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Steering through the glassy waters in this picture is a ‘bragozzo’, a characteristic Venetian fishing boat. The name emblazoned on the sail is the ‘Sol di Venezia’, or ‘Sun of Venice’ and, laid out in a shimmering haze of colour in the distance beyond, is the city itself. Those who read Turner’s accompanying poem in the Royal Academy catalogue of 1843 would have found an unexpected premonition of doom contained therein. According to his verses a ‘demon in grim repose’ lay in wait for the boat. Even the temperate waters of the lagoon contained dangers for those who ventured afloat.

February 2010