Joseph Mallord William Turner

Studies of Monks; and Inscriptions of Italian Phrases and Addresses in Rome


In Tate Britain

Prints and Drawings Room

View by appointment
Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775–1851
Graphite on paper
Support: 161 × 101 mm
Accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest 1856
Turner Bequest CLXXX 81 a

Catalogue entry

Turner’s principal use for the Vatican Fragments sketchbook was to record details of art and architecture in Rome. However, he also made several studies of figures from life. At the top of this page are four studies of monks, showing the same or different man from the back, the side, a detail of a foot in a sandal and a head in profile. Further sketches of people can be found on the inner front cover and on folios 6 verso, 14 verso, 15 verso, 33 verso, 64, 69, 80, 80 verso, 82 and 82 verso (D40619, D15114, D15130, D15132, D15167, D15223, D15228, D15245, D15246, D15249 and D15250; Turner Bequest CLXXX 5a, 13a, 14a, 32a, 63, 68, 79, 79a, 81 and 81a).
Inverted at the bottom of the page are also a number of written inscriptions. The artist has used the sheet to jot down some Italian phrases to help him negotiate his way around Rome. As Cecilia Powell has noted Turner was unable to speak Italian and therefore relied on guide books and help from acquaintances.1 He was later described by a contemporary as speaking ‘but a few words of Italian, about as much of French, which two languages he jumbles together most amusingly’.2
There are also two Roman addresses which provide rare documentary evidence of Turner’s movements during his 1819 tour of Italy. The first refers to Captain Thomas Graham, RN (died 1822) and his wife, Maria (1785–1842, later Lady Callcott), an amateur artist and writer whom Turner later referred to as ‘a very agreeable Blue Stocking’.3 The Grahams rented a house from a sculptor, Giuseppe Ugo, at 12 Piazza Mignanelli, near the Piazza di Spagna and the Spanish Steps, an area which represented the heart of the English community in Rome.4 A studio at the same address was also used by the painter, Charles Lock Eastlake (1793–1865). Although it is not known where Turner stayed during his 1819 sojourn in Rome, it is feasible that he too found accommodation in the vicinity, and on his second trip to the city in 1828 it was this same studio which he shared with Eastlake, and from where he painted three finished oil pictures, View of Orvieto, (Tate, N00511), Vision of Medea 1828 (Tate, N00513), and Regulus 1828 (Tate, N00519).5 It was almost certainly Eastlake who introduced Turner to the Grahams. Earlier in the year, the younger artist had accompanied the couple on a trip to Poli, near Tivoli, an account of which later appeared in Maria Graham’s best-selling book, Three Months Passed in the Mountains East of Rome, during the year 1819, published 1820. The book, which contained a description of the lives of the Italian brigands or banditti operating within this part of the country, was illustrated by aquatints after drawings by Eastlake, and led to a vogue for romanticised images of banditti and peasant women or contadine. Cecilia Powell has suggested that it was this popular genre which Turner referenced within his finished watercolour, Lake Albano 1828 (private collection),6 and that the foreground figure of the artist being accosted by the couple in contemporary rustic costume may even be a portrait of Eastlake himself.7 The presence of the Piazza Mignanelli address in one of Turner’s sketchbooks is a strong indication that the artist had some contact with fellow English tourists during his time in Rome, and that he probably socialised with both the Grahams and Eastlake on at least one occasion.

Nicola Moorby
December 2009

Powell 1987, p.19.
Mrs Uwins, A Memoir of Thomas Uwins, R.A., vol.2, London 1858, p.240. Quoted in Powell 1987, p.19.
See Turner, letter to James Holworthy, 4 December 1826, quoted in Gage 1980, no.119, p.103.
Hamilton, p.44.
Martin Butlin and Evelyn Joll, The Paintings of J.M.W. Turner, revised ed., New Haven and London 1984, nos.292–4. See p.170.
Powell 1984b, pp.24–5.
Cecilia Powell, Italy in the Age of Turner: “The Garden of the World”, London 1998, p.47.
Powell 1984a, p.183 and Powell 1987, pp.80–1.
Powell 1984a, p.494 note 58.

Read full Catalogue entry


You might like