This unusual composition may be a capriccio of various Venetian elements. The viewpoint is a capacious vaulted arcade with at least four bays, with gondolas and figures apparently beyond and between columns rising from the water and supporting round-headed arches. The illuminated space within three of the arches appears to be articulated with smaller door or window arches, suggesting the torchlit canalside porch of one of the great Grand Canal palazzi such as the Ca’ d’Oro, Palazzo Dolfin Manin, Fondaco dei Turchi or Fondaco dei Tedeschi.
The fourth arch, at the left, is open, with steps perhaps leading to a courtyard or calle, and a distant spire, brightly lit against a dark blue sky suggesting a clear moonlit night. This could be intended as the familiar campanile of San Marco (St Mark’s).
Numerous contemporary Venetian studies on toned papers use the framing device of an arch or arcade to concentrate attention on real or imagined spaces beyond, whether inside or outside and by day or night, including one showing the view out to a moonlit canal from a dark Gothic Arcade (Tate D32246; Turner Bequest CCCXVIII 27); see also D32226, D32227, D32239, D32245, D32247, D32252, D32255 and D36089 (CCCXVIII 7, 8, 20, 26, 28, CCCXIX 4, 7, CCCLXIV 243),1 and compare the view of the arch-like Bridge of Sighs above a starlit canal in the present grouping (D32253; CCCXIX 5).
Ian Warrell has observed that Tate D32256 (Turner Bequest CCCXIX 8) was ‘formerly attached on right edge to right edge’ of the present sheet. They are among numerous 1840 Venice works he has noted as being on ‘Grey-brown paper produced by an unknown maker (possibly ... a batch made at Fabriano [Italy])’;1 for numerous red-brown Fabriano sheets used for similar subjects, see for example under Tate D32224 (Turner Bequest CCCXVIII 5).
Warrell noted the grey-brown sheets as being torn into two formats: nine sheets of approximately 148 x 232 mm (Tate D32220, D32249–D32250, D32252–D32253, D32255–D32258; Turner Bequest CCCXVIII 1, CCCXIX 1, 2, 4, 5, 7–10), and seven of twice the size, at about 231 x 295 mm (Tate D32223, D32226, D32228–D32229, D32231, D32233, D32242 (Turner Bequest CCCXVIII 4, 7, 9, 10, 12, 14, 23).2
‘Appendix: The papers used for Turner’s Venetian Watercolours’ (1840, section 11) in Warrell 2003, p.259; see also sections 9 and 10, and Powell 1995, p.161.
See also Peter Bower, Turner’s Later Papers: A Study of the Manufacture, Selection and Use of his Drawing Papers 1820–1851, exhibition catalogue, Tate Gallery, London 1999, p.112 under no.65.