Joseph Mallord William Turner

The Rham and the Bock, Luxembourg


In Tate Britain

Prints and Drawings Room

View by appointment
Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775–1851
Gouache, pen and ink and watercolour on paper
Support: 140 × 190 mm
Accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest 1856
Turner Bequest CCXXI K

Catalogue entry

Here Turner depicts the Rham and the Bock at Luxembourg, two vertiginous plateaux carved by the meanderings of the Alzette River. The watercourse itself is not shown owing to Turner’s choice of viewpoint here, but the artist does suggest the dense mist and spray rising from the river up through the deep and narrow gorge in the foreground. Obscuring smudges of violet, blue-grey, and dark green signify this mist as well as suggesting the long and shadowy drop to the base of the ravine. These rather dim tones are contrasted with those used to render part of a hillside at the top of the gorge which juts towards the viewer at the centre of the foreground. This section of land is lushly verdant: coloured in brighter opaque ochre and green gouache.
Luxembourg City’s unusual yet strategically advantageous topography of deep gorges and high plateaux afforded it significant defensive position. Over centuries the Bock promontory, shown in this drawing at centre, has been fortified, attacked, reinforced, besieged, and rebuilt by a host of powerful European armies. The Burgundians, Hapsburgs, Spanish, Prussians, and French have all vied for the Fortress of Luxembourg, one of the continent’s most strategic strongholds. Its foundations are Roman, yet it was not until the tenth century that a castle was constructed on the site by Count Siegfried.1 During the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, Luxembourg changed hands a number of times between French and Spanish occupation, with each side contributing to the remodelling of the fortification. In the 1680s, for example, the complex was enlarged and strengthened by Vauban, chief military engineer to King Louis XIV.2 To the left of the Bock in Turner’s drawing is the wall-girdled Rham, its ramparts punctuated with towers and gateways. Vauban also fortified this promontory, constructing new military barracks to house a more expanded French garrison.
This gouache is taken from a similar vantage point to Tate D20245; Turner Bequest CCXXI L, but here Turner is closer in distance. For other of Turner’s Luxembourg gouaches see Tate D20245–D20249, D20264, D20270, D20272–D20273, D20284–D20285, N05240; Turner Bequest CCXXI L–CCXXI P, CCXXII E, CCXXII K, CCXXII M–CCXXII N, CCXXII Y–CCXXII Z.
‘Luxembourg’, Fortified Places, 23 July 2014,

Alice Rylance-Watson
June 2013

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