Joseph Mallord William Turner

Piazza di San Giovanni in Laterano, Rome


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 88 a

Catalogue entry

The Basilica of San Giovanni in Laterano (St John Lateran) is the official cathedral of Rome and the seat of the Pope. This sketch depicts the lateral or northern façade and the Piazza di San Giovanni in Laterano, as seen from the Via Merulana. Built in 1586 by Domenico Fontana, the part of the cathedral is characterised by two Romanesque bell-towers and a two-storey portico known as the Loggia delle Benedizioni. It is from this part of the building that the Pope issues his Maundy Thursday blessing.1 To the left of the loggia is the Palazzo Lateranese (Lateran Palace) and in the centre of the square is an ancient Egyptian obelisk, erected here in 1588 by Pope Sixtus IV. A similar view of the piazza can be found in the Roman and French Notebook sketchbook, 1828 (see Tate D21889; Turner Bequest CCXXXVII 21a). Compare also a sketch by Jean Auguste Dominique Ingres (1780–1867), View of the Lateran c.1806–20 (Musée Ingres, Montauban, France).2
There are two further sketches on this page. In the bottom right-hand corner is a small study of Santa Maria Maggiore, as seen from the Piazza di San Giovanni in Laterano, looking north-west straight down the Via Merulana. Meanwhile, the sketch running horizontally along the foredge of the page appears to depict a section of the Aqua Claudia, an aqueduct built by the Emperor Claudius which converged with the city walls at nearby Porta Maggiore (also called the Porta Prenestina).

Nicola Moorby
January 2009

Matilda Webb, The Churches and Catacombs of Early Christian Rome, Brighton 2001, p.43.
See Hans Naef, Ingres in Rome, exhibition catalogue, National Gallery of Art, Washington 1971, p.77, no.88, reproduced.

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