Joseph Mallord William Turner

A Classical Steeple: ?St Michael’s Church


In Tate Britain

Prints and Drawings Room

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Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775–1851
Graphite on paper
Support: 112 × 114 mm
Accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest 1856
Turner Bequest CCXXXIX 66

Catalogue entry

With the sketchbook turned vertically, Turner has recorded the elevation of a classical steeple, apparently with a rusticated door or window at the foot of the tower and a tall arched window or recess above, with pinnacles around a drum and lantern on a circular or polygonal plan, topped by a narrow spire. The slight form to its left is presumably a related detail. The inscription appears to be ‘Michl’, implying a dedication to St Michael, but no match has yet been established to a corresponding church in the Midlands or elsewhere. There are points in common with the London churches of St Alfege’s, Greenwich, St Magnus the Martyr and St Mary-le-Bow, and All Saints, Oxford, but also significant differences.
The sketches on immediately adjacent pages show Chester (see under folio 14 verso; D22176), where a St Michael’s Church – redundant and now the History and Heritage centre – stands on Bridge Street, having been largely rebuilt in 1849–50 to incorporate earlier work from the fifteenth century if not earlier;1 its three-stage Gothic tower bears no resemblance to the structure Turner records here.
See Nikolaus Pevsner, Cheshire, The Buildings of England, Harmondsworth 1971, p.152.
Technical notes:
Finberg described the leaf as ‘partly torn’,1 leaving an irregular edge and the dimensions of 112 x 114 mm rather than the usual 191 x 114 (with the page turned vertically). The outer half must have been missing before Turner made the drawing, as the very tip of the spire is continued onto the middle of folio 67 recto (D22274).
Finberg 1909, II, p.736.

Matthew Imms
April 2014

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