Joseph Mallord William Turner

Study for ‘Galileo’s Villa’, Rogers’s ‘Italy’


In Tate Britain

Prints and Drawings Room

View by appointment
Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775–1851
Graphite and watercolour on paper
Support: 148 × 196 mm
Accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest 1856
Turner Bequest CCLXXX 87

Catalogue entry

This is a preliminary study for Galileo’s Villa, which was engraved by Edward Goodall for the twenty-fifth section of Rogers’s Italy (see Tate D27680; Turner Bequest CCLXXX 163). The composition shows an imaginary view of the villa of Galileo Galilei (1564–1642), which was located outside of Florence in Arcetri. In 1633, the astronomer was convicted of heresy for his support of Copernican (heliocentric) theory and sentenced to house arrest at his villa, where he remained until his death in 1642. As Turner does not appear to have visited Arcetri during his Italian tour of 1819, Galileo’s Villa is one of the few Italy illustrations for which the artist’s Italian sketchbooks provided no foundational material.1
The most significant difference between the preliminary and finished versions of Galileo’s Villa is the detail of the astronomical apparatus that appear in the foreground. In addition to the telescope and globe, this study also includes a drawing of inscribed spheres that is probably meant to be a diagram of Galileo’s solar system. John Gage has suggested that this may have resulted from his conversations with the Scottish science writer, Mary Somerville (1780–1872), although Gerald Finley has since cast some doubt on this conclusion.2 Although Turner decided to eliminate the diagram from the final vignette, he did use it in a later illustration to Milton, Mustering of the Warrior Angels (Preston Hall Museum, Stockton on Tees Borough Council).3
Turner’s use of a warm palette, rather than the blues and greys that appear in the finished version of Galileo’s Villa, suggests that the main purpose of this study was to lay out the vignette’s basic form and content. As with his illustrations of William Tell’s Chapel (see Tate D27672; Turner Bequest CCLXXX 155) and St Maurice (Tate D27664; Turner Bequest CCLXXX 147), the close relationship between Turner’s preliminary and final depictions suggests that he had a clear notion of how he wanted to depict this subject from the outset.
Cecilia Powell, ‘Turner’s vignettes and the making of Rogers’s “Italy” ’, Turner Studies, vol.3, no.1, Summer 1983, p.5.
Gage 1987, p.223 and Finley 1999, p.150.
Wilton 1979, no.1264. Engraved by Robert Brandard, see W.G. Rawlinson, The Engraved Work of J.M.W. Turner, R.A., vol.II, London 1913, no.598. There is one impression in Tate’s collection (T06285)
Powell 1983, p.10.
Finberg, 1909, vol.II, p.894.
Finberg 1909, vol.I, p.xi.

Meredith Gamer
August 2006

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