Joseph Mallord William Turner

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

1819

In Tate Britain

Prints and Drawings Room

View by appointment
Artist
Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775–1851
Medium
Graphite on paper
Dimensions
Support: 101 x 161 mm
Collection
Tate
Acquisition
Accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest 1856
Reference
D15196
Turner Bequest CLXXX 47

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. A contemporary description in John Chetwode Eustace’s, A Classical Tour Through Italy, first published in 1813, recorded how the room ‘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’.1 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.2 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),3and Rome. Museum of the Vatican, Sala a croce greca looking to the Rotondo (British School at Rome Library).4 A second drawing by Turner depicting a more general view related to the former can be found on 48 verso (D15197; Turner Bequest CLXXX 47a). He also made sketches of some of the sculptures displayed within the room, including the two famous sarcophagi belonging to Constantia and Helena, respectively the daughter and mother of Constantine, see folios 47–47 verso (D15194–D15195; Turner Bequest CLXXX 46–46a).

Nicola Moorby
November 2009

1
John Chetwode Eustace, A Classical Tour Through Italy, London 1815, 3rd edition, vol.II, pp.61–2.
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.
3
James Hakewill, A Picturesque Tour of Italy, London 1818, pl.33.
4
Cubberley and Herrmann, no.5M.8, reproduced p.301; James Hakewill, A Picturesque Tour of Italy, London 1818, pl.34.

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