Here Turner depicts the town of Trarbach from its outskirts, specifically from a vantage point on the path leading across the hills to Bernkastel. The view is unusual because the river, the Moselle, is almost entirely absent. Instead, Turner presents three aspects of Trarbach’s built environment: its vernacular architecture, its ecclesiastical centre, and the vestiges of its medieval history.
The local houses and buildings of Trarbach town are pictured in the foreground, coloured with a pale grey-white wash of gouache. A steeply gabled medieval gateway, the Weihertor, can be seen next to a parade of buildings of varying dimensions and heights. A gaggle of figures people the street, making their way in and out of town. A waterwheel, suggested summarily in black gouache, is at bottom right.
Travel writer Michael Joseph Quin describes the ‘interior streets’ of Trarbach, as ‘most irregularly formed, on account of the hilly nature of the ground which they occupy’.1 Some of the houses climb up the hillside, clinging on to the gradient as if ‘perched in the air’.2 Turner signals this ascending stratum of pathways and buildings by colouring them with boldly contrastive terracotta and rust-red pigment. Within this terracotta layer is part of the ‘strong wall’, a rampart ‘still further strengthened by several towers... which add much to the chivalrous aspect of the place’.3 The ‘handsome old church and tapering steeple’ of St Nicholas can be seen half way up the hill, coloured with a blend of dusty rose and salmon pink.4 Against a moonlit ink-blue sky, the highest building of them all, the ruined Grevenburg Castle, is rendered ethereal in soft buff-coloured gouache.
Turner unites the vertical elements of the composition (the towers, the Weihertor’s chimney and elongated gable, the spire of the Church of St Nicholas and the crumbling keep of the Grevenburg), with tones of amber and earthy red. Each feature, in turn, forms one striking diagonal line across the sheet.
This drawing was developed from one pencil jotting in particular, found in the Trèves to Cochem and Coblenz to Mayence sketchbook (Tate D28393; Turner Bequest CCXC 22).