Joseph Mallord William Turner

Interior of St Peter’s, Rome, Looking down the Left Aisle, with Canova’s Monument to the Last of the Stuarts on the Right


In Tate Britain

Prints and Drawings Room

View by appointment
Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775–1851
Graphite on paper
Support: 114 × 189 mm
Accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest 1856
Turner Bequest CLXXXVIII 83

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
Powell has identified Turner’s precise viewpoint in this drawing as looking down the left aisle of the basilica with the Monument to the Royal Stuarts on the right.2 Commissioned by the Prince Regent, later George IV, and designed by Antonio Canova (1757–1822), the marble memorial to the last three members of the Catholic House of Stuart, was only completed in 1819, the year of Turner’s visit. His sketch clearly shows the weeping figures of two sorrowful angels adorning the work, and above, the three bas-relief profiles of James Francis Edward Stuart, and his two sons Charles Edward Stuart and Henry Benedict Stuart. The annotations record the Latin text carved on the monument, although Turner’s record is not entirely accurate. The full inscription is:
[To James III, son of King James II of Great Britain, to Charles Edward and to Henry, Dean of the Cardinal Fathers, sons of James III, the last of the Royal House of Stuart. 1819]
There is a second, smaller inscription on the lintel above the marble doors of the monument, ‘BEATI MORTVI | QVI IN DOMINO MORIVNTVR’ [Blessed are those who die in the Lord]. Turner would have had a particular interest in viewing the monument since he was personally acquainted with Canova, one of the most celebrated European sculptors of his day. The two artists had first met in November 1815 when Benjamin Robert Haydon brought Canova to visit Turner in his studio.3 Four years later, Turner paid a return call, meeting the Italian artist in his Rome studio. There seems to have been mutual respect between them, with Canova declaring Turner to be a ‘grand génie’, and proposing him as an honorary member of the Accademia di San Luca, an accolade which he received on 24 November 1819. A further matter for curiosity, however, may also have been the conflict between Canova and the papal authorities who found cause for offence in the nudity of the angels.4 Canova ultimately refused to alter his design but the other statue which Turner sketched in St Peter’s, Guglielmo della Porta’s monument to Pope Paul III after designs by Michelangelo, was famous for having had bronze drapery added to the figure of Justice by Bernini, see folios 68 verso and 86 (D16279 and D16313; Turner Bequest CLXXXVIII 69a and 85).5

Nicola Moorby
January 2009

Powell 1987, p.[41].
Powell 1984, p.427.
Alison Yarrington, ‘Antonio Canova’, in Evelyn Joll, Martin Butlin and Luke Herrmann (eds.), The Oxford Companion to J.M.W. Turner, Oxford and New York 2001, p.41.
Powell 1984, p.147 and Powell 1987, p.61.
Powell 1984, pp.483 note 87 and 484 note 89 and Powell 1987, p.61.
Finberg 1909, vol.I, p.561; Wilton 1979, p.383; Hill 1980, p.64 no.96.
Wilton 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
Powell 1984, pp.229–30 and Powell 1987, p.109.

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