Joseph Mallord William Turner

Details of the Decorations of Raphael’s Loggia in the Vatican: the Southern End and the First External Pier


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 14

Catalogue entry

During his 1819 sojourn in Rome, Turner made a significant series of studies relating to the Loggia of Raphael, a colonnaded porch on the second floor of the Vatican’s Apostolic Palace, decorated by Raphael (1483–1520) and his studio. The sixteenth-century loggia, which looks out over the Cortile San Damaso and St Peter’s Square, is approximately 65 metres long and 4 metres wide (215 by 13 feet) and comprised of thirteen bays. Each of the square vaults of the ceiling contains four frescoes of Biblical scenes, popularly known as ‘Raphael’s Bible’, illustrating Old and New Testament scenes from the Creation to the Last Supper. Meanwhile, the spandrels, lunettes, walls, pilasters and window piers are covered with stuccowork and painted grotesque decorations, ornamental arabesque patterns interspersed with human and animal figures, modelled after ancient Roman wall paintings such as those in Nero’s Domus Aurea on the Palatine Hill in Rome. The loggia was originally open to the elements causing the gradual deterioration of the frescoes, but in 1816 the windows had been glazed, a fact which is not obviously apparent within Turner’s sketches. Several scholars have argued that his interest in the loggia may have been prompted by contemporary British anxieties regarding the poor condition of the frescoes.1
Turner made a closely detailed visual record of the loggia, particularly concentrating on the southern end of the interior and the decoration of the first three bays and window arches, see folios 13 verso–21 (D14955–D14965). 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).2 It has been widely suggested that Turner thought of the idea for the picture whilst he himself was actually sketching there.3 However, the precise nature of these studies, focusing almost exclusively on the first three bays of the loggia, strongly suggests that in fact the artist had already conceived the theme before commencing his sketching campaign and was specifically gathering material with the concept already well advanced in his mind. Virtually every element recorded within his drawings was employed within the composition of the finished painting, and there are no sketches extraneous to this purpose. Gerald Finley has suggested that it is reasonable to assume that the artist already knew at least some of the Biblical designs prior to his visit through reproductive drawings or prints.4 As Cecilia Powell has discussed, Turner was also able to cross-reference his on-the-spot sketches with detailed engravings of Raphael’s loggia which he borrowed from the Royal Academy during the later stages of the painting’s development in April 1820.5
See for example Powell 1987, p.116 and James Hamilton, Nicola Moorby, Christopher Baker and others, Turner & Italy, exhibition catalogue, National Galleries of Scotland, Edinburgh 2009, pp.52–3.
Martin Butlin and Evelyn Joll, The Paintings of J.M.W. Turner, revised ed., New Haven and London 1984, no.228.
See Powell 1987, pp.62 and 116–17, and Hamilton et al. 2009, p.53. Hamilton, for example, has described the studies as ‘far more detailed than [Turner] would reasonably need if he were not sympathetic to, and even complicit in, a complete copying of them’ and has stated that the artist only ‘used a fraction’ of them.
Gerald Finley, ‘J.M.W. Turner’s “Rome from the Vatican”: A Palimpsest of History’, Zeitschrift für Kunstgeschichte, vol.49, 1986, p.56 note 11.
See Cecilia Powell, ‘On the Wing through Space and Time: The Dynamics of Turner’s Italy’, in Forum for Modern Language Studies, vol.39, no.2, April 2003, pp.199–200.
Nicole Dacos, Le Logge di Rafaello: Maestro e bottega di fronte all’antico, Rome 1977, no.I.4, reproduced Tav.XI, and Nicole Dacos, The Loggia of Raphael: A Vatican Art Treasure, New York and London 2008, reproduced pl.102, p.141.
See Bernice F. Davidson, ‘Pope Paul III’s Additions to Raphael’s Logge: His Imprese in the Logge’, The Art Bulletin, vol.61, no.3, September 1979, pp.393, 397, reproduced figs.8 and 11.
See Davidson 1979, p.397, reproduced fig.12.
Ibid., p.393. The details are also recorded in the watercolours and engravings of Giovanni Volpato (1735–1803), see Giorgio Marini, Nicole Dacos, Michel Hochmann, Annie Gilet et al., Giovanni Volpato: Les Loges de Raphaël et la Galerie du Palais Farnèse, exhibition catalogue, Musée des Beaux-Arts de Tours 2007, no.2, reproduced in colour p.129, as ‘Lunette et Porte de la travée I’.
See Dacos 1977, reproduced Tav.XCV ‘a) Pilastro I.B, esterno. Stato attuale’. The design is repeated on the opposite side of the window arch.
See ibid., Tav.LXIV, ‘c) Giovanni da Udine, Sacrificio, Sottarco I.C, esterno’.

Nicola Moorby
January 2010

Read full Catalogue entry

You might like

In the shop