Here Turner pictures two of Louvain’s most celebrated medieval buildings, St Peter’s Church and the Town Hall (Stadhuis), situated on the city’s Grote Markt. Their splendour and ornate architectural detail are represented to full effect.
At right, rendered in black ink, is part of the south transept of St Peter’s Church (c.1425–97). Turner captures the chilliness of its pale grey masonry, as well as portraying the church’s grand flying buttresses designed in the Brabantine Gothic style. A parade of buildings can also be seen at the foot of the choir, snuggly surrounding it and rather dwarfed in comparison. With their traditional Dutch and crow-stepped gables, these vernacular buildings stand in total yet picturesque contrast to the majestic ecclesiastical architecture of St Peter’s.
Behind the church, illuminated in golden gouache, is a building described by the nineteenth-century travel writer Dudley Costello as the gleaming ‘architectural gem’ of Belgium: Louvain’s Town Hall. 1 Indeed, in this drawing the Stadhuis is less a civic edifice than a structure which resembles an intricate and bejewelled reliquary. Turner’s choice of radiant golden gouache and the precision with which he renders the exterior decoration of the building evoke filigree metalwork or an elaborate Gothic chasse.
The colour palette employed here is identical to Turner’s other 1839 gouache of Louvain (Tate D24590; Turner Bequest CCLIX 25). See Tate D28045; Turner Bequest CCLXXXVII 2a for the preparatory sketch to this work, and Tate D28046–D28047, D28064; Turner Bequest CCLXXXVII 3–3a, 12 for other sketches of St Peter’s.
Dudley Costello, A tour through the valley of the Meuse: with the legends of the Walloon country and the Ardennes, 2nd ed., London 1846, p.16.