Joseph Mallord William Turner

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


In Tate Britain

Prints and Drawings Room

View by appointment
Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775–1851
Graphite and watercolour on paper
Support: 253 × 403 mm
Accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest 1856
Turner Bequest CLXXXVII 21

Display caption

These two sheets come from one of the large sketchbooks that Turner used during his first tour of Italy in 1819. Occasionally he made studies from the same spot at different times of day, exploring the way light and shadow changed the appearance of his subject. In the upper watercolour he is as much interested in the distant rainclouds brooding over the Bay of Naples as in his immediate subject, the Castel dell'Ovo; all other topographical features are omitted.

Gallery label, August 2004

Does this text contain inaccurate information or language that you feel we should improve or change? We would like to hear from you.

Catalogue entry

This is one of seven coloured studies of Naples dating from Turner’s 1819 tour of Italy. Three of these watercolours 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. The castle was one of the most ancient buildings in Naples, and its unusual name is said to derive from the legend of a magic egg hidden within the walls by the Latin poet, Virgil. So long as it remained intact, the egg 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. Silhouetted in distance are the Sorrentine peninsula and, to the right, the island of Capri.1
Despite being unfinished, the study contains a more advanced level of detail than a near-identical early morning view within the same sketchbook (D16089; Turner Bequest CLXXXVII 2). Turner has used loose wet washes to create the basic tonal properties of the composition but has worked to a higher level of finish to describe the architecture of the castle and the cloud formations within the sky. There is also a similar but closer study of the fortress (D16093; Turner Bequest CLXXXVII 6), and a further watercolour of the distant promontory and island without the fortress in the foreground (D16108; Turner Bequest CLXXXVII 20). All of these views depict the motif of the Castel dell’Ovo at different times of day, under varying weather conditions.
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.
Technical notes:
Long detached from the Naples, Rome C. Studies sketchbook, this sheet was perhaps once folio 21 (see the concordance in the introduction).

Nicola Moorby
April 2010

Read full Catalogue entry


You might like

In the shop