Art historian and Turner expert Cecilia Powell has identified this view as the Piazza Cavalli at Piacenza, a city in northern Italy approximately halfway between Milan and Parma.1 Turner passed through during his return journey through Italy to France in January 1820. This appears to be his only visual record dating from this tour, although a later study of the cathedral can be found within the Rimini to Rome sketchbook, 1828–9 (Tate D14911; Turner Bequest CLXXVIII 45).
The sketch was drawn from the northern corner of the Piazza Cavalli, the main town square which lies in the heart of the city. The main focus of the prospect is the medieval Palazzo Comunale, the civic seat of government also known locally as ‘il Gotico’. The sketch is rather swift and rough but nonetheless accurately captures the architectural characteristics of the building such as the arcaded façade and the central bell-tower framed by two smaller towers. On the left-hand side of the composition is the twelfth-century Church of San Francesco, while visible within the left and right centre of the piazza are the two bronze equestrian statues for which the square is named (cavalli means horses in Italian). The monuments depict Alessandro Farnese (1545–92) and his son, Ranuccio, both former Dukes of Parma and Piacenza.
The details in the top left-hand corner represent a separate study of the eighteenth-century Palazzo del Governatore which stands on the opposite side of the piazza. Turner shows an oblique view of the front of the building with one of the spires of San Francesco visible to the right.
Powell 1984, p.432.