Joseph Mallord William Turner

The Sanctuary of the Madonna di San Luca, with Bologna in the Distance


In Tate Britain

Prints and Drawings Room

View by appointment
Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775–1851
Graphite on paper
Support: 111 × 184 mm
Accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest 1856
Turner Bequest CLXXVI 38

Catalogue entry

The viewpoint is west of the Sanctuary of the Madonna di San Luca, set high above Bologna, looking east along the Via di San Luca to the church, with details continuing the dome and cupola in the sky to its right; the view continues across folio 41 verso opposite (D14563; Turner Bequest CLXXVI 37a). The Turner scholar C.F. Bell annotated Finberg’s 1909 Inventory entry (‘Madonna di San Luca’), noting that the building is ‘to right [with] distant Bologna to l [to the north-east on the other page] | from the height to the West of the Monte della Guardia’1 (the hill on which the church stands).
Cecilia Powell has noted: ‘Many tourists in Bologna in the early nineteenth century made the ascent to the church ... three miles away, chiefly in order to admire the view of the towers, spires and domes of Bologna in the plain beneath, and we can see that Turner was no exception’.2 She observes that he was ‘interested in the church itself, an imposing mid-eighteenth-century work by C.F. Dotti, in the porticus of 666 arches which links church and city, and in the magnificently baroque Arco del Meloncello, also by Dotti’3 at the bottom end of the arcade (see folio 37 recto (D14554; Turner Bequest CLXXVI 33). James Hamilton has noted its ‘unbroken sequence’ as being ‘longer than any line of arches in Europe’.4
Powell has discussed at length Turner’s interest in Baroque architecture, unusual at that date, as shown in many of his Italian sketches, concluding: ‘We may perhaps link Turner’s liking of the baroque with an enjoyment of complexity and exuberance which is foreign to the early nineteenth century’.5 She has also suggested that the artist’s ‘evident fascination’ with the arcade, ‘as it leads gradually upwards in a seemingly endless series of stretches, each containing a monotonous row of uncountable arches, may reasonably be linked to the eighteenth-century concept of the sublime’,6 and discussed this explored this in relation to Edmund Burke’s 1757 Philosophical Enquiry into the Origin of our Ideas of the Sublime and Beautiful and his concept of ‘Succession and Uniformity’ tending towards infinity.7

Matthew Imms
March 2017

Undated MS note by C.F. Bell (died 1966) in copy of Finberg 1909, Tate Britain Prints and Drawings Room, I, p.518.
Powell 1984, p.84
James Hamilton, ‘Turner’s Route to Rome’ in Hamilton, Nicola Moorby, Christopher Baker and others, Turner & Italy, exhibition catalogue, National Galleries of Scotland, Edinburgh 2009, p.42.
Powell 1984, p.85.
Ibid., p.86; for a general treatment, see Andrew Wilton, Turner and the Sublime, exhibition catalogue, Art Gallery of Ontario, Toronto 1980.
See Powell 1984, p.86; as set out in part II, section IX of Burke’s text.

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