Joseph Mallord William Turner

Lake of Como (I), for Rogers’s ‘Italy’


In Tate Britain

Prints and Drawings Room

View by appointment
Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775–1851
Graphite and watercolour on paper
Accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest 1856
Turner Bequest CCLXXX 157

Catalogue entry

This vignette appears as the head-piece for the section of Rogers’s Italy that contains Rogers’s first descriptions of the Italian scene.1 It was engraved by Edward Goodall, who was one of the most prolific and skilled interpreters of Turner’s designs.2 Rogers begins the section with a description of Lake Como (also known as the Larian Lake) in which he fuses historical meditation with personal impressions of contemporary Italian life:
I love to sail along the Larian Lake
Under the shore – though not to visit Pliny,
To catch him musing in his plane-tree walk,
Or angling from his window: and, in truth,
Could I recall the ages past, and play
The fool with Time, I should perhaps reserve
My leisure for Catullus on his Lake,
But such things cannot be. So I sit still,
And let the boatman shift his little sail,
His sail so forked and so swallow-like,
Well pleased with all that comes. The morning-air
Plays on my cheek how gently, flinging round
A silvery gleam: and now the purple mists
Rise like a curtain; now the sun looks out,
Filling, o’erflowing with his glorious light
This noble amphitheatre of hills;
And now appear as on a phosphor-sea
Numberless barks, from Milan, from Pavìa,
A quay-like scene, glittering and full of life,
And doubled by reflection.
(Italy, pp.32–3)
The historical allusions contained within Rogers’s text reflect the author’s deep-set belief in travel as a means of revisiting the past. During his tour of Italy Rogers wrote home to his friend Richard Sharp: ‘Oh if you knew what it was to look upon a Lake which Virgil has mentioned & Catullus has sailed upon, to see a house in which Petrarch has lived & to stand upon Titian’s grave as I have done.’3 However, as this passage also shows, Rogers was aware of Italy having ‘lived two lives’ (ancient and modern) and was determined to narrate both simultaneously through his poetry.4
The two lives to which Rogers refers can also be observed in Turner’s illustration, which shows both ancient villas and contemporary boating activity on the lake. In producing this tranquil and picturesque scene, Turner may well have referred to the many sketches he made of Como during his 1819 visit to Italy (see Tate D14245, D14246, D14249, D14250, D14261, D14274, D14275, D14277; Turner Bequest CLXXIV 52a, 53, 54a, 55, 60a, 67, 67a, 68). The villas, skiffs, and majestic mountain scenery of these drawings reappear in idealised form in Turner’s delicate vignette.
Samuel Rogers, Italy, London 1830, p.32.
W.G. Rawlinson, The Engraved Work of J.M.W. Turner, R.A, vol.II, London 191, no.357. There is one impression in Tate’s collection ( T04645).
Quoted in Cecilia Powell, ‘Turner’s vignettes and the making of Rogers’s “Italy” ’, Turner Studies, vol.3, no.1, Summer 1983, pp.4–5.
J.R. Hale (ed.), The Italian Journal of Samuel Rogers, London 1956, p.101.

Meredith Gamer
August 2006

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