This sketch represents a copy of Claude Lorrain’s, Seaport with the Villa Medici 1637 (Uffizi Gallery, Florence),1 the only visual study of a painting made by Turner during his visit to the Uffizi Gallery in Florence in 1819. It is also his largest and most detailed record of a work by the seventeenth-century French landscapist (circa 1604/5–1682), the artist whom he most admired and was most consistently in his thoughts during his Italian travels. Cecilia Powell has noted that Turner may have been prepared for his first sight of this work by his friend, H.W. Williams, whom he met in Scotland in 1818. Williams wrote a near-contemporaneous description of Claude’s ‘exquisite and perfect’ picture which was later published in 1820.2 Further copies of paintings by Claude can be found in the Remarks (Italy) sketchbook (Tate D16848, D16849, D16850; Turner Bequest CXCIII 80, 80a, 81).
In addition to sketching the main compositional details of the Claude’s picture, Turner has also inscribed the study with various notes concerning colouring, tone and biographical information. For example, he has described the ‘red’ mast of one of the ships on the left as ‘all painted at once with 1 colour’, and the ‘wonderfully grey green’ colour of the building resembling the Villa Medici on the right. The most interesting annotation is the one found in the top right-hand corner which appears to consist of an attempt to read the date inscribed on the canvas (now generally believed to be 1637), as well as an allusion to Claude’s death in 1682 (possibly aged 82) and a reference, ‘1512 Raf’. The latter has been interpreted by John Gage as another oil painting in the Uffizi Gallery, La Fornarina, 1512, now attributed to Sebastiano del Piombo but in Turner’s day believed to be the work of Raphael.3 A copy of the picture appears in the foreground of Rome, from the Vatican exhibited 1820 (Tate, N00503).4
Turner may have seen Claude’s painting again during his second trip to Italy in 1828 when he stopped in Florence en route to Rome. The composition subsequently formed the basis for Regulus (Tate, N00519),5 Turner’s own version of a Claudian seaport which he painted and exhibited in Rome during the winter of 1828–9. The canvas was later reworked for display in Britain in 1837.