Joseph Mallord William Turner

The Nave of the Basilica of San Marco (St Mark’s), Venice, with the North Transept Beyond


In Tate Britain

Prints and Drawings Room

View by appointment
Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775–1851
Gouache and watercolour on paper
Support: 296 × 223 mm
Accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest 1856
Turner Bequest CCCXVIII 7

Catalogue entry

In an undated note, the Turner scholar C.F. Bell marked Finberg’s tentative 1909 Inventory entry (‘Interior of St. Mark’s (?)’) as showing the ‘choir screen to r[ight], looking into the North Transept’,1 and the orientation of Turner’s view was first published by Laurence Binyon.2 As with Turner’s other 1840 colour studies of the Venetian basilica’s interior (Tate D32227, D32241, D32252; Turner Bequest CCCXVIII 8, 22, CCCXIX 4), there is rather more concern for the light illuminating the dim, richly decorated interior than architectural accuracy,3 and Ian Warrell has suggested that in the absence of specifically ‘related pencil sketches, the inexactness of these interiors suggests that Turner created them solely from his general impressions’.4
The view here is nevertheless comparable with that of the small 1730s painting by Canaletto (1697–1768) showing The Interior of San Marco: The Crossing and North Transept (Royal Collection).5 On the right is a much-simplified version of the Gothic iconostasis screen6 separating the nave from the presbytery to its east, supporting statues of the Apostles. Loose marks at the lower centre and left give a sense of members of the congregation facing that way.
Robert Upstone has compared the handling here and in another St Mark’s interior (Tate D32241; Turner Bequest CCCXVIII 22) with that of the 1895–6 painting Interior of St Mark’s, Venice by Walter Richard Sickert (1860–1942; Tate N05314),7 which shows the iconostasis head on from the nave; as discussed in the Introduction to this subsection the two Turners are not recorded as having been exhibited by then, and any resemblance is likely fortuitous.
Undated MS note by Bell (died 1966) in copy of Finberg 1909, Prints and Drawings Room, Tate Britain, II, p.1026.
See Binyon 1937, p.28.
See Stainton 1985, p.46.
Warrell 2003, p.125.
See Stainton 1985, p.46, and Warrell 2003, fig.122.
See Stainton 1985, p.46.
See Upstone 2009, p.16, and Robert Upstone, ‘Interior of St Mark’s, Venice 1895–6 by Walter Richard Sickert’, catalogue entry, May 2009, in Helena Bonett, Ysanne Holt and Jennifer Mundy (eds.), The Camden Town Group in Context, Tate Research Publication, May 2012, accessed 3 November 2017,
Technical notes:
This is one of numerous 1840 Venice works Ian Warrell 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).
Warrell noted the grey-brown sheets as being torn into two formats: nine sheets of approximately 148 x 232 mm (Tate D32220, D32249–D32250, D32252–D32253, D32255–D32258; Turner Bequest CCCXVIII 1, CCCXIX 1, 2, 4, 5, 7–10), and seven of twice the size, at about 231 x 295 mm (Tate D32223, D32226, D32228–D32229, D32231, D32233, D32242; Turner Bequest CCCXVIII 4, 7, 9, 10, 12, 14, 23).
‘Appendix: The papers used for Turner’s Venetian Watercolours’ (1840, section 11) in Warrell 2003, p.259; see also sections 9 and 10; the appendix was compiled ‘with assistance from Peter Bower’ (p.258), who had previously listed this sheet as ‘a medium-weight grey wove, made by Bally, Ellen & Steart, watermarked B, E & S / 1829 and made at De Montalt Mill, Monckton Combe, Somerset’ (Bower 1999, p.112 and footnote 2).

Matthew Imms
September 2018

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