Rogers; most of these designs remained in Turner own collection. His depiction of the sky makes an important contribution to the appeal of these delicate images which embrace both the romantic moonlight of Italy and the watery skies of England, as well as more emblematic effects.

Gallery label, September 2004

Catalogue entry

This vignette appears mid-way through the twenty-fifth section of Rogers’s Italy, entitled ‘The Campagna of Florence’.1 It was engraved by Edward Goodall, one of the most prolific and skilled interpreters of Turner’s designs.2 It shows an imaginary view of Galileo’s villa, which was located outside of Florence in Arcetri. In 1633, Galileo Galilei (1564–1642) was convicted of heresy for his support of Copernican (heliocentric) theory and sentenced to house arrest at his villa, where he lived until his death in 1642. In Italy, the following verses appear just above Turner’s vignette, showing how carefully Rogers paired text and image when preparing this work for publication:
   Nearer we hail
Thy sunny slope, Arcetri, sung of Old
For its green wine; dearer to me, to most,
As dwelt on by that great Astronomer,
Seven years a prisoner at the city-gate,
Let in but in his grave-clothes. Sacred be
His villa (justly was it called The Gem!)
Sacred the lawn, where many a cypress threw
Its length of shadow, while he watched the stars!
(Italy, p.115)
Like Marengo (see Tate D27663; Turner Bequest CCLXXX 146) and Venice (see Tate D27710; Turner Bequest CCLXXX 193), this vignette makes reference to the historical figures and events that Rogers associated with the places he visited. Here, we see Galileo’s villa surrounded by cypress trees and his astronomical instruments laid out in the foreground. Turner’s design possesses a timeless quality: the absence of the great astronomer himself makes it impossible to tell whether the scene is set in the present, the past, or both.
Many contemporary readers would have recognised Rogers’s references to Galileo since interest in astronomy was growing quickly in the period leading up to the publication of Italy.3 Turner’s own fascination with astronomical ideas is reflected in the vignette, which shows a clear awareness of the scientist’s activities and interests. Included amongst the instruments in the left foreground is a prominently displayed celestial globe referring to Galileo’s efforts to map the relative positions of the stars. Since Rogers makes no reference to these activities in his verses, Turner himself must have been familiar with traditional astronomical apparatus and with Galileo’s scientific projects.4 It has also been suggested that the artist was conversant with the phenomena of earthshine, the illumination of the dark side of the new moon with reflected sunlight, as outlined by Galileo in Sidereus Nuncius, 1610.5 Turner has accurately depicted the waning moon with a sickle of direct sunlight and the ash grey light of earthshine on the darker face.
Samuel Rogers, Italy, London 1830, p.115.
W.G. Rawlinson, The Engraved Work of J.M.W. Turner, R.A., vol.II, London 1913, no.360. There are two impressions in Tate’s collection (T04649 and T04650).
Finley 1999, p.151.
Ibid., p.151.
Letter from Giles Davison, 27 May 2009, Tate catalogue file.
Powell 1983, p.5.

Meredith Gamer
August 2006

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