Joseph Mallord William Turner

Rome (Castle of St Angelo), for Rogers’s ‘Italy’

c.1826–7

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

Artist
Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775–1851
Medium
Gouache, graphite and watercolour on paper
Dimensions
Support: 240 x 306 mm
Collection
Tate
Acquisition
Accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest 1856
Reference
D27677
Turner Bequest CCLXXX 160

Catalogue entry

This vignette was engraved by Robert Wallis and appears as the headpiece for the thirty-second section of Rogers’s Italy, entitled ‘The Roman Pontiffs.’1 Turner here shows the Ponte Sant’Angelo, graced by Bernini’s angels; the giant Castel Sant’Angelo appears on the right and Saint Peter’s dome rises boldly in the middle distance. The role of this vignette in Italy is to complement, rather than to directly illustrate, the verses with which it is paired. As the section’s title suggests, ‘The Roman Pontiffs’ is primarily devoted to a discussion of the papacy:
Those ancient men, what were they, who achieved
A sway beyond the greatest conquerors;
Setting their feet upon the necks of kings,
And, thro’ the world, subduing, chaining down
The free, immortal spirit? Were they not
Mighty magicians? Theirs a wondrous spell,
Where true and false were the infernal art
Close-interwoven; where together met
Blessings and curses, threats and promises;
And with the terrors of Futurity
Mingled whate’er enchants and fascinates,
Music and painting, sculpture, rhetoric,
And dazzling light and darkness visible,
And architectural pomp, such as none else!
(Italy, pp.158–9)
The scene shown here would have already been familiar to many viewers, having been a popular subject for artists before Turner, including Piranesi. One account of Rome written by a British traveller in 1853 described it as: ‘the most familiar view in Rome ... The combination is so happy and picturesque that they [the buildings] appear to have arranged themselves for the especial benefit of artists, and to be good-naturedly standing, like models, to be sketched.’2 Turner himself was familiar with the vista, having already drawn it in 1818 for Hakewill’s Picturesque Tour of Italy (Private Collection, Tasmania).3 As Cecilia Powell has discussed, given the outstanding success of Hakewill’s publication throughout the 1820s, it would have been understandable if Rogers was eager to recycle some of Hakewill’s compositions in his Italy.4 Rogers also would have liked this subject for the layers of history it represented. Although Castel Sant’Angelo served as a fortress in the Middle Ages and as a castle thereafter, it was initially built in 139 AD as a mausoleum for Hadrian. The knowing viewer would have recognised and appreciated the harmonious coexistence of ancient and modern structures in this classic Roman cityscape.
1
Samuel Rogers, Italy, London 1830, p.158; W.G. Rawlinson, The Engraved Work of J.M.W. Turner, R.A., vol.II, London 1913, no.362. There is one impression in Tate’s collection (T04652).
2
G. S. Hillard, Six Months in Italy, vol.I, London 1853, p.324. Quoted in Cecilia Powell, ‘Turner’s vignettes and the making of Rogers’s “Italy” ’, Turner Studies, vol.3, no.1, Summer 1983, p.6.
3
Wilton 1979, no.703. For more on the Hakewill project, see Cecilia Powell, ‘Topography, imagination and travel: Turner’s relationship with James Hakewill’, Art History vol.5, no.4, December 1982, pp.409–425.
4
Powell 1983, p.6.
5
Ibid., p.8.
6
Ibid., p.13 note 96.
7
Ibid., p.10.

Meredith Gamer
August 2006

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