Joseph Mallord William Turner

The Town Hall, Louvain, and the Choir of St Peter’s Church

c.1839

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

Medium
Gouache, pen and ink and watercolour on paper
Dimensions
Support: 140 x 188 mm
Collection
Tate
Acquisition
Accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest 1856
Reference
D20263
Turner Bequest CCXXII D

Display caption

On his way to Germany in 1839, Turner passed through Brussels and Louvain, sketching as he went. This view of the
Town Hall and St. Peter's Church in Louvain shows his interest in Belgian architecture.

However, German cities and architecture played a more important part in Turner's working life. His interest began with his first visit to the Rhineland in 1817, at the age of forty-two, and continued until the publication of the large engravings of Ehrenbreitstein and Heidelberg in 1846, five years before his death.

Gallery label, August 2004

Catalogue entry

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.

Alice Rylance-Watson
June 2013

1
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.

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