Joseph Mallord William Turner

Interior of St Peter’s, Rome, from close to the Pier of St Helena

1819

In Tate Britain

Prints and Drawings Room

View by appointment
Artist
Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775–1851
Medium
Graphite on paper
Dimensions
Support: 114 × 189 mm
Collection
Tate
Acquisition
Accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest 1856
Reference
D16312
Turner Bequest CLXXXVIII 84 a

Catalogue entry

Despite the wide range of subject matter represented within this sketchbook, Turner labelled it the ‘St Peter’s’ sketchbook, a title which derives from a series of eight studies recording scenes from the interior of the famous basilica, see folios 17 verso, 84 and 85–87 (D16189, D16309, and D16311–D16315; Turner Bequest CLXXXVIII 17a, 83, and 84–86). These sketches, executed swiftly in the relative gloom of the church, are principally concerned with exploring the complex perspective of the architectural arrangement of the building, looking down through the side aisles and nave towards the transepts and the crossing. As Cecilia Powell has written they ‘vividly record the experience of being in the huge, interlocking spaces of a vast building’.1 Turner may have referred to them when painting a finished watercolour for Walter Fawkes, Interior of St. Peter’s, Rome 1821 (The Morgan Library & Museum, New York).2
Powell has identified this inverted sketch as a view of the interior from a location near to the pier of St Helena.3 There are four massive piers which mark the crossing underneath the dome of the church, and each one contains a statue within a niche. St Helena is found within the second niche on the right as you enter the crossing from the nave. Turner’s sketch depicts the view from near to this pier looking diagonally across the high altar and Bernini’s baldacchino towards the left (southern) transept. The space on the far right-hand side is the corner chapel of Our Lady of the Column. Turner has recorded part of the Latin inscription which runs around the drum underneath the dome. The full text comes from the gospel of St Matthew and reads ‘Tu es Petrus et super hanc petram aedificato ecclesiam meam et tibi dabo claves regni caelorum’ [You are Rock and on this rock I will build my Church, to you I will give the keys of the kingdom of heaven].4

Nicola Moorby
January 2009

1
Powell 1987, p.[41].
2
Andrew Wilton, The Life and Work of J.M.W. Turner, Fribourg 1979, no.724; reproduced in colour in Cara Dufour Denison, Peter Dreyer, William M. Griswold et al., From Mantegna to Picasso: Drawings from the Thaw Collection at the Pierpoint Morgan Library, New York, exhibition catalogue, Royal Academy, London 1996, p.107 no.52
3
Powell 1984, p.427.

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