Joseph Mallord William Turner

The Loretto Necklace


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Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775–1851
Oil paint on canvas
Support: 1308 × 1749 mm
frame: 1463 × 1891 × 75 mm
Accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest 1856

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Turner visited Loreto (which he spelled Loretto) on his way back from Rome early in 1829. The picture was painted quickly for the Royal Academy that spring as Turner was - correctly as it turned out - concerned that works already painted and shown in Rome would not arrive in London in time. The motif of the necklace was thought at the time to allude to the rosary, and to the cult of the Madonna at Loreto. As Ruskin noted, Turner altered the central tree from 'a graceful stone pine' by adding more foliage.

Gallery label, November 2001

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Catalogue entry

331. [N00509] The Loretto Necklace Exh. 1829


Canvas, 51 3/8 × 68 1/2 (131 × 175)

Coll. Turner Bequest 1856 (68, ‘The Loretto Necklace’ 5'9" × 4'4"); transferred to the Tate Gallery 1929.

Exh. R.A. 1829 (337).

Lit. Ruskin 1857 (1903–12, xiii, p. 139); Thornbury 1862, i, p. 307; 1877, pp. 439–40; Hamerton 1879, pp. 222–3; Bell 1901, p. 111 no. 162; Armstrong 1902, p. 224; Davies 1946, p. 187; Finberg 1961, pp. 313, 488 no. 324; Rothenstein and Butlin 1964, pp. 38, 42, pl. 80; Reynolds 1969, p. 132; Gage 1980, p. 295.

Turner had sketched at Loreto in the ‘Ancona to Rome’ sketchbook on his way from Venice to Rome in 1819 (CLXXVII-1 to 14 passim) and again on his way back to England from Rome early in 1829 in the socalled ‘Rimini to Rome’ sketchbook (CLXXVIII-32 verso and 33, 41 verso, the former showing much the same view of the town as in the picture; Finberg 1909 associated the sketchbook with Turner's 1819 visit but it has since been recognised as the product of the return journey in 1829). The finished picture was presumably one of those referred to by Wilkie in a letter of 16 March 1829, when he said that Turner was hard at work painting for that year's R.A. Exhibition, ‘being uncertain of the arrival of his three Roman pictures in time’; these, probably Orvieto, Medea and Regulus or perhaps Palestrina (Nos. 292 [N00511], 293 [N00513], 294 [N00519] and 295 [N06283]) did not in fact arrive until July, after the opening.

The Athenaeum for 27 May 1829 made heavy weather of the necklace's possible connection with the rosary and the cult of the Madonna at Loreto, concluding however that Turner ‘has put us off with a landscape, delightful and brilliant it must be owned, and considerably, although by no means entirely, taken from the luxuriant scenery for which the vicinity of Loretto is well nigh as much distinguished as for the possession of the Santa Casa. The composition of this picture is in truth delightful: that the colour is extravagant, cannot be denied ... yet it is impossible to regard the painting even in respect to its colour without gratification and admiration. The effect of the gleam which crosses and illumines the scene, is most happy; and indeed, were the tree in the foreground less gorgeous, the rest of the picture might be allowed to pass without any qualification to the highest eulogium.’ The Times, 11 May, picked out for special mention ‘an effect of sunset, the gleams falling on the rocks and the buildings that surmount them, which is at once the most natural and the most beautiful that can be imagined.’ These references to the fall of light in the picture are particularly valuable in view of its irredeemably darkened state. For a letter from Clara Wells to Robert Finch praising this picture in 1829 see Gage loc. cit.

Ruskin described the picture as 'A very noble work, spoiled curiously by an alteration of the principal tree. It has evidently been once a graceful stone pine, of which the spreading head is still traceable at the top of the heavy mass: the lower foliage has been added subsequently, to the entire destruction of the composition.

‘As far as I know, whenever Turner altered a picture, he spoiled it; but seldom so distinctly as in this instance.’

Published in:
Martin Butlin and Evelyn Joll, The Paintings of J.M.W. Turner, revised ed., New Haven and London 1984

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