Joseph Mallord William Turner

View of St Peter’s Square, Rome, from the Loggia of the Vatican; Study for ‘Rome from the Vatican’

1819

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

Medium
Gouache, pen, graphite and watercolour on paper
Dimensions
Support: 232 x 370 mm
Collection
Tate
Acquisition
Accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest 1856
Reference
D16368
Turner Bequest CLXXXIX 41

Technique and condition

This sketch was made on an off-white paper with a bluish grey wash applied first. The initial graphite pencil sketching for the architecture in this composition has been reinforced with iron gall ink over all the main elements. Highlights have been added in an under-bound lead white gouache. This gives a very crisp and opaque gouache, and Turner frequently used lead white for the purpose, a material he used in every oil painting, instead of the less opaque chalk used by many of his contemporaries in watercolour.
The sheet had been covered with a window mount and exposed to light, which has made the grey wash lose colour and has the caused the paper to turn perceptibly brown. The iron gall ink survives in fairly good condition here. It is normal for its initially black colour to turn brown as it ages, and this is its state today in most works where Turner used it. Extensive exposure to light would alter it chemically and eventually cause it to attack the paper surrounding each pen stroke, leading in the worse cases to extensively inked areas cracking, then falling out of the sheet altogether. Extensive exposure to the polluted nineteenth-century atmosphere of London tended to cause patchy or complete discolouration of lead white gouache to a dark brown. Neither has happened here to the slightest observable degree, which implies that the sheet has not been displayed for very long periods. This in turn implies that the grey wash must have faded quite rapidly, and suggests that indigo was used in the wash, because it fades readily in light.

Helen Evans
October 2008

Joyce Townsend
February 2011

Catalogue entry

The subject of this complex drawing is the view from the second floor loggia in the Vatican, looking east across St Peter’s Square towards the city beyond. The panorama incorporates the vista from the Prati di Castello and the Pincian Hill on the left, past the Castel Sant’Angelo and the sweeping bend of the River Tiber in the centre, to Trastevere and the Janiculum Hill on the far right. Visible landmarks across the line of the horizon include, from left to right: the Villa Medici and the trees of the Borghese Gardens; Trinità dei Monti; the Castel Sant’Angelo; the Quirinal Palace and the two domes and bell-tower of Santa Maria Maggiore; the Torre dei Milize; the Basilica of San Giovanno in Laterano; the Capitoline Hill with the tower of the Senatorial Palace; and the domes of San Giovanni dei Fiorentini and San Carlo ai Catinari. In addition to the topographical accuracy of the wider prospect, the foreground of the study incorporates the roofscape across Bernini’s colonnades in St Peter’s Square and part of the Papal Palace, as well as part of the interior of the famous Raphael Loggia.
There are three levels of loggie in the Vatican, covered galleries with open arcades bordering the Cortile di San Damaso, in the eastern wing of the Papal Palace (Palazzo Apostolico). First commissioned from Bramante (1444–1514) by Pope Julius II, the responsibility for the work passed to the official architect of Pope Leo X, the Renaissance master, Raphael (1483–1520), and it was the second floor loggia, on the same level as the Apartments of Julius II and Leo X, which was the first to be completed. Comprising a gallery of thirteen arches and sixty-five metres long, the loggia was decorated in 1517–19 by Raphael and his assistants, with grotesque patterns modelled on those in Nero’s Domus Aurea [Golden House], as well as fifty-two ceiling frescoes of scenes from the Old and New Testaments, popularly known as the ‘Bible of Raphael’. Turner visited the loggia as part of his extensive exploration of Rome in 1819 and made a number of detailed sketches of the interior, see the Tivoli and Rome sketchbook (see Tate D14955–D14965 and D14969; Turner Bequest CLXXIX 13a-21 and 24). This drawing incorporates the southern end of the loggia with the decorative panels on the end wall, above an inscription dedicated to Pope Paul III. Beneath the inscription is a marble bust of Raphael by Alessando d’Este (1787–1826), which had recently been given to the Vatican by Antonio Canova and placed on a plinth in its current location (for a detailed discussion see Tate D14969; Turner Bequest CLXXIX 24).1 Slouched against the pillar is the figure of a man with folded arms and crossed legs, dressed in the distinctive striped uniform of the Pontifical Swiss Guard.
1
Powell 1987, pp.61–2 and McVaugh 1987, p.372.
2
Powell 1984, p.117 and Powell 1987, p.113.
3
Ibid.
4
Davis 1992, pp.87–8.
5
Butlin and Joll 1984, no.228.
6
Powell 1987, p.113.
7
Powell 1984, p.118
8
McVaugh 1987, p.374
9
Ibid., p.373.
10
Peter Bower, Turner’s Papers: A Study of the Manufacture, Selection and Use of his Drawing Papers 1787–1820, exhibition catalogue, Tate Gallery, London 1990, p.120.

Nicola Moorby
October 2009

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