Joseph Mallord William Turner

Rome, from the Vatican. Raffaelle, Accompanied by La Fornarina, Preparing his Pictures for the Decoration of the Loggia

exhibited 1820

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Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775–1851
Oil paint on canvas
Support: 1772 × 3353 mm
frame: 2275 × 3843 × 167 mm
Accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest 1856

Display caption

Turner first visited Rome when he was 42 years old, and at the height of his success as an artist. The city was full of associations with the subjects from Roman antiquity, mythology and art, which Turner dramatised in his work. When he returned home, Turner painted this sweeping view from the Vatican, across St Peter’s Square towards the Abruzzi hills. It embraces all that Rome meant to him. It is the historic centre of the Roman Empire, and its successor, the Christian Church, and then of the great artists of the Renaissance - including Raphael, who stands in the foreground.

Gallery label, July 2020

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Catalogue entry

228. [N00503] Rome, from the Vatican. Raffaelle, accompanied by La Fornarina, preparing his Pictures for the Decoration of the Loggia Exh. 1820


Canvas, 69 3/4 × 132 (177 × 335·5)

Inscr. ‘Pianta del Vaticano’ on plan, and ‘Casa di Raffaello’ on painting, lower centre.

Coll. Turner Bequest 1856 (50, ‘Rome’ 11'0" × 5'11"); transferred to the Tate Gallery 1920.

Exh. R.A. 1820 (206); R.A. 1974–5 (236, repr.).

Lit. Ruskin 1857 (1903–12, xiii, pp. 127–8); Thornbury 1862, i, p. 303; 1877, p. 437; Hamerton 1879, pp. 170–72; Bell 1901, p. 103 no. 144; Armstrong 1902, p. 228; Whitley 1928, p. 317; Davies 1946, p. 186; Clare 1951, pp. 66–7; Finberg 1961, pp. 264–5, 482 no. 252; Herrmann 1963, p. 23; Rothenstein and Butlin 1964, p. 36, pl. 62; Ziff 1965, p. 56, pl. 4; Lindsay 1966, p. 158; Gage 1969, pp. 92–5, 265 n. 158; Reynolds 1969, p. 114, pl. 94; Gaunt 1971, p. 7; Ziff 1971, p. 126; Raymond Lister (ed.), The Letters of Samuel Palmer 1974, ii, p. 897; Herrmann 1975, pp. 29, 231, pl. 84; Mordechai Omer, ‘Turner and “The Building of the Ark” from Raphael's Third Vault of the Loggia’, Burlington Magazine cxvii 1975, pp. 694–8, figs. 2 and, detail, 3; Paulson 1978, p. 184 n. 34; Wallace 1979, pp. 109–10, 113, pls. 4 and, detail, 5; Wilton 1979, pp. 145–7, 149–50, 204–5, 222, pl. 161; Ziff 1980, p. 169; Kitson 1983, p. 12.

This picture, exhibited on the three-hundredth anniversary of Raphael's death, sums up Turner's reactions to his first visit to Rome and to the Renaissance artist particularly associated with that city, shown with his mistress, La Fornarina. In addition, as John Gage has shown, the painting is more specifically autobiographical, with Turner identifying himself with the universal artist of the Italian Renaissance. When visiting the Louvre in 1802 Turner had copied Raphael's Small Holy Family (‘Studies in the Louvre’ sketchbook, LXXII-17) but Raphael was relatively little valued at this time. By 1820, however, there was a growing appreciation of Raphael as a colourist as well as a draughtsman; Turner himself noted in the ‘Route to Rome’ sketchbook that the frescoes in the Villa Farnesina were ‘Exquisite colored’ (CLXXI-14 verso). Raphael was also increasingly appreciated as a painter of landscape, hence the inclusion of the surprisingly Claudian landscape in the foreground. Gage suggests that Turner deliberately included inaccurate and anachronistic details to stress the autobiographical character of the picture. Raphael's great decorative schemes, painted in fresco direct on the wall, are represented by an easel painting on canvas of one of the Loggie subjects. Bernini's colonnades in front of St Peter's, not built until the seventeenth century, are included to represent Turner's ambitions as an architect, fulfilled to some extent by his designs for his own gallery in Queen Anne Street, which he was rebuilding at this time, and for his cottage near Twickenham. Sculpture is also included.

In the ‘Tivoli and Rome’ sketchbook of 1819 there are a number of sketches of the Loggie, including one general view as they appear in the finished picture as well as several detailed studies, two general composition sketches that were considerably modified, and a drawing of the distant snow-capped Apennines (CLXXIX-13 verso, 14–21 verso, 25 verso and 26 (repr. Wilkinson 1974, p. 188) and 25 respectively.). There is a finished drawing in pen and ink, finished in Chinese white, in the ‘Rome: C[olour] Studies’ sketchbook (CLXXXIX-41).

Although Finberg quotes two unfavourable reviews the reception of the picture was not entirely negative. Two unidentified cuttings at the Victoria and Albert Museum speak of ‘a grand view of Rome’ and of it ‘possessing all the magical effects, the clear and natural atmosphere, and the glorious lights which give such a beauty and a charm to all his compositions’ (vol. v, p. 1217, and vol. iv, p. 1178). The British Press for 2 May 1820 described the painting as ‘an exquisite composition. The perspective and colouring are beautiful, and the architectural ruins [sic] which burst upon the eye, give a sentiment and grandeur to the subject which cannot fail to excite great interest’. The Repository of Art for June described it as ‘a strange but wonderful picture’, criticising ‘the crossing and recrossing of reflected lights about the gallery’, the figures and ‘the perspective of the fore-ground’, but praising the distance and the ‘richness and splendour of the colouring’. The Annals of the Fine Arts (v, p. 395) said that ‘Turner has not gone back, he only stands where he did’, praised the ‘grandeur of conception’, but attacked the ‘excessive yellowness, which puts everything out of tune that hangs by it’.

Samuel Palmer, in a letter to George Richmond of 1 June 1874, commented on the condition of the picture at that time: ‘Where is the essence of Rome in Turner's Loggie with La Fornarina—utterly ruined through sparing a few pounds-worth of glass?’

Published in:
Martin Butlin and Evelyn Joll, The Paintings of J.M.W. Turner, revised ed., New Haven and London 1984

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