Joseph Mallord William Turner

Banditti, for Rogers’s ‘Italy’


In Tate Britain

Prints and Drawings Room

View by appointment
Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775–1851
Pen and ink, graphite and watercolour on paper
Support: 247 × 301 mm
Accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest 1856
Turner Bequest CCLXXX 164

Catalogue entry

This vignette, engraved by Robert Wallis, served as the head-piece for the thirty-eighth section of Rogers’s Italy, which was entitled ‘An Adventure’.1 Rogers’s nostalgia for the past extends even to Italy’s notorious mountain bandits who he believed had degenerated from once noble thieves into depraved brutes. As he describes in his previous poem, ‘Banditti’:
’Tis a wild life, fearful and full of change,
The mountain-robber’s.
Time was, the trade was nobler, if not honest;
When they that robbed, were men of better faith
Than kings or pontiffs;
’Tis no longer so.
Now crafty, cruel, torturing ere they slay
The unhappy captive, and with bitter jests
Mocking Misfortune; vain, fantastical,
Wearing whatever glitters in the spoil;
And most devout, tho’, when they kneel and pray,
With every bead they could recount a murder
(Italy, pp.178–9)
Banditti were common figures in contemporary literature and art, for example, in Alexandre Dumas, The Count of Monte Cristo (1844–6) which is set during the same period. They were also a genuine concern for visitors on the Grand Tour, particularly as travellers made their way further southward to Rome and beyond. As J.R. Hale explains, ‘even the pleasure trip from Rome to Tivoli was not without its darker side.’2 One contemporary tourist described seeing at various places along the side of the road, ‘the detached limbs of malefactors, suspended on posts, a practice which has not produced the effect of preventing robberies on the road near Tivoli.’3
As with several other watercolours in the Italy series, Turner has annotated the sheet with ink in order to clarify and emphasise certain details for his engraver. Most noticeably in Banditti, he has used ink to define and darken the foliage of the trees on the left side of the composition. Although this watercolour is approximately square in shape, the engraved version of Banditti is unique among Turner’s Italy illustrations for its vertical composition. This change was brought about by the removal of several figures in the bottom left and the addition of trees and a mountain range above the bridge. With these alterations, the overall form of the vignette became more rounded and symmetrical, a shift that Adele Holcomb attributes to Rogers’s influence.4 However, the alteration could just as easily reflect Turner’s preferences: it was not uncommon for the artist to instruct his engravers to change aspects of his original designs, as can be seen in Martigny (see Tate D27671; Turner Bequest CCLXXX 154).
Samuel Rogers, Italy, London 1830, p.183; W.G. Rawlinson, The Engraved Work of J.M.W. Turner, R.A., vol.II, London 1913, no.367. There is one impression in Tate’s collection (T04661).
Quoted in Hale, J. R. The Italian Journal of Samuel Rogers. London, 1956, p.85.
Holcomb 1969, p.409.
Touched proof is located in the Yale Center for British Art. B1977.14.7272. Inscription in transcribed in Eric M. Lee, Translations: Turner and Printmaking, exhibition catalogue, Yale Center for British Art, New Haven 1993, p.32.
Powell 1983, p.10.

Meredith Gamer
August 2006

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