Joseph Mallord William Turner

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


In Tate Britain

Prints and Drawings Room

View by appointment
Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775–1851
Graphite on paper
Support: 149 × 89 mm
Accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest 1856
Turner Bequest CCCXX 87 a

Catalogue entry

Finberg later annotated his basic 1909 Inventory entry (‘Part of Doge’s Palace’): ‘Porta della Carta, with part of St. Marks, & 2 pillars on left, & part of Doge’s Pal. on r.’1 The Turner scholar C.F. Bell marked another copy: ‘Porta della Carta’.2 The notional view is east from the Piazzetta along the south-western corner of the Basilica of San Marco (St Mark’s) past the free-standing Pilastri Acritani to the Porta della Carta, the entrance to the courtyard of the Palazzo Ducale (Doge’s Palace), the north-western corner of which is seen on the right. The setting in general was long familiar, although Turner had not recorded this corner in detail before.
In fact, the present page comprises three disjointed, side-by-side pencil studies, each on a different scale to fit the height of the page; relative to the receding part of the church on the left, the Porta should really be roughly two-thirds of the overall height suggested here, while the corner of the palace should be perhaps a third as tall again.
Ian Warrell has reasonably described this page as ‘the sketch from which Turner probably developed the watercolour’3 of this scene on pale buff paper (Tate D32247; Turner Bequest CCCXVIII 28), in which he retained the relative proportions of the left-hand and central sections, but attempted to suggest the prominence of the palace from this angle by increasing the height of its ground- and first-floor arcades a little. The watercolour is highly atmospheric but unresolved in various ways, as discussed in its entry. Nevertheless, in relation to the present page and folio 88 recto opposite (D32435), Warrell has observed: ‘one is constantly amazed by the economy with which a few dashes of [Turner’s] pencil created not only instantly recognisable outlines of familiar sights, but how effectively they suggest the ornamental detail on buildings like the Doge’s Palace.’4
D32435 features a wide prospect the other way, taking in the southward length of the Piazzetta as well as the same corners of the palace and St Mark’s, looking west to the campanile, with the two free-standing ancient Byzantine pillars known as the Pilastri Acritani (seen on the left in the present study but not in the associated watercolour) in the foreground; it also includes a view within the Porta della Carta.

Matthew Imms
September 2018

Undated MS note by Finberg (died 1939) in interleaved copy of Finberg 1909, Prints and Drawings Room, Tate Britain, II, opposite p.1033; see also Finberg 1930, p.170.
Undated MS note by Bell (died 1966) in copy of Finberg 1909, Prints and Drawings Room, Tate Britain, II, p.1033.
Warrell 2003, p.123.
Ibid., p.92.

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