Joseph Mallord William Turner

An Artist in the Vatican Loggia: Composition Study for ‘Rome from the Vatican’


In Tate Britain

Prints and Drawings Room

View by appointment
Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775–1851
Graphite on paper
Support: 112 × 186 mm
Accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest 1856
Turner Bequest CLXXIX 25 a

Catalogue entry

In addition to compiling a detailed visual record of the southern end of the Loggia of Raphael in the Vatican, see folios 13 verso–21 (D14955–D14965), Turner also made two compositional sketches exploring the theme of an artist working in the building. From these drawings evolved the artist’s first finished oil painting following his Italian tour, the vast canvas Rome from the Vatican. Raffaelle Accompanied by La Fornarina, Preparing his Pictures for the Decoration of the Loggia exhibited 1820 (Tate, N00503).1 In marked contrast to the carefully observed and annotated studies of the decorative and architectural elements of the loggia, the rough, free execution of these drawings belies their imaginary, conceptual nature. Although obviously related in theme and appearance, the two sketches reveal different strategies for the depiction of the figure of Raphael within the foreground of the finished picture.
This sketch has been described as the ‘weaker’ of the two compositional studies, partly due to its smudged, indistinct surface, and the off-setting of the darker image from the opposite sheet of the double-page spread, see folio 26 (D14972).2 Yet, despite the vagueness of the lines, the design clearly shows a male figure seated within the setting of the Loggia of Raphael. Identifiable in the background is an arched window of the loggia arcade, the façade of the opposite wing of the Apostolic Palace and part of the cityscape beyond.3 The archaic dress and dark floppy hat suggest that the figure is an artist, whilst behind him to the left is the suggestion of a nude female model, possibly intended to represent Raphael’s mistress and muse, La Fornarina. Unlike the standing, active figure evident within the second design, the artist in this scene appears passive and contemplative, leaning his head on his arm and possibly gazing upwards. Robert McVaugh has suggested that Turner may have been referencing an engraving of Raphael by Marcantonio Raimondi (circa 1480–1534).4 The spirit of the pose is close to that of Raphael in Rome from the Vatican, who, despite the fact that he is standing, supports his head with his hand whilst contemplating the vaults of the loggia above.

Nicola Moorby
January 2010

Butlin and Joll 1984, no.228.
Finley 1986, p.58.
McVaugh 1987, p.372.
Ibid., p.384.

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