Joseph Mallord William Turner

The Basilica and Campanile of San Marco (St Mark’s), Venice, at or towards Night, with the Palazzo Ducale (Doge’s Palace) and Piazzetta Beyond


In Tate Britain

Prints and Drawings Room

View by appointment
Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775–1851
Gouache and watercolour on paper
Support: 149 × 228 mm
Accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest 1856
Turner Bequest CCCXIX 8

Catalogue entry

The view is south-south-east down the Piazzetta from the Piazza San Marco (St Mark’s Square), with the Basilica and Palazzo Ducale (Doge’s Palace) to the left and the lower stages of the campanile in front of the Libreria Sansoviniana towards the right. A few figures are indicated by rapid strokes in the foreground. It is unclear whether the irregular brown strokes at that edge are incidental, accidental, or an active element of the composition; if the latter, there may have been an idea of framing this simplified, pictorial prospect from within the arcade of the Procuratie Vecchie, as Turner did in two views from the arches of the former Palazzo Reale (or Ala Napoleonica) at the west end of the square (Tate D32245, D32255; Turner Bequest CCCXVIII 26, CCCXIX 7).
Compare two variants (D32250, D32258; CCCXIX 2, 10), and a night scene ‘of festivity’1 from the far end of the Piazzetta (D32220; CCCXVIII 1). Lindsay Stainton has called them ‘reminiscent of the compositions of the famous Venetian view painters, notably Canaletto and Guardi’.2 Ian Warrell has described the three Piazza views, with their ‘progressively more intense blues’ (those in the present work being the lightest), as seeming ‘to chart the shift from evening into night, making manifest how the Piazza vibrated with the animation of fickle crowds, oscillating between brightly illuminated puppet shows and the surrounding cafés’.3
Four contemporary pencil studies with white highlights on a folded sheet of buff-grey paper also show similar views (Tate D32192–D32195; Turner Bequest CCCCVIII 13a–d).
Finberg 1930, p.93.
Lindsay Stainton, Turner’s Venice, London 1985, p.45; see also Warrell 2003, p.125, and fig.24 (a comparable Canaletto etching).
Warrell 2003, p.125.
Technical notes:
Ian Warrell has observed that this sheet was ‘formerly attached on right edge to right edge’ of Tate D32257 (Turner Bequest CCCXIX 9). They are among numerous 1840 Venice works he has noted as being on ‘Grey-brown paper produced by an unknown maker (possibly ... a batch made at Fabriano [Italy])’;1 for numerous red-brown Fabriano sheets used for similar subjects, see for example under Tate D32224 (Turner Bequest CCCXVIII 5).
‘Appendix: The papers used for Turner’s Venetian Watercolours’ (1840, section 11) in Warrell 2003, p.259; see also sections 9 and 10; see also Powell 1995, p.161, and Bower 1999, p.112.

Matthew Imms
September 2018

See Finberg 1909, II, p.1029.

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