Joseph Mallord William Turner

The Ponte Vecchio, Florence; ?Vignette Study for Rogers’s ‘Italy’


In Tate Britain

Prints and Drawings Room

View by appointment
Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775–1851
Watercolour on paper
Support: 191 × 243 mm
Accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest 1856
Turner Bequest CCLXXX 95

Display caption

This delicately coloured drawing is an unused design for one of the oblong vignettes illustrating Samuel Rogers's poem 'Italy'. A very different view was used in the illustrated edition published in 1838. The vignettes were intended to distill the essence of the places described, and of Italy itself. Here, Turner provided a compressed view of some of the main buildings of Florence, including the Ponte Vecchio and the Uffizi, and, with light but incisive applications of wash, suggests vivid effects of sunlight and shadow.

Gallery label, September 2004

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Catalogue entry

This is an unfinished design for a vignette that Turner produced to illustrate a description of Florence in Rogers’s Italy. It presents a different scene from the one that was eventually published in Italy, which shows a view of Florence seen from Fiesole (see Tate D27673; Turner Bequest CCLXXX 156). Here, Turner experiments with a composition that showcases some of the city’s salient architectural and cultural landmarks: the Ponte Vecchio, the Palazzo Vecchio, and the Uffizi. These subjects are perfectly suited to the content of Rogers’s verses on Florence, which primarily celebrate the city’s artistic treasures and cultural heritage. Turner had visited the Uffizi Gallery in 1819 and again in 1828, when he may have been inspired by Titian’s Venus of Urbino to paint his Reclining Venus of 1828 (Tate N05498).1
The evolution of Florence is not the only example in the Italy series of an unconventional preliminary composition being abandoned for a more familiar view; a similar shift can be observed in the preparatory and final designs that Turner produced for Venice (see Tate D27519; Turner Bequest CCLXXX 2 and Tate D27710; Turner Bequest CCLXXX 193). Rogers’s tastes were at least partly responsible for the preponderance of traditional compositions. Rogers’s biographer, P.W. Clayden, says of the illustrations: ‘Everything was done under Rogers’s own constant direction and supervision. He chose the subjects, suggested the character of the pictures, superintended their execution, and made the illustrations almost as much his own as the letter-press they adorned.’2 The two men appear to have had a good working relationship throughout the production of Italy and they may have agreed that the conventional Italian views such as those shown in Florence, Venice, and Rome, Castel San Angelo (see Tate D27677; Turner Bequest CCLXXX 160) were best suited to the overall tone and aesthetic of Rogers’s verses.3
There are ruled pencil lines partially visible along all four sides of sheet, framing the vignette. Cecilia Powell has noted such lines were often made by the engravers during the process of squaring-up the designs for reduction.4
Martin Butlin and Evelyn Joll, The Paintings of J.M.W. Turner, revised ed., New Haven and London 1984, no.296; Warrell 1991, p.55.
P.W. Clayden, Rogers and his Contemporaries, vol.II, London 1889, p.3.
See Powell 1983, p.4.
Ibid., p.10.
Finberg 1909, vol.II, p.894.
Finberg 1909, vol.I, p.xi..

Meredith Gamer
August 2006

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