Joseph Mallord William Turner

The Castel dell’Ovo, Naples, Early Morning, with Capri in the Distance


In Tate Britain

Prints and Drawings Room

View by appointment
Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775–1851
Watercolour on paper
Support: 256 × 405 mm
Accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest 1856
Turner Bequest CLXXXVII 2

Catalogue entry

In addition to numerous pencil sketches of Naples, Turner made seven coloured studies of the city and surrounding bay using clear, limpid watercolour on pure white paper. Three of these feature the Castel dell’Ovo (Castle of the Egg), an historic fortress built on the islet of Megaride, a small piece of headland which juts into the sea in front of the port of Santa Lucia. Its unusual name is said to derive from the legend of a magic egg hidden within the walls by the Latin poet, Virgil, which as long at it remained intact, would protect the castle and the entire city. The fortress frequently appears within panoramic views of the surrounding bay (see for example D16143; Turner Bequest CLXXXVII 55), but here Turner has adopted a more unusual visual approach. The view appears to look south-east from the foot of the hill of Pizzafalcone, so that the squarish bulk of the castle stands in dramatic isolation within an empty foreground.1 Silhouetted in distance are the Bay of Sorrento and the eastern tip of the Gulf of Naples and, to the right, the island of Capri. The pale golden light spreading from the east suggests that this is an early morning scene. An almost identical composition at a different time of day can be seen on another sheet within this sketchbook (D16109; Turner Bequest CLXXXVII 21), whilst a similar but closer view of the Castel dell’Ovo contains more detail and focus on the architecture and surrounding area (D16093; Turner Bequest CLXXXVII 6).
The study has been left unfinished and exhibits a variety of handling. The foreground forms have been loosely blocked in with brown watercolour over which Turner has freely added wet-in-wet blue. Lifting and mingling the paint around the castle has created an impression of haze and a tonal sense of light and shade. By contrast, the subtle diffused washes with which he has defined the sky, and the crisp grey silhouettes on the horizon demonstrate careful control and attention to detail. These effects are similar to those in another 1819 watercolour, a view of San Giorgio Maggiore in Venice, see the Como and Venice sketchbook (Tate D15254; Turner Bequest CLXXXI 4).
A similar composition appears in an oil study by Carl Gustav Carus (1789–1869), Castel dell’Ovo a Napoli, ?1828 (private collection), reproduced in Anna Ottani Cavina, Un Paese Incantato: Italia Dipinta da Thomas Jones a Corot, exhibition catalogue, Galeries nationales du Grand Palais, Parigi and Palazzo Te, Mantova, Italy 2001, no.157, p.257.

Nicola Moorby
April 2010

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