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

ISBN 978-1-84976-386-8

Joseph Mallord William Turner Galileo's Villa, for Rogers's 'Italy' c.1826-7

Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775–1851
Galileo’s Villa, for Rogers’s ‘Italy’ circa 1826–7
Turner Bequest CCLXXX 163
Watercolour, approximately 110 x 152 mm on white wove paper, 241 x 307 mm
Stamped in black ‘CCLXXX 163’ bottom right
Accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest 1856
This vignette appears mid-way through the twenty-fifth section of Rogers’s Italy, entitled ‘The Campagna of Florence’.1 It was engraved by Edward Goodall, one of the most prolific and skilled interpreters of Turner’s designs.2 It shows an imaginary view of Galileo’s villa, which was located outside of Florence in Arcetri. In 1633, Galileo Galilei (1564–1642) was convicted of heresy for his support of Copernican (heliocentric) theory and sentenced to house arrest at his villa, where he lived until his death in 1642. In Italy, the following verses appear just above Turner’s vignette, showing how carefully Rogers paired text and image when preparing this work for publication:
   Nearer we hail
Thy sunny slope, Arcetri, sung of Old
For its green wine; dearer to me, to most,
As dwelt on by that great Astronomer,
Seven years a prisoner at the city-gate,
Let in but in his grave-clothes. Sacred be
His villa (justly was it called The Gem!)
Sacred the lawn, where many a cypress threw
Its length of shadow, while he watched the stars!
(Italy, p.115)
Like Marengo (see Tate D27663; Turner Bequest CCLXXX 146) and Venice (see Tate D27710; Turner Bequest CCLXXX 193), this vignette makes reference to the historical figures and events that Rogers associated with the places he visited. Here, we see Galileo’s villa surrounded by cypress trees and his astronomical instruments laid out in the foreground. Turner’s design possesses a timeless quality: the absence of the great astronomer himself makes it impossible to tell whether the scene is set in the present, the past, or both.
Many contemporary readers would have recognised Rogers’s references to Galileo since interest in astronomy was growing quickly in the period leading up to the publication of Italy.3 Turner’s own fascination with astronomical ideas is reflected in the vignette, which shows a clear awareness of the scientist’s activities and interests. Included amongst the instruments in the left foreground is a prominently displayed celestial globe referring to Galileo’s efforts to map the relative positions of the stars. Since Rogers makes no reference to these activities in his verses, Turner himself must have been familiar with traditional astronomical apparatus and with Galileo’s scientific projects.4 It has also been suggested that the artist was conversant with the phenomena of earthshine, the illumination of the dark side of the new moon with reflected sunlight, as outlined by Galileo in Sidereus Nuncius, 1610.5 Turner has accurately depicted the waning moon with a sickle of direct sunlight and the ash grey light of earthshine on the darker face.
As Turner does not seem to have visited Arcetri during his Italian tour of 1819, Galileo’s Villa is one of the few Italy illustrations for which the artist’s Italian sketchbooks provided no foundational material.6 Turner produced one preparatory study for this vignette which lays out, in vaguer terms, a composition very similar to the one seen here (see Tate D27604; Turner Bequest CCLXXX 87).
Samuel Rogers, Italy, London 1830, p.115.
W.G. Rawlinson, The Engraved Work of J.M.W. Turner, R.A., vol.II, London 1913, no.360. There are two impressions in Tate’s collection (T04649 and T04650).
Finley 1999, p.151.
Ibid., p.151.
Letter from Giles Davison, 27 May 2009, Tate catalogue file.
Powell 1983, p.5.
Technical notes:
Watermark ‘NotBleach’
Inscribed by the ?artist in pencil ‘For Mr. Goodall –’ lower centre, inverted
Inscribed by unknown hands in pencil ‘12 | b’ and ‘13’ centre and ‘CCLXXX.163’ bottom centre
Stamped in black ‘CCLXXX 163’ centre

Meredith Gamer
August 2006

How to cite

Meredith Gamer, ‘Galileo’s Villa, 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, Tate Research Publication, December 2012, https://www.tate.org.uk/art/research-publications/jmw-turner/joseph-mallord-william-turner-galileos-villa-for-rogerss-italy-r1133310, accessed 22 November 2017.