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Turner’s tour of the Italian lakes began with a stay in Como where he made a number of sketches of the old port and the town from the lake. Here, however, he has made a detailed study of two of the most important buildings in the city, the Duomo (cathedral) of Como and the Broletto (city hall). The artist’s viewpoint is the north-west corner of the Piazza del Duomo and the composition presents the Duomo in the centre, with the Broletto and the civic tower adjoining it on the left. Finberg described it as a ‘marvel of rapid note-taking’ and admired Turner’s skill in crowding in the level of detail and complex perspective onto such a small page.1
Also known as the Cattedrale de Santa Maria Assunta, the Duomo stands near the lakeside in Como. Construction of the cathedral lasted between 1396 and 1770, the final element being the dome and cupola designed by Filippo Juvarra (1687–1735), and Turner’s sketch depicts the western façade which dates from 1457–98. It is notable for its Gothic design featuring a rose window, sculptures within ornate niches, and an elaborately decorated portal entrance flanked by statues of Pliny the Elder and Younger. The Broletto, meanwhile, was built during the fifteenth century and is characterised by striped bands of red, grey and white marble. Turner appears to have been extremely interested in the details of the architecture and has embellished the drawing with notes concerning colour and proportion (see inscription in preprose notes). As Finberg noted, the Broletto as the artist saw it had an additional storey above its arcaded corbel-table and the clock tower stood at a taller height.2 Part of the composition spills over onto the opposite sheet of the double-page spread, see folio 64 (D14266; Turner Bequest CLXXIV 63), which additionally contains a series of thumbnail sketches of related details. Variant views of the Duomo can also be found on folio 64 verso (D14267; Turner Bequest CLXXIV 64a).
Prior to his Italian tour, Turner made notes from the popular guidebook A Classical Tour Through Italy by Revd John Chetwode Eustace (see the Italian Guide Book sketchbook, Tate D13961; Turner Bequest CLXXII 16). He would therefore have read Eustace’s description of Como cathedral as:
Finberg 1930, p.19.
John Chetwode Eustace, A Classical Tour Through Italy, London 1815, 3rd edition, vol.IV, pp.38–9.
‘West front of the great Church at Como’, 1816 (British School at Rome). See Tony Cubberley and Luke Herrmann, Twilight of the Grand Tour: A Catalogue of the drawings by James Hakewill in the British School at Rome Library, Rome 1992, no.2.8, p.123, reproduced.