Joseph Mallord William Turner

The Sala a Croce Greca, in the Museo Pio-Clementino, the Vatican, Looking to the Staircase


In Tate Britain

Prints and Drawings Room

View by appointment
Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775–1851
Graphite on paper
Support: 101 × 161 mm
Accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest 1856
Turner Bequest CLXXX 47 a

Catalogue entry

During his 1819 stay in Rome, one of Turner’s most extensive sketching campaigns was the large number of pencil studies made from the sculpture collections of the Vatican Museums (for a general discussion, see the introduction to the sketchbook). As Finberg first identified, the subject of this sketch is a general view of the Sala a Croce Greca (Hall of the Greek Cross), the room which connects the lower floor of the Museo Pio-Clementino, via the Scala (Staircase) Simonetti to the upper galleries, and which looks very similar today.1 A contemporary description in John Chetwode Eustace’s, A Classical Tour Through Italy, first published in 1813, recorded that the room ‘supported by columns paved with ancient mosaic, furnished with statues and lined with basso relievos ... opens on a double staircase, raised on twenty-two pillars of red and white granite: its steps are marble, its balustrade bronze. The middle flight conducts down to the Vatican library: the other two lead to the Galleria de Candelabri’.2 Turner had made notes from the relevant passage in the Italian Guide Book sketchbook (see Tate D13948; Turner Bequest CLXXII 9a).
Turner’s sketch, representing the layout of the room rather than individual objects presented in isolation, is similar in manner to the plates illustrating the museums of Rome, Naples and Florence in James Hakewill’s Picturesque Tour of Italy (1818). In the preface to the prints, Hakewill claimed that the views, based upon his own 1817 drawings, had never previously appeared in any similar publication.3 Amongst the rooms depicted were several from the Vatican, including two variant representations of the Sala a Croce Greca, Museum of the Vatican. Sala a croce greca (whereabouts unknown),4and Rome. Museum of the Vatican, Sala a croce greca looking to the Rotondo (British School at Rome Library).5 The former of these depicts the same view looking towards the staircase as this sketch, although Turner’s viewpoint is further off-centre. A related drawing depicting a more focused view of the staircase can be found on folio 48 (D15196; Turner Bequest CLXXX 47). The view is also similar to a later illustration by P.M. Letarouilly (1795–1855), Sala della Croce Greca nel Museo Pio-Clementino, verso lo scalene, published in Le Vatican, 1882.6

Nicola Moorby
November 2009

See Giandomenico Spinola, Il Museo Pio-Clementino, vol.II, Vatican City 1999, fig.47, p.289.
John Chetwode Eustace, A Classical Tour Through Italy, London 1815, 3rd edition, vol.II, pp.61–2.
Quoted in Tony Cubberley and Luke Herrmann, Twilight of the Grand Tour: A Catalogue of the drawings by James Hakewill in the British School at Rome Library, Rome 1992, p.293.
James Hakewill, A Picturesque Tour of Italy, London 1818, pl.33.
Cubberley and Herrmann, no.5M.8, reproduced p.301; James Hakewill, A Picturesque Tour of Italy, London 1818, pl.34
Reproduced in Jörg Garms, Vedute di Roma Dal Medioevo all’ottocento: Atlante iconographico, topografico, architettorio, Naples 1995, vol.II, pl.1356, p.86.

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