Joseph Mallord William Turner

The Palazzo Ducale (Doge’s Palace), Venice, and the Columns on the Piazzetta, with the Church of San Giorgio Maggiore across the Bacino Beyond


Not on display

Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775–1851
Graphite on paper
Support: 112 × 185 mm
Accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest 1856
Turner Bequest CLXXV 46 a

Catalogue entry

The drawing is inverted relative to the sketchbook’s foliation. Finberg subsequently annotated his descriptive 1909 Inventory entry (‘The Piazzetta, looking towards Isola di S. Giorgio Maggiore; part of the Ducal Palace in the foreground, on the left, with the two granite columns on the right’), transcribing Turner’s notes: ‘“Soldiers White Red collar and Flaps Blue Braces(?) [‘Rosettes’ inserted above] and Shoes. | Officers green Red Col. and Sash yellow – (diagram) yellow Band.”’1 He incorporated this information into his more detailed listing for the sketchbook in 1930’s In Venice with Turner.2
The view is south-south-east towards San Giorgio Maggiore, past the south-west corner of the Doge’s Palace and shipping moored off the Molo. The viewpoint on the west side of the Piazzetta is similar to that used for the sketch looking north on folio 45 recto (D14399). Finberg has observed that Turner drew the palace and the column with the winged lion of St Mark (only recently recast after being taken to Paris by the French during the Napoleonic occupation),3 ‘but then arises the problem of getting in S. Giorgio and the second column’. He continued:
From where he was standing S. Giorgio might have been got in, but there would have been no room for St. Theodore’s column. He therefore walks towards the centre of the Piazzetta, draws St. Theodore and his dragon from that different position, and then tucks S. Giorgio comfortably in between the two columns.4
The steps at the base of the right-hand column, while actually set on the same level, thus appear to rise from a considerably higher plane. Finberg considered that as a result the drawing ‘is of course hopelessly entangled, as it is made from two points of view, but Turner was quite satisfied with it. ... If he painted the subject, he knew he could rearrange the details in a satisfactory or plausible way.’5 Compare another view of the columns on folio 52 recto (D14413), where difficulty with the perspective is again evident.
In fact, as Ian Warrell has noted,6 Turner did use the present sketch much later for his long untraced painting Ducal Palace, Venice, exhibited in 1833,7 known from the 1854 engraving, Venice – The Piazzetta, Venice, showing it in an unusual vertical arched format (Tate impression: T06299).8 Turner seems to have continued to struggle to combine the elements in ‘plausible’ perspective, introducing a strong diagonal pattern of paving suggesting a rather higher viewpoint and scattering dozens of figures in picturesque costume about as a distraction.

Matthew Imms
March 2017

Undated MS note by A.J. Finberg (died 1939) in interleaved copy of Finberg 1909, Tate Britain Prints and Drawings Room, I, opposite p.513.
See Finberg 1930, p.164.
See Warrell 2003, p.123.
Finberg 1930, p.32.
Ibid., pp.32–3.
See Warrell 2003, p.106; the connection is not made in Finberg 1930 or Martin Butlin and Evelyn Joll, The Paintings of J.M.W. Turner, revised ed., New Haven and London 1984.
Butlin and Evelyn Joll 1984, pp.202–3 no.352.
Ibid., pl.353; Warrell 2003, fig.6.
Warrell 2003, fig.19.
See Warrell 2003, fig.18, for Bonington’s 1826 drawing (National Gallery of Canada, Ottawa).
Warrell 2003, p.106.

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