Joseph Mallord William Turner

The Porta della Carta of the Palazzo Ducale (Doge’s Palace), Venice, beside the Basilica of San Marco (St Mark’s)


In Tate Britain

Prints and Drawings Room

View by appointment
Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775–1851
Gouache, graphite and watercolour on paper
Support: 305 × 234 mm
Accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest 1856
Turner Bequest CCCXVIII 28

Catalogue entry

Among more general colour studies of the vicinity,1 this is at first sight a straightforward view east from the north end of the Piazzetta, focusing on the richly ornamented Porta della Carta entrance to the arcade leading to the courtyard of the Palazzo Ducale (Doge’s Palace). The palace is on the right, and the Basilica of San Marco (St Mark’s) immediately on the left, seemingly viewed from about level with the south-western corner of the church.
In his study of Turner’s use of perspective, Maurice Davies noted it as an example of how ‘Turner regularly depicted Venetian buildings parallel to the picture’.2 Close examination reveals extensive manipulation of the architectural elements, belied by the apparent spontaneity and immediacy of the treatment. The two free-standing Byzantine Pilastri Acritani pillars are omitted from their position in the left foreground. The scale of the gateway and the elaborate window and its setting above is greatly exaggerated in relation to the flanking elements. The lintel of the doorway should be below the band running around from above the small rectangular window on the left, and correspondingly the tops of the three vertical windows above it should be below the balustrade coming round from that side.
Meanwhile, the top of the wall above the doorway, effectively reaching the top of the sheet, should appear about level with the top of the rounded gable at the left from this angle. On the right, the Piazzetta arcade of the palace is shown proportionately rather low, while the band above the quatrefoil openings on the upper level should also be almost level with the top of the gable opposite, at about the height of a faint, spurious band across the upper façade towards the top right. The forceful, deeply undercut stone Judgement of Solomon sculpture group of two male and two female figures with a child at the corner level with the spandrels of the ground floor arcade is barely indicated, as little more than a blurry area of texture.
All of this is perhaps a legacy of being at least partly based on the disjointed, side-by-side pencil studies of this part of the Basilica, the Porta and the corner of the palace, each on a different scale to fit the height of the page, in what Ian Warrell has described as ‘the sketch from which Turner probably developed the watercolour’3 in the contemporary Rotterdam to Venice book (Tate D32434; Turner Bequest CCCXX 87a). The Pilastri Acritani are shown there in their correct relation to the church from the same angle. As Timothy Wilcox has noted, the panel over the doorway is correctly shown blank, as the ‘relief of the Doge Francesco Foscari kneeling before the Lion of St Mark ... was destroyed by rioters during Napoleon’s occupation in 1797, and a replacement was not installed until 1885.’4
See Warrell 2003, p.119.
Davies 1992, p.70.
Warrell 2003, p.123.
Wilcox 1990, p.33; see also Warrell 2003, p.123.
See also Warrell 2003, p.123.
Stainton 1985, p.48.
Finberg 1930, p.176.
Stainton 1985, p.24.
See Warrell and Perkins 1988, p.19, and Wilcox 1990, p.33.
Warrell 2003, p.123; see also p.263 note 7.
See Stainton 1982, p.71, and Stainton 1985, p.48.
Finberg 1909, II, p.1022.
See Warrell 1991, pp.41, 45, 47–8.
Bower 1999, p.110.
Warrell 2003, p.123.
Warrell 1991, p.48.
‘Appendix: The papers used for Turner’s Venetian Watercolours’ (1840, section 4) in Warrell 2003, p.259.
Andrew Wilton, J.M.W. Turner: His Life and Work, Fribourg 1979, p.464 no.1362, reproduced.
Ibid., respectively p.464 no.1369, reproduced, p.465 no.1372, reproduced.
See Bower 1999, p.110 under no.63.
Warrell 2003, p.259.

Matthew Imms
September 2018

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