Despite the wide range of subject matter represented within this sketchbook, Turner labelled it the ‘St Peter’s’ sketchbook, a title which derives from a series of eight studies recording scenes from the interior of the famous basilica, see folios 17 verso, 84 and 85–87 (D16189, D16309, and D16311–D16315; Turner Bequest CLXXXVIII 17a, 83, and 84–86). These sketches, executed swiftly in the relative gloom of the church, are principally concerned with exploring the complex perspective of the architectural arrangement of the building, looking down through the side aisles and nave towards the transepts and the crossing. As Cecilia Powell has written they ‘vividly record the experience of being in the huge, interlocking spaces of a vast building’.1 Turner may have referred to them when painting a finished watercolour for Walter Fawkes, Interior of St. Peter’s, Rome 1821 (The Morgan Library & Museum, New York).2
Powell has identified this sketch as a view of the interior from near to the pier of St Longinus.3 There are four massive piers which mark the crossing underneath the dome of the church, and each one contains a statue within a niche. St Longinus is found within the first niche on the right as you enter the crossing from the nave. Turner’s sketch depicts the view from near to this pier looking across the right side aisle and right transept. The small statue in the niche between two pilasters appears to be that of St Joseph Calasanctius, found in the lower right-hand corner of the west wall of the right (east) transept.
Powell 1987, p..
Andrew Wilton, The Life and Work of J.M.W. Turner, Fribourg 1979, no.724; reproduced in colour in Cara Dufour Denison, Peter Dreyer, William M. Griswold et al., From Mantegna to Picasso: Drawings from the Thaw Collection at the Pierpoint Morgan Library, New York, exhibition catalogue, Royal Academy, London 1996, p.107 no.52
Powell 1984, p.427.