Joseph Mallord William Turner

The Holy House inside the Santuario della Santa Casa, Loreto


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

Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775–1851
Graphite on paper
Support: 186 x 110 mm
Accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest 1856
Turner Bequest CLXXVII 29

Catalogue entry

Cecilia Powell has identified the subject of these sketches as the shrine of the Holy House inside the Santuario della Santa Casa at Loreto. The page is not adjacent to other views of Loreto, see folio 10 (D14671) and disrupts the geographical continuity of the sketchbook.
According to legend, the Holy House, the home of the Virgin Mary where she received the annunciation and where Jesus spent his childhood, was transported from Palestine during the thirteenth century by a host of angels and eventually carried to its present site where it came to rest amidst the laurel woods which give Loreto its name. During the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries it was one of the most popular sites for Catholic pilgrimage in Italy after St Peter’s. The house itself is a modest stone and brick vault adorned with frescoes and an altar. The edifice is encased within a marble screen commissioned in 1507 by Pope Julius II and designed by Andrea Sansovino.1 The four sides of the richly decorated screen contain scenes in bas-relief depicting the Annunciation, the Nativity, the Arrival of the Holy House to Loreto and the Nativity of the Virgin, and niches containing statues of the Prophets and Sybils. Corinthian capitals divide the screen into sections and support a projecting cornice and the entire structure is topped by a balustrade. The main drawing on this page depicts one side and end of the marble screen from behind the arches of the apse of the basilica. At the top of the page is a smaller sketch of one complete side of the structure showing the two entrances to the Holy House with their triangular pediments.
In addition to his sketches of Loreto in the Ancona to Rome sketchbook Turner also made a number of small drawings and notes relating to the Santa Casa in his copy of Reichard’s Italy, a guidebook which he carried with him during his 1819 tour (see Tate; Turner Bequest CCCLXVII pp.330 and 378). The annotations appear on the same pages which describe Loreto and Cecilia Powell has identified the tiny sketches as details from the marble screen and the ceramic vases in the pharmacy of the Palazzo Apostolico.2 The latter would have caught Turner’s interest since they are decorated with classical scenes, supposedly after the designs of Raphael and Giulio Romano.

Nicola Moorby
November 2008

English information pamphlet from the Santuario della Santa Casa, Loreto.
Powell 1987, p.202 note 56.

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