Joseph Mallord William Turner

The Piazzetta, Venice, from the Piazza San Marco (St Mark’s Square), at Night, with the Campanile and Palazzo Ducale (Doge’s Palace)


In Tate Britain

Prints and Drawings Room

View by appointment
Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775–1851
Gouache on paper
Support: 141 × 225 mm
Accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest 1856
Turner Bequest CCCXIX 10

Catalogue entry

Finberg later annotated his 1909 Inventory entry (‘The Piazza, with Campanile, &c.: Night’), crossing out ‘&c.’ and adding ‘& S. Marks’.1 The Turner scholar C.F. Bell marked his own copy: ‘scaffolding on cuspide’.2 The view is south down the Piazzetta from the Piazza San Marco (St Mark’s Square), with the Basilica and Palazzo Ducale (Doge’s Palace) to the left and the campanile in front of the Libreria Sansoviniana at the centre, with the Procuratie Nuove running to the right. In the foreground is the silhouette of one of the three soaring flagpoles aligned with the front of the Basilica. The upper stages of the campanile are likewise in shadow, revealing the profile of the tiered scaffolding noted by Bell, an important factor in dating such views to 1840 (see the Tour introduction).
This is a simplified, pictorial composition, focusing on the effects of light and shade to evoke a night scene with strong blues in the shadows, cast by the moonlight which forms a halo around the campanile and illuminates the ghostly finial at the left. The darkness is also mitigated by artificial light in the right distance and in the booth towards the left, around which a crowd has gathered. This incident recalls the puppet show in the Piazza in the large oil painting Juliet and her Nurse, exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1836 (private collection; engraved in 1842 as ‘St Mark’s Place, Venice’: Tate impression T05188).3
Compare two variants (Tate D32250, D32256; Turner Bequest CCCXIX 2, 8), and a night scene ‘of festivity’4 from the far end of the Piazzetta (D32220; CCCXVIII 1). Lindsay Stainton has called them ‘reminiscent of the compositions of the famous Venetian view painters, notably Canaletto and Guardi’,5 while Ian Warrell has described the three Piazza views, with their ‘progressively more intense blues’, as seeming ‘to chart the shift from evening into night, making manifest how the Piazza vibrated with the animation of fickle crowds, oscillating between brightly illuminated puppet shows and the surrounding cafés’.6
Undated MS note by Finberg (died 1939) in interleaved copy of Finberg 1909, Prints and Drawings Room, Tate Britain, II, p.1029.
Undated MS note by Bell (died 1966) in copy of Finberg 1909, Prints and Drawings Room, Tate Britain, II, p.1029.
Martin Butlin and Evelyn Joll, The Paintings of J.M.W. Turner, revised ed., New Haven and London 1984, pp.215–17 no.365, pl.369 (colour); see Lindsay Stainton, Turner’s Venice, London 1985, p.45, and Warrell 2003, p.125.
Finberg 1930, p.93.
Stainton 1985, p.45; see also Warrell 2003, p.125, and fig.24 (a comparable Canaletto etching).
Warrell 2003, p.125.
‘Appendix: The papers used for Turner’s Venetian Watercolours’ (1840, section 11) in Warrell 2003, p.259; see also sections 9 and 10, Powell 1995, p.161, and Bower 1999, p.112.

Matthew Imms
September 2018

Finberg 1909, II, p.1029.

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