Joseph Mallord William Turner

The Piazza del Nettuno, Bologna, with the Fountain of Neptune, Palazzo del Podestà and Palazzo d’Accursio (Palazzo Communale)


In Tate Britain

Prints and Drawings Room

View by appointment
Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775–1851
Graphite on paper
Support: 111 × 184 mm
Accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest 1856
Turner Bequest CLXXVI 26 a

Catalogue entry

The Turner scholar C.F. Bell annotated Finberg’s 1909 Inventory entry (‘Palazzo Publico, Bologna, with fountain of Neptune in foreground’): ‘Piazza Nettuno looking south’.1 The view is from the north end of the Piazza del Nettuno, with the Palazzo del Podestà lightly indicated at the left. At the centre is the medieval Palazzo d’Accursio (Communale), with its tower and cupola beyond the ornate Fountain of Neptune, and its Salaborsa range (now the public library), with its projecting first floor, on the right.
In the distance on the left, on the far side of the adjacent Piazza Maggiore, is the medieval Palazzo dei Notai, with the campanile of the neighbouring Basilica of San Petronio and the spire of the church of San Giovanni Battista dei Celestini to its left and right. As an example of Turner’s occasional manipulation of topographical reality for picturesque effect, Cecilia Powell has discussed the inclusion of the spire, ‘which it has always been impossible to see’ from the general viewpoint inferred from the drawing, as ‘Turner neatly punctuates the empty south-west corner of the piazza, while recording (albeit at the wrong height) what the pedestrian actually sees there, at some moments of his perambulation, if not at others’.2
Compare an undated watercolour by William Parrott (1813–1869; Tate T09130). There is closer study of the fountain from the same side, with buildings beyond, on folio 29 recto (D14540; Turner Bequest CLXXVI 26f); see also folio 27 recto (D14538; CLXXVI 26d), under which Giambologna’s figure of Neptune is discussed.3 For general remarks on Bologna and Turner’s numerous views on adjacent pages, see under folio 24 recto (D14532).
In the 1909 Inventory, Finberg noted of the pages he designated Turner Bequest CLXXVI 26a–h (D14535–D14542): ‘The following four leaves were found loose, but appear to belong here.’4 Their presence as now bound at this stage of the sketchbook affects its foliation sequence compared to Finberg’s numbering; see the concordance in the Introduction. Despite its long-standing inscription and stamped number, it is possible that the present page is actually the one Finberg regarded as ‘26b’, as by his usual convention ‘26a’ would be the verso of folio 26 (D14536), now itself designated (but not inscribed or stamped) Turner Bequest CLXXVI 26b. In the Inventory he coupled the two suffixed pages as a single subject (‘Palazzo Publico, Bologna, with fountain of Neptune in foreground’), but the slight architectural details on what is now folio 27 verso opposite (D14539; Turner Bequest CLXXVI 26e) seems a better fit as a continuation of this drawing than the even slighter details in a similar position on D14536.

Matthew Imms
March 2017

Undated MS note by C.F. Bell (died 1966) in copy of Finberg 1909, Tate Britain Prints and Drawings Room, I, p.517.
Powell 1984, p.88.
See also Powell 1984, pp.82–3.
Finberg 1909, I, p.517.

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