J.M.W. Turner: Sketchbooks, Drawings and Watercolours

Joseph Mallord William Turner A Villa. Moon-Light (A Villa on the Night of a Festa di Ballo), for Rogers's 'Italy' c.1826-7

Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775–1851
A Villa. Moon-Light (A Villa on the Night of a Festa di Ballo), for Rogers’s ‘Italy’ circa 1826–7
D27682
Turner Bequest CCLXXX 165
Pen and ink, pencil and watercolour, approximately 95 x 117 mm on thick white wove paper, 246 x 309 mm
Stamped in black ‘CCLXXX 165’ bottom left
Accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest 1856
This vignette is the head-piece to the forty-seventh section of Rogers’s Italy, entitled ‘The Feluca’.1 It was engraved by Edward Goodall, who was one of the most prolific and skilled interpreters of Turner’s designs and his translation demonstrates the subtle tonal variations that could be achieved in the new medium of steel engraving.2 This vignette bears a very close resemblance to Villa Madama (see Tate D27676; Turner Bequest CCLXXX 159), which along with Galileo’s Villa (see Tate D27680; Turner Bequest, CCLXXX 163) comprise the few moonlit scenes related to the Italy series of illustrations.
The vignette introduces one of the last sections of Italy, in which Rogers describes his approach to the city and seaport of Genoa in a felucca, a type of traditional sailing boat (hence the section’s title). Just before reaching the city, his vessels passes a villa, lit from within and filled with festive activity. Rogers’s description of this luxurious and magical sight clearly provided the inspiration for Turner’s illustration:
  ‘Twas where o’er the sea,
For we were now within a cable’s length,
Delicious gardens hung; green galleries,
And marble terraces in many a flight,
And fairy-arches flung from cliff to cliff,
Wildering, enchanting; and, above them all,
A Palace, such as somewhere in the East,
In Zenastan or Araby the blest,
Among its golden groves, and fruits of gold,
And fountains scattering rainbows in the sky,
Rose, when Aladdin rubbed the wondrous lamp;
Such, if not fairer; and, when we shot by,
A scene of revelry, in long array
As with the radiance of a setting sun,
The windows blazing.
(Italy, p.227)
When Turner’s Italy vignettes were published as a portfolio of engravings in 1838, this design was titled A Villa. Moon-Light.3 However, the title by which it became best known, Villa on the Night of a Festa di Ballo, first appeared in W.G. Rawlinson’s catalogue of Turner’s engraved work in 1913.4 Rogers himself made no reference to the phrase ‘festa di ballo’ and it therefore seems to have been Rawlinson’s own invention.5 Furthermore, although Rogers clearly indicates that the villa is situated near Genoa, both Ruskin and Finberg misidentified the location as Padua.6 Their confusion is understandable: Turner did not visit Genoa himself until 1828, after he had completed the watercolours for Italy, and there are no pencil drawings that relate to this study.7 The villa shown here is therefore likely to be an entirely imaginary creation conjured by Rogers’s poetic description.
As with several other watercolours in the Italy series, Turner has annotated the sheet with ink in order to clarify certain details for his engraver. He has outlined the steps of the grand staircase, added a second boat in the foreground, and strengthened the silhouettes of the horses pulling a carriage along the bridge in the middle distance. Turner’s attention to detail paid off: an early review of Italy singled out this illustration for special praise, both as an independent work of art and as a fitting complement to Rogers’s verses. The Literary Gazette described it as ‘Rich and glowing in its effects; and finely embodying the description of the text.’8
1
Samuel Rogers, Italy, London 1830, p.223.
2
W.G. Rawlinson, The Engraved Work of J.M.W. Turner, R.A., vol.II, London 1913, no.371. There are two impressions in Tate’s collection (T04668 and T04669).
3
Piggott 1993, pp.37, 82, 97
4
Rawlinson 1913, vol.II, no.371, p.238 as ‘A villa on the night of a festa di ballo’.
5
Piggott 1993, p.82.
6
Finberg 1909, vol. II, p.901 as ‘Padua: Moonlight’.
7
Warrell 1991, p.56.
8
Literary Gazette, no.710, 28 August 1830, p.565. Quoted in Powell 1983, p.4.
Verso:
Inscribed in pencil ‘12| a’ and ‘24’ centre and ‘CCLXXX 165’ bottom centre
Stamped in black ‘CCLXXX 165’ centre
There are some very faint sketches in pencil, particularly on the right-hand side of the sheet. The subjects are unidentified, but appear to be unrelated to the vignette illustration on the recto.

Meredith Gamer
August 2006

How to cite

Meredith Gamer, ‘A Villa. Moon-Light (A Villa on the Night of a Festa di Ballo), for Rogers’s ‘Italy’ c.1826–7 by Joseph Mallord William Turner’, catalogue entry, August 2006, in David Blayney Brown (ed.), J.M.W. Turner: Sketchbooks, Drawings and Watercolours, December 2012, https://www.tate.org.uk/art/research-publications/jmw-turner/joseph-mallord-william-turner-a-villa-moon-light-a-villa-on-the-night-of-a-festa-di-ballo-r1133329, accessed 21 August 2014.