Fabled to have been the home of Emperor Charlemagne’s nephew Roland, ‘the bold and precipitous rock of Rolandseck’, travel writer John Murray recounts, is ‘composed of prismatic basalt’ and atop it stands a ‘scanty and mouldering baronial fortress and desolate arch’. 1 The structure forms a ‘very striking object from the river, and, taken together with the Drachenfels on the opposite bank, serves as a fit portal to the grand scenery which lies above it’.2
In this slight and swiftly rendered sketch, the Drachenfels and Rolandseck are pictured on opposite sides of the Rhine valley to each other, with the island of Nonnenwerth between them in the middle of the river. Translated as ‘Nun’s Island’, Nonnenwerth was so called, Murray writes, because there was once an ‘Ursuline nunnery’ built upon it, ‘embowered by trees’.3
Turner recorded the Rolandseck, Drachenfels and Nonnenwerth on a number of occasions in his tours of 1817, 1824, 1833 and 1840; see, for example, Tate D12572, D12868, D12887, D19840, D30500, D30505–D30508; Turner Bequest CLIX 30a, CLX 85a, CLXI 3, CCXVI 145, CCCIII 22, 24a–26. Other representations in this sketchbook are found in Tate D28621–D28623; Turner Bequest CCXCI 43a–44a. There is also a vignette design entitled The Brave Roland of c.1835 produced to illustrate Campbell’s Poetical Works; for Edward Goodall’s engraved impression of it, published in 1837, see Tate Impression T04779.