Joseph Mallord William Turner

Study of the Piazza San Marco, Venice, ?for Rogers’s ‘Italy’


In Tate Britain

Prints and Drawings Room

View by appointment
Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775–1851
Watercolour on paper
Support: 206 × 239 mm
support, secondary: 222 × 249 mm
Accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest 1856
Turner Bequest CCLXXX 2

Catalogue entry

This unfinished study appears to be an experimental sketch for the vignette that Turner produced to illustrate the section ‘Venice’ in Rogers’s Italy (see Tate D27710; Turner Bequest CCLXXX 193). Whereas the finished composition shows a conventional view of the Grand Canal and the Riva degli Schiavoni, this study presents a carnival scene in the Piazza San Marco. The foreground is filled with promenaders, some of whom are gathered around a bright yellow canopy where a puppet show is taking place. The composition clearly echoes that of Canaletto’s Piazza San Marco with the Basilica of 1730 (Fogg Art Museum, Cambridge, Massachusetts, USA). Although Turner did not make use of this study for the final version of Venice, Ian Warrell has suggested it may well have served as a model for his later canvas Juliet and her Nurse, exhibited in 1836 (Sra Amalia Lacroze de Fortabat, Argentina).1
The evolution of Venice is not the only example from the Italy series of a preliminary composition being abandoned for a highly conventional view of a well-known Italian subject. A similar shift can be observed in the preparatory and final designs that Turner produced for Florence (see Tate D27612; Turner Bequest CCLXXX 95 and Tate D27673; Turner Bequest CCLXXX 156). It is very likely that Rogers’s tastes were at least partly responsible for the preponderance of traditional compositions in Turner’s Italy vignettes. Rogers’s biographer, P.W. Clayden, says of the illustrations: ‘Everything was done under Rogers’s own constant direction and supervision. He chose the subjects, suggested the character of the pictures, superintended their execution, and made the illustrations almost as much his own as the letter-press they adorned.’2 The two men appear to have had a good working relationship throughout the production of Italy and they may have agreed that the conventional Italian views such as those shown in Venice, Florence, and Rome, Castel San Angelo (Tate D27677; Turner Bequest CCLXXX 160) were best suited to the overall tone and aesthetic of Rogers’s verses.3
Martin Butlin and Evelyn Joll, The Paintings of J.M.W. Turner, revised ed., New Haven and London 1984, no.365; Warrell 2003, p.79.
P.W. Clayden, Rogers and his Contemporaries, vol.II, London 1889, p.3.
Cecilia Powell, ‘Turner’s vignettes and the making of Rogers’s “Italy” ’, Turner Studies, vol.3, no.1, Summer 1983, p.4.
Bower 1999, p.59.

Meredith Gamer
August 2006

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