Joseph Mallord William Turner

The Scala dei Giganti (Giants’ Staircase) in the Courtyard of the Palazzo Ducale (Doge’s Palace), Venice, through the Arco Foscari


In Tate Britain

Prints and Drawings Room

View by appointment
Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775–1851
Gouache and watercolour on paper
Support: 191 × 280 mm
Accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest 1856
Turner Bequest CCCXVII 2

Catalogue entry

The view in this loosely worked colour study is east through the Arco Foscari from the arcade along the south side of the Basilica of San Marco (St Mark’s) from the Porta della Carta, looking towards the Scala dei Giganti (Giants’ Staircase) in the courtyard of the Palazzo Ducale (Doge’s Palace), with its flanking statues of Mars and Neptune. This is the most tightly focused among various colour studies around the palace.1 There are more detailed pencil studies of the stairs, arch and courtyard from various angles in the contemporary Venice and Botzen sketchbook (see under Tate D31794; Turner Bequest CCCXIII 2a); see also Tate D32009 (Turner Bequest CCCXIV 43) in the 1833 Venice book.2
Tate D32247 (Turner Bequest CCCXVIII 28), a more elaborate colour study, shows the view east from the north end of the Piazzetta, through the Porta della Carta between the church and palace, framing a sunlit view of the staircase beyond. The lighting here too likely evokes sunlight from the right, although Ian Warrell has called the luminous, near monochrome effect ‘wonderfully atmospheric, suggesting an abandoned palace, seen by moonlight’;3 compare such dramatic contrasts in other contemporary views on coloured papers, framed by shadowy architectural foregrounds, including views of the Piazza (Tate D32245, D32255; Turner Bequest CCCXVIII 26, CCCXIX 7), and various arched settings such as D32226, D32237 and D32246 (CCCXVIII 7, 18, 27).
See Warrell 2003, p.119.
See also ibid., pp.123, 263 note 9.
Ibid., p.123.
Technical notes:
The watercolour and gouache are quite loosely and thinly applied, with some of the details of the staircase defined by scratching.
This is one of numerous 1840 Venice works Ian Warrell has noted as being on ‘Bally, Ellen and Steart grey paper’ which Turner had also used on his Continental tour of 1833, including Venice, and therefore ‘the dating of some of these sheets in uncertain’ (see in particular Tate D32205–D32210; Turner Bequest CCCXVII 20–25); the following ‘seem to arise from the later visit’:1 Tate D32180–D32181, D32183–D32184, D32200–D32201, D32203–D32204, D32212, D32215, D32217 (Turner Bequest CCCXVII 1, 2, 4, 5, 15, 16, 18, 19, 27–30, 32); see also Venice: San Giorgio Maggiore and the Zitelle from the Giudecca (currently untraced)2 and The Doge’s Palace from the Bacino (private collection),3 and two further ‘half-size sheets’:4 Tate D33883 (Turner Bequest CCCXLI 183), and Shipping with Buildings, ?Venice (Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge).5
‘Appendix: The papers used for Turner’s Venetian Watercolours’ (1840, section 8) in Warrell 2003, p.259.
Andrew Wilton, J.M.W. Turner: His Life and Work, Fribourg 1979, p.464 no.1367, reproduced.
Not in ibid.; Warrell 2003, fig.233 (colour).
Warrell 2003, p.259.
Andrew Wilton, J.M.W. Turner: His Life and Work, Fribourg 1979, p.423 no.1037, reproduced.
See Powell 1995, p.145.
Ibid., p.154.
See Finberg 1909, II, p.1022–3, and Powell 1995, p.169.

Matthew Imms
September 2018

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