Joseph Mallord William Turner

A Villa. Moon-Light (A Villa on the Night of a Festa di Ballo), for Rogers’s ‘Italy’


Not on display

Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775–1851
Pen and ink, graphite and watercolour on paper
Support: 246 × 309 mm
Accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest 1856
Turner Bequest CCLXXX 165

Catalogue entry

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.
Samuel Rogers, Italy, London 1830, p.223.
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).
Piggott 1993, pp.37, 82, 97
Rawlinson 1913, vol.II, no.371, p.238 as ‘A villa on the night of a festa di ballo’.
Piggott 1993, p.82.
Finberg 1909, vol. II, p.901 as ‘Padua: Moonlight’.
Warrell 1991, p.56.
Literary Gazette, no.710, 28 August 1830, p.565. Quoted in Powell 1983, p.4.

Meredith Gamer
August 2006

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