Joseph Mallord William Turner

Interior of San Paolo fuori le mura, Rome


In Tate Britain

Prints and Drawings Room

View by appointment
Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775–1851
Graphite on paper
Support: 113 x 189 mm
Accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest 1856
Turner Bequest CXCI 10

Catalogue entry

Finberg identified the subject of this sketch as the interior of San Paolo fuori le mura (St Paul ‘extra Muros’, or ‘outside the walls’),1 one of the four great papal basilicas of Rome.2 Like the artist’s 1819 sketches of the interior of St Peter’s (see Tate D16309; Turner Bequest CLXXXVIII 83), this study, executed swiftly in the relative gloom of the church, is principally concerned with exploring the complex perspective of the architectural arrangement of the building. The composition appears to take a view across from the transept towards the thirteenth-century ciborium of Arnolfo di Cambio (circa 1240–1300/10), the canopy which covers the high altar in the apse of the cathedral.3 This feature can still be seen today despite the building’s almost complete destruction by fire in July 1823. Turner’s inscription in the upper centre of the drawing, ‘Popes’, refers to the series of papal portraits which appear in roundels below the windows, whilst the annotation ‘Cor’ indicates that the order of the columns is Corinthian.
Sketches of the exterior of the basilica can be found on folios 7 verso, 9 verso, 12 verso and 14 verso (D16497, D16501, D16507 and D16511) and in the St Peter’s sketchbook (see Tate D16256; Turner Bequest CLXXXVIII 55v).

Nicola Moorby
February 2009

Finberg 1909, vol.I, p.567.
The others are St Peter’s, San Giovanni in Laterano and Santa Maria Maggiore.
Compare Luigi Rossini’s engraving, Veduta interna della basilica di S. Paolo presa di immediatemente dopo il suo incendio, reproduced in Anita F. Moskowitz, ‘Arnolfo, Non-Arnolfo: New (And Some Old) Observations on the Ciborium in San Paolo fuori le mura’, Gesta, vol.37, no.1, 1998, p.93, fig.10.

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